For the first time in three years, Muhammad Wilkerson showed up for the start of the New York Jets' offseason training program.
The big defensive lineman was pictured at the Jets facility in Florham Park, New Jersey, on Monday morning, as the team officially kicked off its voluntary workouts. Last year, Wilkerson declined to participate because he wasn't happy with being tagged as the Jets "franchise player." He skipped them in 2015 as he hoped to pressure the Jets to give him a new deal.
But things are a lot different now as the 27-year-old enters the second year of his five-year, $86 million contract. He's due a $14.75 million salary in 2017, but he also has some extra incentive: a $250,000 "workout bonus" tied to his attendance at the offseason program.
"It's a new season," Wilkerson said in quotes provided by the Jets. "I'm glad to be back and get things started. It's the first day of workouts with the guys. We have a lot to look forward to."
Another notable attendee as the workouts opened was wide receiver Eric Decker, who missed almost all of last season with injuries that eventually led to both hip and shoulder surgery. He was photographed walking into the building under his own power, with no slings or visible wraps or braces. He is very likely there to be evaluated and to continue his rehabilitation.
In several offseason interviews, neither GM Mike Maccagnan nor coach Todd Bowles would say when they expect the 30-year-old Decker to be ready to resume football activities, or even if they expected him to participate in training camp this summer.
Other players pictured at the program on Day 1 included defensive end Leonard Williams, cornerback Buster Skrine, new quarterback Josh McCown, new cornerback Morris Claiborne, quarterbacks Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, running back Matt Forte, receiver Quincy Enunwa and linebacker David Harris.
There was no media access for the first day, so those players appeared in photos and videos provided by the Jets. The team also supplied quotes from several players who were predictably "excited" to be back to work.
"It feels like the first day of school - walking around seeing smiles on everybody's face," Williams said. "It feels great to be back to work with all of my teammates."
Added McCown: "It's always good to get back started especially when you are coming to a new team. It's good to meet everyone and get acclimated. But It's the first day in a long process and I'm excited to be part of it."
The Jets did not give a complete list of players who attended the first day of what is strictly a voluntary program. The workouts on Monday were the beginning of Phase 1, a two-week session of strength and conditioning and rehabilitation. Phase 2, which lasts three weeks, is when the players can hit the field for non-contact drills. The third phase is a four-week program of organized team activities (OTAs), concluding with the mandatory, full-team mini-camp in mid-June.