The Green Bay Packers made a big splash in free agency on Tuesday, reportedly agreeing to terms on contracts with pair of big-name players. Muhammad Wilkerson was the second player to agree with the team after Jimmy Graham, but his impact may be bigger than the tight end’s when we wrap up the 2018 season.
Wilkerson was released by the New York Jets last week and took a few visits — including his first to Green Bay — before landing with the Packers. However, the reasons for his release are numerous: he was hurt for much of last season (though he played through the injuries), he was disciplined for being late to meetings, and his contract was just far too expensive for his production.
Why would the Packers invest in a free agent defensive lineman who is coming off multiple injuries and had reported discipline issues with his previous team? Here are some of the biggest reasons.
He is motivated
First and foremost, Wilkerson wanted to be in Green Bay. Packers lineman Mike Daniels helped recruit him, using their shared New Jersey upbringing as a recruiting tactic. He also rejoins defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who was the Jets’ DC when Wilkerson was drafted. That familiarity will help ensure that Wilkerson remains accountable and motivated to perform, as does the structure of his contract: his deal is for just one year, meaning he could sign another big contract next offseason if he has a huge year.
He signed for a relatively inexpensive deal
That one-year deal is extremely team-friendly, and also gives Wilkerson the opportunity to earn additional money. The contract reportedly has a starting value of $5 million, which will be a bargain if he plays anything like he did prior to 2016. It also carries $3 million in incentives, adding to the motivation factor and giving him an opportunity to not only cash in next offseason but to do so during 2018 as well.
He is a perfect fit for Mike Pettine’s defense
Pettine’s history with Wilkerson might make this seem obvious, but Wilkerson can slide into the Packers’ scheme without missing a beat. His ideal fit in a base 3-4 defense is as a 5-technique defensive end, which is coincidentally the one place on the line that the Packers don’t have a star or star-in-the-making. Even when Pettine runs a four-man line in a 4-3 Under alignment, the strong-side 5-technique remains a critical position.
Wilkerson’s pass-rush ability also will make him valuable in sub packages, as he can rush from an interior position when the Packers line up with two down linemen. His addition may also give the Packers some flexibility to run a heavier four-man line when in nickel or dime by taking the Sam linebacker off the field instead of removing one of the down linemen.
He makes the Packers’ front 3 arguably the best in the NFL
I wouldn’t want to be an offensive coordinator having to game plan for a starting three of Wilkerson at 5-tech, Kenny Clark at 1-tech, and Daniels at 3-tech. That’s as dangerous a group of linemen as there is in the entire league, and adding Nick Perry as a rush linebacker only makes it scarier. The Packers also improve their depth with this move, by shifting Dean Lowry into more of a rotational role instead of him being the starting 5-tech. That added depth should help keep all of the linemen fresher as the season goes along.
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