GREEN BAY, Wis. — Muhammad Wilkerson will be the first significant addition to the Packers’ defense this offseason.
A former first-round pick, Wilkerson agreed to terms with the Packers on Tuesday, a source told ESPN. The deal is expected to be for one season, giving Wilkerson the opportunity to test free agency again next year.
Wilkerson, who was released by the New York Jets earlier this month, will be reunited with new Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Pettine served in the same capacity for the Jets from 2009 to 2012 and coached Wilkerson during his first two years in the league.
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The Jets released Wilkerson on March 5, ending a seven-year run in New York that turned bitter last season. Wilkerson visited the Packers two days later, but he also made visits to the Saints, Chiefs and Redskins before choosing the Packers.
The Jets had to cut Wilkerson before Friday or else his $16.75 million salary for 2018 would have become fully guaranteed.
The Packers are looking to rebuild a defense that has not finished in the top 10 since their Super Bowl season of 2010. Coach Mike McCarthy fired defensive coordinator Dom Capers in January after nine seasons.
Still, defensive line might be the deepest position on the Packers’ defensive roster, with budding star Kenny Clark, Pro Bowler Mike Daniels and the improving Dean Lowry. The bigger positions of need are at cornerback and outside linebacker.
Wilkerson, 28, was benched for the final three games of last season, ostensibly because he was late for a meeting on Dec. 15; it marked the fourth time since 2015 he was disciplined for tardiness.
The Jets decided to keep him off the field for the remainder of the season because they were concerned about a potential injury, which could have resulted in the team being on the hook for his 2018 salary. By then, the organization had decided Wilkerson’s fate.
Wilkerson was due to count $20 million on the cap, the league’s fourth-highest cap charge for a non-quarterback. By cutting him, the Jets saved $11 million.
It was a significant decline for Wilkerson, a 2011 first-round pick who once appeared to be on the verge of stardom.
Wilkerson peaked in 2015, when he recorded a career-high 12 sacks and was named to his first Pro Bowl. In 2016, he was rewarded with a five-year, $86 million contract that included $37 million fully guaranteed at signing. He was the highest-paid player on the team in 2017, making $15 million in cash earnings.
His decline coincided with the new contract. Wilkerson produced eight sacks in 28 games over the past two seasons. Privately, team officials questioned whether he still had a passion for the game.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini contributed to this report.