The Pros and Cons of Trading for Muhammad Wilkerson
Nothing like rampant speculation to get social media fired up. There have been a lot of tweets claiming, “According to multiple reports the Chicago Bears are the front runner for New York Jets DL Mo Wilkerson.” This is where social media is dangerous. The first report appears to be from Benjamin Albright who simply responded to a tweet about Wilkerson.
Every other report seems to stem from this harmless tweet. So the multiple reports are just reports that are reporting one report. As reports go, this is not a report this is a tweet, and it’s a reply which means it wasn’t even sent out publicly, someone had to search for it. Has Ryan Pace kicked the tires on Wilkerson? Absolutely. Pace is constantly trying to improve his roster and it’s clear that the plan is to build the Bears back into a contender by creating a stellar defense and bringing the offense up slowly behind it.
So while it’s something to consider, the twitterverse and the blogosphere need to slow down about how much legitimacy is behind the Wilkerson to the Bears chatter. There hasn’t been one major NFL insider that has even mentioned that this is a major possibility, so at this point it should be taken with a grain of salt.
But with that in mind, it does seem obvious that Pace has at least considered the idea of bringing Wilkerson to the Bears, but doing so would not be easy. If he manages to pull it off, let’s examine the pros and the cons of making such a maneuver, starting with the positives.
Wilkerson is absolutely perfect for the Vic Fangio’s defense. He will be a dominant force up front. He knows how to get to the quarterback, he knows how to disrupt running plays, he constantly draws double teams but can still split them and be effective. He is an absolute force in the trenches.
If Wilkerson comes to the Bears, the argument could be made that the Bears would have the best front seven defensively in the entire NFL. With Wilkerson and Akiem Hicks at DEs and young Eddie Goldman in the middle, the Bears would have an excellent front three. Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan are a fantastic duo at ILBs, Pernell McPhee has proven to be a playmaker and Lamarr Houston is coming off a very nice season giving the Bears an excellent linebacking corps. The Bears have some depth at linebacker and some young players that should improve upfront and the front seven has a chance to be something very special. There are other great front sevens, the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, and Carolina Panthers come to mind, but the Bears would have the potential to be just as dominant.
The Bears secondary is still suspect in a lot of ways, but when you have a front seven like the Bears potentially would have, you can hide any warts pretty easily. A move like this would make the Bears defensive unit a top 10 squad, potentially even top 5. It’s a no brainer move, or is it? There are some negatives to consider.
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It should be mentioned briefly that Wilkerson is coming off a broken leg that he suffered the final game of the regular season. This shouldn’t be an alarm at all. Wilkerson has been very healthy his whole career and this is the type of injury that should heal without concerns and not be a factor moving forward.
Wilkerson has already been given the franchise tag from the New York Jets, so he’ll be playing this year at a clip of $15.7 million per season. Pace isn’t going to make a move like this unless he is confident they can lock Wilkerson up long term or have some kind of assurances that a deal is going to get done. Pace has been very careful with his salary cap spending. He doesn’t want to be pinned down under bad contracts that force him to make the team less competitive on the field. Giving Wilkerson a huge deal with a big chunk of guaranteed money (probably north of $50 million) does not seem like a move Pace would do based on how he has handled the cap thus far.
The Bears have filled up a lot of their available cap space and have to sign rookies as well. That probably means the Bears would have about $10 million available (roughly) for free agents, which means they would need to make a cap move. Cutting Antrel Rolle wouldn’t do quite enough which means the Bears would have to move a legitimate veteran. That may be where Matt Slauson trade rumors have emerged.
If the Bears cut Rolle and send Slauson to the Jets, that frees up enough space for them to keep Wilkerson and sign all their rookies. Would the Bears send the 11th pick, Slauson and perhaps a second or third rounder to the Jets for Wilkerson and the 20th overall pick? Not saying that would be the trade, but you would think it would be something similar.
The Jets have been looking for a straight first round pick for Wilkerson. There seems to be zero chance the Bears would do that. Pace wants to build through the draft and you don’t have epic draft classes by shipping out your second ever first round pick as Bears’ GM. If Pace does make a big leap and nab Wilkerson, he will do it by trading back in the first round, not trading his first round pick. If the Jets won’t consider that as the first building block of the trade, it would be a non-starter for Pace.
To get a talent like Wilkerson, the Bears would gladly downgrade from the 11th pick to the 20th pick, but would they be willing to throw in an additional high pick and part with Slauson? It’s a steep price, but one the Bears would probably have to swallow and agree to terms.
Moving Slauson though would really be a hit to the Bears offensive line. If ESPN’s Adam Caplan is accurate in that the Bears would expect Ted Larsen to start, he would really weaken the line’s overall performance and really hinder the offense. Larsen is a quality depth addition to an offensive line, but relying on him to be a regular piece is not the best plan. Manny Ramirez is versatile and starting him at guard seems like a better option than Larsen, but perhaps the Bears see some potential in Larsen that he is yet to tap. Also it’s important to note that without Slauson, a weak offensive line is going to put Jay Cutler at risk every time he drops back. Again, it’s the price you would pay to bring in a special talent like Wilkerson.
The Bears have sent Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte packing in the last 12 months. They have done this to help with team chemistry and use those finances to build up the defense, but losing those pieces does hurt the offense’s performance without question. While it may be worth it in the long run, is weakening the offensive line at this point also something that Pace should be considering? Trading for Wilkerson isn’t as much of a slam dunk as one would originally think.
The Bears would have to commit major dollars for several years and hurt the offense in the process, but Wilkerson would be a special piece that is the type of player that one day would make a good team a great team. Whether Wilkerson finds his way from the Big Apple to the Second City is still only conjecture, but the idea is being bounced around Halas Hall, that’s for certain.
Bill Zimmerman is an editor and featured writer for FanSided‘s BearGogglesOn. Like his Facebook page or follow him onTwitter for more news and interaction.