Though free agency doesn’t kick off until later midway through next week, the Green Bay Packers have already made some headway with some soon-to-be available players. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson will visit the Packers first once he receives his official release from the New York Jets.
The No. 30 overall pick in 2011, Wilkerson has played his entire NFL career to date in New York. The first two of those seasons came under current Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, then an assistant with the Jets in the same capacity. Wilkerson produced two solid years under Pettine before breaking out with a 10.5 sack campaign in 2013. The veteran defensive lineman has compiled 44 sacks over the course of his career, earning him a five-year, $86 million extension in 2016.
However, Wilkerson’s productivity after signing his lucrative new deal plummeted. He registered eight sacks over the past two seasons, a third less than his total from 2015. That drop-off contributed to the Jets’ decision to sever ties with Wilkerson this offseason.
While Wilkerson brings some concerns, the Packers have hit big with similar free agents in the past. After the Chicago Bears released Julius Peppers in 2014, the Packers pounced, signing the future Hall of Fame pass rusher to a team-friendly three-year contract. Peppers delivered 25 sacks and over the course of that deal. Additionally, Peppers’ “street” free-agent status didn’t cost Green Bay a comp pick, a factor that could benefit Wilkerson as well.
Wilkerson played primarily as a five-technique defensive lineman for the Jets. He seems likely to play a similar role with the Packers, who already have Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark on the roster. As such, Wilkerson signing would suggest that Green Bay plans to utilize more base 3-4 defense under Pettine in 2018.