EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Jets spent the offseason purging their roster of aging or overpriced veterans, many of whom were at the epicenter of a badly fractured locker room.
But that project wasn't finished until Sunday. The likely permanent benching of Mo Wilkerson was the final piece.
The problematic Wilkerson was declared inactive for the Jets' Christmas Eve game against the Los Angeles Chargers, and according to a source the Jets intend to declare him inactive for their finale in New England on New Year's Eve, too. And with the Jets planning to cut him this offseason, before his $16.75 million salary for 2018 becomes guaranteed in mid-March, that means his turbulent, seven-year tenure with the Jets is effectively done.
As a team source told SNY on Sunday morning, "He'll never play for the Jets again."
And the mood in the Jets organization seemed to be "Good riddance" to malcontent player who underperformed on the field and had become nothing but headaches off of it. His penchant for lateness and his lackluster attitude has annoyed many in the organization, according to sources. He was like an anchor tied to the disappointing, disgruntled 2016 team, not a player who wanted to be part of the bright future the Jets believe they are starting to build.
He had become such a pain, in fact, that according to a source there was a sentiment in the Jets' front office that Wilkerson should be suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team" after he showed up late to work two weeks ago. It was the fourth time in three years his lateness became public, though sources insist he has been late far more often than is generally known.
They opted against a suspension, though, because of the hassle it would involve. If they suspended Wilkerson it would be without pay, and he was unlikely to let two week's pay - or about $1.7 million - be taken from him without a fight. The NFL Players Association would certainly have been involved too. It could've been an ugly and long battle.
Instead, the feeling, according to a source, was to "just move on". The whole theme of the Jets in 2017 was essentially "out with the old and in with the new". They rid themselves of so many seemingly unhappy veterans during the offseason, like Darrelle Revis, Sheldon Richardson and Brandon Marshall - players who were at the core of a disastrous 2016 season. In their place, they brought in younger, energetic players like Jamal Adams, Demario Davis, Mo Claiborne, Austin Seferian-Jenkins - players with a positive attitude, who seem excited about the team's future.
In that setting, the 28-year-old Wilkerson's dour demeanor stuck out like a sore thumb.
His teammates noticed. That's why none have spoken out in support of him since he was left home from their trip to New Orleans last weekend. Most of the players who were willing to talk about their disgruntled teammate understood he had broken team rules and felt the punishment was warranted. There also seemed to be a general understanding that his time with the Jets was done.
In some ways, that's a huge fall for a player who signed a stunning, five-year, $86 million contract with the Jets in July, 2016. He was coming off a 12-sack season and his first Pro Bowl selection, though he was also coming off a broken leg suffered in the season finale. The Jets essentially chose Wilkerson, their 2011 first-round pick, over Richardson, a 2013 first-rounder who had seemingly more serious off-the-field issues. With 2015 first-rounder Leonard Williams also on the defensive line, it was obvious the Jets couldn't trade all of them, and Richardson was eventually traded just before this season to the Seattle Seahawks for receiver Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick.
Wilkerson rewarded their faith with two injury-plagued seasons, eight sacks in 28 games and plenty of headaches. He collected $37 million in guaranteed money along the way.
Was it a mistake? In hindsight, of course it was. But it's one the Jets finally corrected over the last two weeks as they essentially rid themselves of their final tie to their ugly recent past. If the Jets really are building a new, brighter, more positive future, there was no reason to hang onto an albatross like this. He was part of the dark cloud that has hung over this organization.
Maybe now, brighter skies can really begin to peek through.