Packers remain in hunt to sign free-agent DE Muhammad Wilkerson

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) intercepts a pass during the first half against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 22, 2017.

GREEN BAY - Free-agent defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson departed from Green Bay after meeting with coaches and various team personnel Wednesday night and through the day Thursday and is scheduled to take two other visits.

But a source said Wilkerson's visit was very positive and that the Packers remain very much in the picture in the pursuit for his services.

Wilkerson, who was released Monday by the New York Jets, chose to visit the Packers first, in part because of his relationship with new Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who was in a similar job with the Jets when Wilkerson was drafted in the first round in 2011.

Wilkerson went to dinner with team personnel Wednesday night and then visited the facility Thursday.

He will visit the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs next, a source said.

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Wilkerson had let it be known he planned on visiting several teams, so the fact the 6-4, 315-pound veteran didn’t sign with the Packers isn't necessarily a negative for the team. At the same time, they had first crack at locking him down and were not able or willing to do that.

In his seven years with the Jets, Wilkerson never made it to the playoffs and his priority has been to join a winning team. The Packers, Saints and Chiefs have been perennial playoff teams and would greatly benefit if Wilkerson were to play like the guy who had 28.5 sacks from 2013-'15.

The Jets released Wilkerson, 28, after two down seasons in which he dealt with leg, shoulder and toe injuries. In 2016, he was still recovering from a broken leg suffered late the previous season and managed just 4½ sacks. Last season, he was banged up and managed just 3½ sacks in 13 games.

The Packers undoubtedly wanted to address Wilkerson's reported tardiness for meetings and find out how motivated he was for a new start. Wilkerson played every position on the defensive line for Pettine in New York and would be an instant upgrade for a middling pass rush.

Wilkerson's deal with the Jets averaged $17.2 million a year and part of the process for Wilkerson and the other teams is figuring out what he should be paid now. It's possible Wilkerson wants a short-term deal that would allow him to regain his reputation as a disruptive front-line player and then take another crack at free agency.

But the Packers are likely to want a three-year deal similar to what they did with Julius Peppers with a three-year, $26 million deal in 2014. The Packers are $19.7 million under the salary cap and probably would prefer multiple years to help spread out the cap hit.

Free agency starts Wednesday and it's likely Wilkerson would prefer to have a deal done before then.

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