No Mo: Jets bench Muhammad Wilkerson for Saints game
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — There will be no Mo in New Orleans.
The New York Jets have benched defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson for the game against the Saints on Sunday, the latest in what has become a string of discipline issues involving the franchise’s highest-paid player.
Coach Todd Bowles announced Friday that Wilkerson will not travel with the team— just two weeks after the 2011 first-round draft pick was benched for most of the first quarter against Kansas City.
“It’s a coach’s decision,” said Bowles, adding it was not injury-related.
Bowles would neither confirm nor deny the decision to leave Wilkerson home was a disciplinary action. But NJ Advance Media reported that Wilkerson was late for the Jets’ team meeting on Friday morning.
“I’m just worried about the guys going to the game tomorrow, and I’m going to coach those 53 guys,” Bowles said before repeating it several times when pushed for details.
Bowles also wouldn’t say whether the benching could last for more than just one game.
This is just the latest issue involving Wilkerson, who sat out the first few series against Kansas City on Dec. 3 for being late to a team meeting.
He’s also been punished the last two seasons for tardiness. He was benched for the first quarter against the Giants in 2015 and again against Miami last season when he missed a walkthrough practice.
Bowles said he addressed the decision with his team Friday, but wouldn’t discuss what was said.
“We talk about everything,” he said.
“He pretty much just said, our mission’s still the same: ‘One team, one goal,‘” linebacker Demario Davis said of Bowles’ message to the players. “It’s about the team and we’ve got a big challenge in front of us on Sunday and that’s what we’re going to be focused on.”
The 28-year-old Wilkerson is the Jets’ fourth-leading tackler with 59 overall and is second in sacks with 3 1/2. He has battled injuries the past few seasons, but has lacked the playmaking explosiveness that he had earlier in his career — particularly during his Pro Bowl campaign during the 2015 season.
He broke his right leg at the end of that year, and it affected his play last season. But the Jets still rewarded Wilkerson in July 2016 with a five-year deal worth $86 million.
Now it appears unlikely that Wilkerson will be part of the team beyond this season. Wilkerson, who has just eight sacks in his last 28 games, would see his $16.75 million salary for next season become fully guaranteed if he remains on New York’s roster by the third day of the league’s new year in March.
For a franchise that shed big names with big salaries during the past year while trying to change the culture around the team, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Jets cut Wilkerson in the offseason. New York would save $11 million against the salary cap next year by making the move.
Meanwhile, Kony Ealy and Xavier Cooper could see increased action in Wilkerson’s place at New Orleans.
“The game is always next-man-up,” Davis said. “Whoever’s out there, you have to be ready. It’s a professional game. We’ve got a very good group, so whoever’s at the position, we’re going to be ready. It’s a tough challenge, so we all have to be locked in.
“Any time you’re missing a certain player, everybody has to pick their play up, so we’ve got to be ready to do that.”
NOTES: RB Matt Forte (knee) and RG Brian Winters (abdomen/ankle) were listed as questionable for the game. Both have played through their ailments the last few weeks. ... WR Jeremy Kerley is eligible to be activated after he returned to practice this week following a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancers. Bowles said the Jets will “probably wait” to make a decision on him. New York has a roster exemption until 4 p.m. Monday, when they have to make another move to activate him or release him. ... The Jets signed OT Korren Kirven to the practice squad and released TE Zach Conque from the practice squad.