October, 9, 2013
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com
Ron Antonelli/Getty Images
Emerging lineman Muhammad Wilkerson has logged four sack already this season.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Muhammad Wilkerson was tending to something in his locker, paying no attention to what was happening behind him. When he turned around, the hulking defensive end was surprised to see about 10 media types, hovering.
"Whoa, whatís all of this?" he asked Wednesday in the New York Jetsí locker room.
This, Mo, is what happens when youíre a big man on the New York football stage.
Wilkerson is coming off one of his best games as a pro, a dominating Monday night performance that had ESPN analyst Jon Gruden gushing like a groupie. If America didnít know about Wilkerson before then, it does now.
Ryan I think he's right there with the top defensive linemen in this league right now that aren't named J.J. Watt.
-- Rex Ryan on Mo Wilkerson
Quite simply, Wilkerson has a chance to be the franchiseís next Darrelle Revis, sans the player-management acrimony. Heís a homegrown star, not an import, ascending to the upper tier of his position.
"I think heís right there with the top defensive linemen in this league right now that arenít named J.J. Watt," said Rex Ryan, praising Wilkerson with the effusiveness he once reserved for Revis.
Ryan talked up Revis so much in 2009 that his words, no doubt, were thrown back at management when the two sides went to the bargaining table in the summer of 2010 -- i.e. the long and nasty holdout. Ryan didnít stop with the superlatives because, back in those days, he wasnít shy about speaking his mind and he felt Revis was an all-timer.
In a few months, the Jets and Wilkerson will be talking contract. He has only one year remaining on his rookie deal, and the team almost certainly will try to lock him up next offseason with a long-term deal -- probably the first mega-contract of the John Idzik era. The franchise-tag amount this year for a defensive end is $11.2 million, so that should provide a basic idea of how much of a yearly average weíre talking about.
Wilkerson said he hasnít given any thought to the pot of gold that awaits him. Not surprisingly, he said he doesnít want to go anywhere.
"Iím from New Jersey and, just being here these three years, itís been great for me," he said. "Iím happy here. I definitely plan on hopefully being a Jet for life."
Revis used to say the same thing, but it got complicated, as we all know. The Jets missed an opportunity to hammer out a long-term extension in 2010 and Ö well, thereís no point in retracing that chapter. Presumably, they learned a lesson and will take care of Wilkerson before thereís any tension.
Heís a monster, the kind of player who can anchor a defense for a decade. Wilkerson already has four sacks, one shy of last seasonís total. Because heís not exclusively an edge player -- he often lines up inside -- itís not easy to pick up sacks. A double-digit total would be a ridiculous season.
"In my opinion, Iíd say heís the best [defensive lineman]," said linebacker Calvin Pace, the elder statesman of the defense.
Wilkerson was drafted 30th overall in 2011, so it wasnít like he was a canít-miss lottery pick. He went 19 spots after Watt, the Houston Texans stud. The Jets took some risk because Wilkerson didnít play in a power conference. He attended Temple and left after his junior year.
"We just saw a guy we thought could be a truly dominant player," Ryan said.
At the time, Ryan compared him to former New England Patriots star Richard Seymour, a potential Hall of Famer. People snickered. On Wednesday, Ryan claimed, "He actually does some things better than Richard does."
The best thing about Wilkerson is thereís not an ounce of diva in him. If there were any more blue in his collar, heíd be playing in construction clothes. He stepped briefly out of character in an offseason interview, admitting he felt snubbed by not being selected to the Pro Bowl. That, he promised at the time, would motivate him.
Reminded of his Pro Bowl ambition, Wilkerson backed off.
"Some people say Iím going to make the Pro Bowl," he said, probably alluding to Grudenís on-air hosanna. "I appreciate all the kind words, but at the end of the day, I have to play each game. Hopefully, weíll see at the end of the year."
Pace said it best: "I donít think he knows how good he is."
The Jets know. Maybe, just maybe, theyíll get it right this time and make sure he sticks around for a long time.