Brian Gutekunst has already displayed a desire to make the Green Bay Packers better by being aggressive in free agency. The team’s new GM has an early chance to do that by signing defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and solidifying an already exceptional defensive line.
The New York Jets officially released the seven-year veteran on Monday, and he’s set to meet with the Packers later today. While his production dropped off after a 12-sack performance in 2015, Wilkerson could enjoy a resurgence in his eighth season by joining Green Bay.
It may be unfair to expect Wilkerson to get back to that 2015 level, but he could definitely improve on the 4.5- and 3.5-sack seasons he’s had since. A two- or three-year deal could allow the longtime Jet to have an impact much in the same way that Julius Peppers did after joining the Packers in 2014.
Peppers was coming off a disappointing 2013 and entering the twilight of his career when he joined Green Bay. He signed his deal when he was 34, leading some to doubt that he could continue to be productive. But Peppers excelled with the Packers in situational roles, finishing either first or second in sacks in each of his three seasons in Green Bay. He provided a boost to the pass rush and made many clutch plays.
Wilkerson could have a similar effect. The Packers already boast a top-tier defensive line. Mike Daniels (finally) earned a much-deserved trip to the Pro Bowl, and Kenny Clark continued his ascent to being a force in the front seven. Wilkerson will turn 29 during the upcoming season, far from finished in the NFL.
The defensive-lineman is solid against the run, and has shown an ability to finish against the pass. The Packers’ pass rush was inconsistent and left a lot to be desired last season, and a rotation of Daniels, Clark, and Wilkerson along the d-line could make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
Wilkerson could also be rejuvenated by pairing with a former coach, current Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Pettine worked at the same position with the Jets for Wilkerson’s first two seasons, helping develop him into an effective defensive lineman. Pettine’s rapport with his former player could help Wilkerson quickly adjust to being part of the Packers.
Signing Wilkerson also would not affect Green Bay’s compensatory picks for next year, since he was cut by New York. That consideration could also affect the Packers’ desire to sign him.
Green Bay does not have much cap space heading into the free agency period, and have bigger needs that they’d like to address. But Gutekunst wants to be “aggressive” with signing players for the right price, and Wilkerson could provide a relatively inexpensive option to help the Packers’ defense improve.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .