The Jets may loathe the New England Patriots the most, but closing in hard are the Philadelphia Eagles.  

Fresh off re-signing Fletcher Cox to the most lucrative non-quarterback contract in league history, Philadelphia just inadvertently raised the bar in the Jets’ negotiations with star defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. 

Cox’s bloated deal of six years for $103 million is staggering, considering he may not even be as good a player as Wilkerson. But the average annual salary for Cox ($17 million) and the largest amount of money ever guaranteed to a non-quarterback ($63M) really puts the Jets in a bind.  

The stakes – and asking price – have certainly been raised for a Jets squad with playoff aspirations. Wilkerson’s representatives are no doubt using Cox’s deal as a metric, and when comparing their careers, it’s easy to see why Wilkerson was a no-show at the Jets’ organized team activities (OTAs) and likely won’t be at this week’s mandatory minicamp.    

Wilkerson, who has yet to sign his franchise tag, cannot get fined by the team since he’s technically not under contract. But the longer he stays away, the higher the chances of acrimony and tension. Wilkerson, who is still rehabbing a surgically-repaired broken leg which he suffered in last season’s finale, wouldn’t be ready to participate in this week’s three-day event anyway. But just the thought of any building hostility can and will delay matters. 

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Any bitterness could continue to mount due to Philadelphia’s deal as well. While Cox is a fine player, tallying 22 sacks and 162 tackles in his first four seasons, he’s no Wilkerson as far as the on-field numbers go. The Eagles’ best defensive player hasn’t even recorded a double-digit sack season yet. Wilkerson, by comparison, has notched 36.5 sacks and 184 tackles in his five seasons and has compiled two seasons with double-digit sacks – including a career-high 12 last season.     

Jets’ general manager Mike Maccagnan will have a big decision to make. But since he’s yet to even get Wilkerson to sign his $15.7 million one-year franchise tender, and both sides are seemingly digging in deep, this drama may play out deep into the summer.      

Reports are coming out that Wilkerson is hinting at not even attending training camp, which could further cause rancor within the Jets’ front office and Wilkerson. Such animosity could really stall – if not halt – negotiations, and may even begin to grease the skids for a permanent separation between player and franchise. 

New York may have to get creative with its finances, due to its tight monetary restrictions ($3.08 million in cap space). But one thing is certain: Gang Green will definitely need to offer upwards of the annual money owed to Cox. Whether that means offering Wilkerson in the range of $18-$20 million per year, or hoping he accepts the tender before the July 15 deadline, remains to be seen.

But the one certainty in all of this is that thanks to Cox’s deal, Maccagnan’s unwillingness to budge, and Wilkerson’s value further skyrocketing with every insane contract signed, Jets fans can expect a long, drawn-out process that may actually overshadow the quarterback drama.  

 

Gang Green notes:  

- If the two sides can’t come to an agreement on a long-term deal by July 15, Wilkerson would be forced to play with the franchise tag. And if Wilkerson is still with the team sans a new deal by this time next year, the Jets haven’t ruled out the possibility of tagging him again next year, which would be $18.8 million. And one can only imagine how that would play out with Wilkerson.      

- The Jets are also in a financial hole in “dead money,” which is money they’re still paying for players no longer on the roster. It currently stands at $7.38 million, with the recently retired D’Brickashaw Ferguson eating up most of that allotment at $5.01 million.   

- As if the Jets didn’t have any more reasons to dislike the Eagles, keep in mind that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s continued contract stalemate with the team is fueled, in part, by the Eagles’ decision to overpay for quarterbacks Chase Daniel (a career backup who inked a deal for three years and $21 million) and the oft-injured and inconsistent Sam Bradford (two years for $35 million).