By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Mar 13, 2018 at 8:28 PM

After releasing beloved wide receiver Jordy Nelson and signing tight end Jimmy Graham earlier in the day, new Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst kept busy Tuesday night, agreeing to terms with former Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, according to multiple reports.

It's the first major move Gutekunst has made to help the Packers’ defense, which was one of the NFL’s worst over the last three years. He traded cornerback Damarious Randall to the Cleveland Browns for quarterback Deshon Kizer over the weekend, then cut Nelson and added Graham on Tuesday.

Deals don’t become official until free agency starts and the new league year begins at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, but signing Wilkerson – a highly talented, if sometimes not-highly motivated physical force, who visited Green Bay and met with the Packers last Thursday – makes a lot of sense. That's especially true if it's only for one year and $5 million, with another $3 million in incentives, as the NFL Network has reported. 

A first-round draft pick in 2011, Wilkerson spent seven durable, mostly productive seasons in New York, racking up 28 sacks and five forced fumbles from 2013-15. After his 12-sack season in 2015, he was named to the Pro Bowl and received a five-year, $86 million contract – including $37 million guaranteed – that made him the highest-paid player on the team. With the hefty deal, however, Wilkerson’s performance dropped, and fans and media questioned his effort and desire.

After a mild 2016, his relationship with the Jets clearly hit rock bottom last season. Wilkerson was benched for the last three games of 2017 – the only three he missed – for being late to a meeting on Dec. 15. According to local news outlets, the more likely story was the team didn’t want to risk him getting hurt, since they then would have been on the hook for his $20 million cap hit in 2018. Reportedly, he had been disciplined for tardiness three times before.

The Jets cut the 28-year-old Wilkerson on March 5, allowing the team to avoid paying his 2018 salary, which would have become guaranteed on March 16.

Removing his final year in New York, though, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Wilkerson played in 92 of 96 regular-season games and averaged 6.8 sacks per season. And in Green Bay, the still-naturally gifted player will be reunited with new Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, for whom Wilkerson played in his first two NFL seasons.

Head coach Mike McCarthy fired longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers immediately after the season, and Gutekunst was later promoted to replace Ted Thompson as GM. McCarthy has said publicly that Green Bay needs to improve on defense, especially after finishing in the NFL’s bottom third in total defense for the second straight season and allowing the seventh-most points in the league in 2017.

Signing Wilkerson could have huge short-term upside, if he’s determined to play at the level he’s capable of playing and prove his doubters wrong. Still, the Packers already have a solid defensive line, with Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry, and they desperately need help elsewhere on defense, particularly in the secondary.

Gutekunst said Tuesday night that cornerback is a priority, even if it isn't addressed in free agency. The signing of Wilkerson shows the young GM is taking a different, more aggressive approach to player acquisition, but it doesn’t yet fill the most glaring defensive holes.

Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.

After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.

Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.