The Jets had to cut Wilkerson before March 16 or else his $16.75 million salary for 2018 would’ve become fully guaranteed. There was no chance of that happening, not after the way the season ended.
Wilkerson, 28, was benched for the final three games, ostensibly because he was late for a meeting on Dec. 15 — the fourth time since 2015 he was disciplined for tardiness.
The Jets decided to keep him off the field for the remainder of the season because they were concerned about a potential injury, which could’ve resulted in them being on the hook for his 2018 salary. By then, the organization had decided Wilkerson’s fate.
Wilkerson was due to count $20 million on the cap, the league’s fourth-highest cap charge for a non-quarterback. By cutting him, the Jets will save $11 million.
This culminates a significant fall for Wilkerson, a 2012 first-round pick who appeared on the verge of stardom.
Wilkerson peaked in 2015, when he recorded a career-high 12 sacks and was named to his first Pro Bowl. In 2016, he was rewarded with a five-year, $86 million contract that included $37 million fully guaranteed at signing. He was the highest-paid player on the team in 2017, making $15 million in cash earnings.
His decline coincided with the new contract. In 28 games over the last two seasons, Wilkerson produced only eight sacks. Privately, team officials questioned whether he still had a passion for the game.
In 2015, the Jets had one of the best defensive lines in the league, but they lost Damon Harrison in free agency and traded Sheldon Richardson. Now Wilkerson is gone, too. The only holdover is Leonard Williams, who the Jets selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft.