As negotiations took place this month, Wilkerson was upfront about his desire to stay in New York.
"I told [the front office] at the end of the year last year that I want to be a Jet -- a Jet for life,” Wilkerson said to the New York Post. “I’m from [Linden, N.J.], I’m a local guy, so I would love to be here and finish my career here.”
It doesn’t always work in a player’s financial favor to say he wants to stay with his team, but in this case it appears to have worked. Wilkerson started with a base salary of $375,000 his rookie year, and went to $687,500 before landing at $1 million last season. His option is for nearly seven times that amount, a significant raise.
Last season, Wilkerson had 10.5 sacks. With recent rookie Sheldon Richardson also on the defensive line, the Jets could have a bright future with the group.
Rex Ryan took the Jets to the AFC Championship Game his first two seasons as their head coach, winning two playoff games each of those years. One of those playoff wins was a 28-21 victory over the Patriots in Foxborough in 2010. It seemed unlikely at the time, but the Jets would not build on that success, but instead go on to finish 8-8 in 2011 and 6-10 in 2012.
There was speculation that they would let Ryan go and make it a clean sweep when they fired general manager Mike Tannenbaum following that disappointing 2012 season. Instead, they retained Ryan, but the speculation picked up again during last year's 8-8 season.
Following a 23-3 loss to the Dolphins in December of last year, ESPN New York Jets reporter Rich Cimini felt Ryan needed to win two of the last four games to keep his job, and Cimini didn't seem optimistic about it happening coming off that performance.
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In the Rex Ryan era, the Jets have yet to invest a high draft pick on a safety. Could they break the trend in 2014? They're showing interest in projected first-rounder Calvin Pryor, scheduled for a pre-draft visit, but you have to wonder if the former Louisville star fits the profile of what they need. In college, he was a sledgehammer, not a ballhawk -- and the Jets need a ballhawk.
The 5-foot-11, 207-pound Pryor played like a linebacker, producing 175 tackles (second on the team) and seven forced fumbles over the past two seasons. He also was an effective blitzer, accumulating more quarterbacks pressures (27) than all but seven linebackers from BCS schools. He plays a lot like former Jets safety LaRon Landry.
"They didn't give me no indication," Johnson said. "They said those two will battle it out in camp and may the best man win."
Rex Ryan said earlier in the year that Vick, signed as a free agent this offseason from the Eagles, would be able to compete with incumbent Smith for the starting job. Smith had the job as a rookie last season after Mark Sanchez sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in a preseason game.
Smith threw 12 touchdowns and had 21 interceptions last season, showing signs of potential but not enough to be the next assumed franchise quarterback. Having two almost-good-enough quarterbacks on the roster apparently wasn't in the long-term plan, so Vick was brought in and Sanchez was cut.
Vick's arrival has already sparked protest from animal rights group, who worked up a petition to try to bar Vick from training camp. Vick served less than two years in prison on charges stemming from dog-fighting.
That aside, Vick holds more experience as a starter and made it clear in March that he was there to compete for the starting role.
"Well, anywhere I go, or any team, I'm always going to compete for the No. 1 spot," Vick said. "And I will encourage any other quarterback behind me or in front of me to always compete for their job, for the No. 1 spot. That's how champions are made."
The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year has 36.5 sacks over his first three seasons.
Teams have until May 3 to make a decision on whether to exercise the fifth-year option, which is guaranteed for injury only until the final day of the 2014 league year. It becomes guaranteed at the start of the next league year.
For players drafted in the top 10, the value of the fifth-year option is equal to the transition tag for their position during this offseason.
For players drafted with picks 11-32, the value of the fifth-year option is equal to the average of the 25 highest-paid players at their positions, excluding the top three highest players.
"They know how to win over there," Johnson said. "The type of team that they had last year, they got a great defense. Any time you have a great defense you give yourself a great chance at winning. Looking at the team, me going there to get more playmakers on offense, we know as an organization if we're able to put up points, then that will give us a good chance at winning. So I felt I would be able to fit that mold and come there and help [the] offense."
Not only have Ryan's Jets not delivered in the past three years, costing numerous coaches and a general manager their jobs, but a running back actually mentioned the defense as a reason to come to New York.
The Jets are 22-26 since 2011, but listen to the facts that Johnson has at the ready after spending a few days at the Jets' training facility in Florham Park.
"They haven't been to the playoffs in three years," Johnson said, "but last year they were one game out from the playoffs and the year before those three years they were a playoff team that was close to the Super Bowl and all those types of things."
It's the closest fans may get to hearing Ryan's actual sales pitch to a free agent.
Later Thursday, 98.7 ESPN New York's Michael Kay asked Johnson about Ryan, and you could almost hear him smile through the radio.
"I can see me and him being real, real cool," Johnson said.
Can you imagine a player saying something like that after meeting, say, Patriots coach Bill Belichick? Ryan seems to have an effortless way of relating to players, and it may be part of the reason Johnson was drawn to New York over another team.
If Johnson has another 2,000-yard season, Ryan and his skills of persuasion will look pretty valuable. But that's one of the big ifs for the Jets as the team prepares to begin its offseason training program on Monday.
Everybody thought LaDainian Tomlinson was ready for a rocking chair at the age of 30. He was a diminished player for the San Diego Chargers in 2009, finishing the season with a hard-to-watch game against the New York Jets in the playoffs -- 12 carries, 24 yards.
The future Hall of Famer was fired by his forever team, and the Jets, of all teams, gave him a job, gambling the once great runner could reinvent himself. They looked past his pedestrian '09 numbers, determining that heart was a better barometer than his 3.3 yards per carry. They were right; he was terrific in 2010.
"This," Tomlinson said at the time, "has refreshed me, being here."
Four years later, the Jets are once again trying to catch an old lightning-back in a bottle. This time his name is Chris Johnson, and there's every reason to believe he can give them a season like Tomlinson did.
The Jets get Johnson at 28, a little younger than Tomlinson upon his arrival, but the narrative is the same: a fading star coming off his worst season.
Johnson staggered to the finish last season, looking more like CJ1K than the old CJ2K. He barely cracked he 1,000-yard plateau, managing a pedestrian 3.9 yards per rush. The Tennessee Titans decided -- and rightly so -- it made no sense to pay him an $8 million wage for 2014.
That year, Tomlinson rushed for a team-high 914 yards on just 219 carries and caught 52 passes, three shy of the team leader. He was supposed to be Shonn Greene's backup, but Tomlinson was so impressive that he won the starting job and became an integral part of a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl.
Nothing jars a world-class athlete more than being told he's not good enough, that it's time to pack up and leave. Tomlinson used that as his fuel until his body finally broke down in 2011. The Jets are hoping for a similarly inspired Johnson, who's already talking about redemption.
"I can turn the bad things people are saying into a good thing for me, to give me motivation, to keep me hungry and to keep a chip on my shoulder and prove the naysayers wrong," he said Thursday on a conference call with the media.
You'll be disappointed if you expect a 1,500-yard season out of Johnson, but he's better than what he showed last year. He played 13 games on a torn meniscus, running behind a suspect offensive line for a team that didn't have its starting quarterback for half the season -- hardly ideal conditions for a running back.
"Chris Johnson isn't a bell cow anymore," a longtime NFL personnel executive said. "I don't know where his heart is -- there are some things underneath his hood that I don't like -- but for the right price, yeah, I think it's a good move."
The Jets paid a top-of-the-market price -- two years, $8 million -- but the cost is reasonable. Chances are, they will take a less-is-more approach with Johnson, hoping a time-share with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell will preserve the remaining tread on Johnson's tires and improve his efficiency. That, of course, is based on the presumption that one of those tires isn't on the verge of a blowout.
Johnson disputed an ESPN report that said there's arthritis in his surgically repaired right knee, insisting he'll be fine. This bears watching, because the fire in his belly will burn out quickly if there's pain in his knee. If he's healthy, he'll be a plus for the offense.
"If a bad year is 1,100 yards, I'll take that all day," said ESPN analyst and former Jets tackle Damien Woody, alluding to Johnson's 1,077 last year.
Woody played for the Jets when Tomlinson arrived in 2010. At first, he wondered if Tomlinson was out of gas, but those concerns were allayed as soon as he saw the old running back on the field, doing his thing. Woody believes Johnson will respond the same way.
"The situations are really similar," Woody said. "You have two really good backs that were jettisoned from teams they had a lot of success with, dealing with the perception they're washed up. That, obviously, puts a chip on your shoulder."
The Jets have become a second-chance/last-chance stop for running backs. Before Tomlinson, there was Thomas Jones, who was outstanding before the salary-cap police decided it was time to go. A year ago, they traded for Ivory, who teased the New Orleans Saints for years.
As Woody noted, Jets coach Rex Ryan has way of reaching older players, coaxing them to give whatever they have left. Now he has Johnson, who still can be a productive runner -- as long as his wheels are as strong as his will.
After sitting on the market for 12 days and hearing a year's worth of whispers about his declining value as a running back, Chris Johnson comes to the New York Jets resolved to prove the doubters wrong.
"I know there's a lot of people out there who believe in me, including the Jets, that's why they wanted to bring me in," Johnson said Thursday on a conference call. "But there are still a lot of people out there who say how they're going to feel, but I don't see how you can say some of the type things they say about a guy who runs for almost 1,100 yards on a torn meniscus.
"But [for] a player like myself that has accomplished so much in his career, it's always great to have things to put a chip on your shoulder, have things to motivate you. I can turn a bad thing that people say into a good thing for me, to get me motivated, keep me hungry and keep a chip on my shoulder and prove the naysayers wrong."
Johnson was signed Wednesday to a two-year deal worth a potential $9 million, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. There have been questions about how productive Johnson can be given his declining production and his surgery in January to a repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
His knee is healing, and Johnson said he would soon be cleared to resume football activities. The Jets begin their offseason training program next week.
Johnson said he had "no concern" when asked whether he would be ready to participate in training camp.
Johnson also denied a report that he has arthritis in his knee.
"No, that's not accurate," he said, before laughing.
"If they had major concern in my knee, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have passed the physical."
Johnson spent his first six seasons with the Tennessee Titans
The question is, what happens if the premium players at those positions are gone? The Jets have to prepare for that scenario because it could very well happen. It does in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's latest mock draft .
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One of the toughest positions for scouts to evaluate is wide receiver. Nowadays, they rack up video-game stats in college, leading to inflated evaluations by NFL types. That's why Fresno State's Davante Adams bears close scrutiny. Facing less-than-elite competition, he led the FBS in receptions (131), touchdown catches (24) and ranked second with 888 yards after the catch.
Utilizing his 39.5-inch vertical jump, the 6-1 Adams also led the FBS with 27 receptions and 12 touchdown catches in the red zone. Get this: When targeting Adams in the red zone, quarterback Derek Carr completed 71.1 percent of his passes, but only 57.4 percent when targeting others.
As everybody knows, the Jets are looking for a receiver. Adams is projected as a second-round pick.
Injury-plagued wide receiver Sidney Rice, cut by the Seattle Seahawks after the season, visited with the New York Jets on Wednesday, a league source confirmed.
The Jets already have signed two receivers, Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford, but they still want to build depth. Rice, 27, was once regarded as a rising star, but he has missed 15 of the past 48 games due to knee injuries and concussions. In fact, he tore an ACL last October, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. He reportedly was cleared only recently to return to football activities.
The 6-foot-4 Rice would be an inexpensive acquisition for the Jets, probably a one-year contract for close to the minimum salary. General manager John Idzik is a former Seahawks executive and was partly responsible for signing Rice to a five-year, $41 million contract in 2011. Rice parlayed his one big year (1,312 receiving yards for the Minnesota Vikings in 2010) into the big score.
Rice has 243 catches for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns.
The New York Jets' offense had a lot of room to improve coming off of a forgettable 2013 season, but with the most recent addition of running back Chris Johnson, who will sign a two-year deal with the team according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the group is suddenly rounding into form.
A major question remains as to who will win the starting quarterback job, as Michael Vick was signed to a one-year deal that at least gives him the chance to unseat Geno Smith. While the offense won't be dramatically different from a schematic standpoint with Smith or Vick under center, the two have varying skill sets.
Nothing has been established, but for the sake of this piece, let's examine the possibility of what the Jets' offense could look like in 2014 if Vick winds up under center.
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