METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints are wasting little time addressing their biggest needs -- before free agency even officially begins on March 14.
Last week they signed safety Kurt Coleman after he was released by the Carolina Panthers. Now they’re bringing in former New York Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson for a visit, a source confirmed. The news was first reported by the NFL Network.
Wilkerson, 28, would be a game-changing “home run” type of signing for the Saints if he was still in his 2015 prime (when he was a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro with 12 sacks -- and when there weren’t any questions about his motivation or attitude). But those have become huge “ifs” now for Wilkerson, who was benched for the final three games last year and released just two years into a five-year, $86 million contract.
The final straw appeared to come, ironically, before the Jets’ Week 15 loss at New Orleans, when he was reportedly late for his second team meeting in two weeks.
The Jets reportedly decided to keep Wilkerson on the bench for the remainder of the season so that his $16.75 million salary for 2018 couldn’t become guaranteed in the event of an injury. He was officially released last week, and he has already completed a free-agent visit with the Green Bay Packers.
The Saints obviously need to do their due diligence on Wilkerson to find out if they can become the beneficiaries of a reinvigorated star who is determined to get his career back on the right track -- or if those red flags aren’t worth the risk.
Former Jets coach and ESPN analyst Rex Ryan told ESPN's Rich Cimini in December that the Wilkerson of 2017 wasn’t the Wilkerson he used to coach. Which Wilkerson would the Saints be getting?
If the Saints are confident that the massive 6-foot-4, 315-pounder can return to form, then he would be a tremendous fit for their rising young defense.
Although he was primarily a 3-4 defensive end for the Jets, he wouldn’t be described as an edge rusher (which I have ranked as New Orleans’ No. 1 need). He would probably play defensive tackle in pass-rush packages in New Orleans’ preferred 4-3 alignment -- similar to what Nick Fairley or Sheldon Rankins have done over the past two years.
But that’s perfectly OK, since I would rank the overall pass rush as New Orleans’ biggest need more than any one specific position. And Wilkerson could have the versatility to play both tackle positions or defensive end in various packages.