Back on March 11, 2014, when I was with Bleacher Report, I wrote that there was a good possibility that Julius Peppers could become a member of the Green Bay Packers if he was released by the Chicago Bears.
Well, a day later, Peppers was released by da Bears. And four days after that, the Packers and then general manager Ted Thompson signed Peppers to a three-year $26 million dollar deal.
The deal tuned out to be a really good one for the Pack. In those three years, No. 56 had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions, which were both returned for touchdowns. The Packers were also in the NFC championship game in two of the three years Peppers was a Packer.
One of the reasons that I thought Peppers might come to Green Bay was because he would be able to reunite with Mike Trgovac, who was Peppers’ defensive line coach in 2002 as a rookie and also his defensive coordinator from 2003-08 when Peppers was with the Carolina Panthers.
We could see the same thing happen again in 2018. In this case, we might see defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson reunite with his first defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, who is now the defensive coordinator of the Packers.
Wilkerson will be a free agent after his official release by the New York Jets, who announced today that Wilkerson will be cut. In 2011, which was Wilkerson’s rookie year with the Jets, and in 2012, the defense of that team was coordinated by Pettine.
The Jets selected Wilkerson, who played his college ball at Temple, with the 30th pick of Round 1 in the 2011 NFL draft.
Pettine did one hell of a job as the defensive coordinator of the J-E-T-S, as the team was ranked first, third, fifth and eighth in total defense in the four years (2009 through 2012) he ran the defense.
Wilkerson was there for two of those years. In those two years, Wilkerson had 118 total tackles, eight sacks, one safety, six passes defensed and four forced fumbles.
In his entire seven-year career with the Jets, Wilkerson had 405 tackles, 44.5 sacks, 28 passes defensed, two interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery (for a touchdown).
Wilkerson was named to the Pro Bowl squad in 2015 and was voted second-team All-Pro twice (2013 & 2015).
To me, that is pretty nice production out of a defensive end who primarily played in a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Yes, I know the concerns about Wilkerson. That his motor isn’t always running to full capacity when he plays and that he has been late to meetings at times.
Still, look at his production. Plus, getting together with Pettine could possibly invigorate his focus back on football.
Not to mention having a teammate like Mike Daniels making sure Wilkerson toes the line correctly.
Speaking of Daniels, he is part of a defensive line that certainly could use some help in 2018. The depth chart for the line currently is Daniels, Kenny Clark, Quinton Dial, Dean Lowry and Montravius Adams (two total tackles as a rookie 2017).
The 6’4″, 315-pound Wilkerson would certainly help that group, especially based on his production. Plus, Wilkerson won’t be 29 until October.
Daniels, along with Clark, are considered the two best defensive linemen on the Packers. In six years with Green Bay, Daniels has 207 tackles, 27 sacks, one pass defensed, one interception, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), plus went to the Pro Bowl in 2017.
The solid production from Daniels doesn’t even approach the production of Wilkerson. This is not to say Daniels is not a good defensive lineman, because he is, but Wilkerson has even better ability and his production has proven it.
To me, adding Wilkerson to the defensive line group of the Packers would help in a number of ways.
One, the defensive line would be fresher as Pettine would be able to rotate the group as needed. Secondly, the linebackers would be able to make more plays, both in stopping the run and in rushing the passer, because Wilkerson is double-teamed so often. Finally, all of those things will help the secondary, because that should mean a much better pass rush to force the opposing quarterback off his spot and create havoc.
Time will tell if Wilkerson and Pettine will reunite or not, but if nothing else, I sure believe that new general manager Brian Gutekunst is considering it.
At least, based on his comments at the NFL Scouting Combine yesterday in Indianapolis.
“Obviously there’s limits in what you can do, but we’d like to be really aggressive and see (if) we can be in every conversation,” Gutekunst said. “Now whether that leads to us ending up signing a bunch or not, we’ll see. Like I said, there’s limitations there. But we’d like to be as aggressive as we can to try to improve our football team. At the same time, it’s a smaller market and it’s a little bit riskier market. So I think as my mentor and predecessor would say, you have to be very cautious as you enter that. But I think we’d like to look at every option we can.”
Wilkerson is certainly an option. Plus, because he was released, the Packers can sign him at any time. Even before the official ability to sign free agents begins on March 14.
Signing Wilkerson would be an aggressive move by Gutekunst and the Packers. Just like it was when Thompson and the Packers signed Peppers to a three-year deal back in 2012.
That signing helped the Packers to go on to have two appearances in the NFC title game in three years.
I know the Packers would be thrilled to have the same thing happen this time around if they inked Wilkerson.
We shall see.