Muhammad Wilkerson received his walking papers from the New York Jets this week and the Oakland Raiders should not waste anytime signing him.
Over the past few seasons, I’ve advocated for the Raiders to address their need at defensive tackle. My archives on various Raiders blogs include pieces about Ndamukong Suh, Terrance Knighton, Sheldon Richardson, Dontari Poe, Nick Fairley, Wilkerson and a few others via trade and free agency. I also wanted Leonard Williams, Sheldon Rankins, Robert Nkemdiche, Kenny Clark, Caleb Brantley and others in the past few drafts. To be fair, not many of those players have been hits since Oakland passed on adding them.
Still, the Raiders gave me a Dan Williams signing that was really only good for a season. They also gave me developmental pieces like Jihad Ward, Mario Edwards Jr., and Eddie Vanderdoes who haven’t done more than flash starting ability. Edwards Jr. is the best of the three but his role will change in the next scheme.
The point is, the Raiders have had a need at inside lineman for years. Oakland can not wait for one of their young interior pass rushers to step up. The draft is not loaded with ready-made prospects at the position either. Hence, it is time they address the defensive tackle need by signing Muhammad Wilkerson in free agency.
Yes, the Raiders can technically sign Muhammad Wilkerson immediately. They don’t have to wait for legal tampering period like other free agents set to hit the market. Think about how the Jets signed David Amerson and the Bills got Vontae Davis.
Regardless, Wilkerson is one of the best players on the open market. At 28, Wilkerson has 44.5 sacks and 243 tackles over seven seasons. Since signing his five-year, $86 million extension with the Jets in 2016, Wlkerson appeared in 18 games and registered 8 sacks. That production does not equal the $20 million he was set make in 2018. New York opted for $11 million more in cap space. He made some off-field headlines too.
In 2016, Wilkerson missed a team meeting that celebrated his own birthday. Last year, he was benched and suspended for a game. Rumors said he Wilkerson quit on the team.
Still, Jets head coach Todd Bowles said cutting Wilkerson was a business move and not a disciplinary move. Bowles said he was dissapointed for the team but he still has love for Mo and wishes him the best.
Thus, the Raiders shouldn’t pay too much attention to the narrative that Wilkerson quit on his team. The jersey native grew frustrated with his team especially as they let his fellow d-linemen go over the years. Damon Harrison bounced in free agency when he could and Sheldon Richardson got traded. New York moved Wilkerson between defensive line positions too.
Of course, that doesn’t excuse Wilkerson’ behavior but it does give it some context. Bottom line, Wilkerson’s production did not meet his salary.
Oakland does not have to worry about that. He gets $6 million of his salary, guaranteed from the Jets. He can probably get a similar one-year or front loaded deal on the open market. Look back at the $8 million defensive tackles Bennie Logan and Dontari Poe got in last year’s free agency. Both are free agents again but the Raiders are unlikely to pursue if they passed a year ago. The Raiders will probably prefer to front load Wilkerson’s deal since they will have Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper extensions to worry about in the next year.
Wilkerson might even be better than those two players but you got to count on him taking a little less money since the Jets just paid him out. Either way, Wilkerson remains a premium free agency signed at a premium position for a bargain.
Oakland needs a premium interior rusher to fill Paul Geunther’s Geno Atkins role and Wilkerson can do it. The Raiders have ranked towards the bottom in sacks over the past years. Wilkerson could change that with his ability to push the pocket. He’s crafted a reputation as a run-stopper and two-gapper over the past few seasons but he should enjoy the chance to get up field and rush the passer in the Raiders’ new scheme. i’d expect him to play the 3-technique on run downs and slide to the nose position for passing downs. That will utilize his run-stuffing and pass rushing abilities.
Take a look at the upcoming free agent defensive linemen. Unless their are more-cap casualties, not too many good ones are hitting the open market. Ziggy Ansah received the franchise tag and both DeMarcus Lawrence and Sheldon Richardson will. That takes the three best defensive lineman off the market.
Otherwise, the rest of the group is solid veterans or young players with potential. Wilkerson has more left in the tank than Haloti Ngata, Julius Peppers, Charles Johnson and Kyle Williams on an every-down basis. He brings moreconsistent production than Cornellius Canadine, or Adrian Clayborn. Oakland has also passed on guys like Poe, Logan, Chris Baker and Jared Odrick in previous years. Unless the Raiders want to keep Denico Autry or think they can get the best out of Star Lotulelei, Wilkerson is by far their best option in free agency.
Raiders stakeholders Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden should over look his struggle with the Jets and give him a clean slate. They’re doing that with current Raiders players and Wilkerson could benefit from the change of scenary. Not to mention, signing Wilkerson gives Gruden and McKenzie a trophy signing to celebrate in their first offseason and one less need to address at the top of the draft.
Already, the Raiders top player recruiter, Bruce Irvin, is already in on recruiting. “Baby Reggie” told Raiders fans to send him Mo’s handle.
Y’all send me MO Wilk ig handle
— Bruce Irvin (@BIrvin_WVU11) February 28, 2018
This is far from a sign that Oakland is pursuing Wilkerson. However, there were rumors connecting the two a few years ago. The point is, Wilkerson made sense for the Raiders a long time ago and they need to sign him while they can.
Well others may say the Raiders should use their $15 million on other roster needs, adding a defensive tackle like Wilkerson improves each level of the defense. Adding an inside pass rusher prevents quarterbacks from stepping-up which makes it easier for edge rushers and blitzers to finish the quarterback. This obviously benefits the secondary. Plus, a good defensive tackle like Wilkerson eats up space so Raiders linebackers can fill run gaps and tackle runners.
Wilkerson’s addition allows the Raiders to move developmental prospects like Ward, Edwards and Vanderdoes to supporting roles that put them in positions to succeed too. Rather than being counted on as starters, the young players could be apart of a rotation and learn some things from Mo.
If the Raiders don’t do anything else in free agency, adding Wilkerson would be the premiere move that could help their defense. He is a premiere player on the market, makes sense for the scheme and could come at a bargain. Wilkerson should become a member of the Silver and Black this offseason. Just Sign Him Baby!