The New York Jets boasted arguably the NFL’s best defensive line last year. The scary thing is, it’s just getting started.
Muhammad Wilkerson has emerged as one of the league’s top defenders, having improved steadily in each of his first three seasons and notching a team-high 10.5 sacks last season. Wilkerson is the leader of the defensive front, and the Jets are in an incredibly favorable position with him.
They’re soon expected to exercise the fifth-year option of his contract, making him a Jet through at least 2015. Even better, New York can franchise tag him in 2016 if it doesn’t work out an extension by then. Wilkerson has recently said that he wouldn’t hold out in the future, giving Gang Green a little leverage in negotiations moving forward.
That almost guarantees he’s with the Jets at least the next three years, which are likely to be the prime of his career. And all that will cost the team somewhere around just $20 million over that span.
Meanwhile, next to Wilkerson stands Defensive Rookie of the Year lineman Sheldon Richardson, a stud run-stuffer and disruptive presence for opposing quarterbacks. As a now-second-year player, Richardson will be in Jets digs for at minimum a few more seasons, too.
Then there’s the underrated, overlooked but not forgotten Damon “Snacks” Harrison, a pure 3-4 defensive line cog who simply plugs the middle with ease and takes on center-guard double-teams as well as anyone in the league. Harrison is under contract through next season and is a restricted free agent in 2015.
Add the hybrid front-seven defender (outside linebacker/defensive end) Quinton Coples, who is under contract through 2015, and rotational standout Leger Douzable, who was re-signed to a one-year deal last week, and the Jets can truly neglect the defensive line from a personnel standpoint for a least two years without missing a beat.
There’s no point in understating it. The Jets don’t need to do anything with the defensive line in either the draft or free agency over the next two years, which is pretty remarkable considering it lost two of its key contributors in Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha just an offseason ago.
It’s a good thing, because we know there’s plenty of work to do elsewhere.