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Packers' DE Muhammad Wilkerson Motivated For "Rebirth" in 2018

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Packers' DE Muhammad Wilkerson Motivated For "Rebirth" in 2018

-- Donning No. 96 in Green Bay this season is someone with more incentive to rebound in 2018 than most others on the Packers' roster.

The man behind the 96, Muhammad Wilkerson, was a mid-March free agent signing by the Packers who was brought aboard with the intention of shoring up the defensive line alongside Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels -- two linemen who are quickly rising up the charts as one of the top interior duos in the league.

The Packers signed Wilkerson to a one-year deal worth $5 million; chump-change compared to the $86 million dollar deal he signed with the New York Jets in 2016. However, Wilkerson can earn up to $8 million if he checks off every incentive in his deal.

He'll need to stay healthy in order to do so, and he was far from it in his final two seasons with the Jets.

According to a conversation Wilkerson had with Jason La Canfora of, Wilkerson's broken fibula suffered in the final game of the 2015 season -- before he inked his monster deal with the Jets -- had a lingering impact on his lower body through the duration of the following two years.

"I would do whatever I had to do to numb pain and things like that, whatever the case may be," Wilkerson said. "Take shots to be able to play so I could be out there to help the team -- that's what I would do. ... I definitely was never 100 percent the last two years."

Wilkerson's struggles carried into 2017 and ultimately multiplied into what became a shoulder injury and a broken toe. It all culminated in Wilkerson tying his fewest amount of games played in a season (13) and finishing with his second-fewest amount of sacks (3.5) since his rookie season.

Had the Jets not released Wilkerson when they did, they would've had to pay him $16.75 million in fully guaranteed salary for the 2018 season, regardless of what team he played for.

Despite entering his eighth season, Wilkerson is only 28 and, according to La Canfora and trainer Tony Ponton, seems more motivated with a potential career rebirth in Green Bay on-deck.

"He knew he definitely needed to ramp it up this year considering what his body has been through the past two seasons," Ponton said. "He is really in that state of mind where I've got to prove myself again, because people think he's fallen off. He's got a name for sure, and that name still carries some weight, but he knows he wants to show people that he's still Big Mo."

Reuniting Wilkerson with his former defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine with whom Wilkerson served under during his first two seasons in the league is a relatively good start to getting "Big Mo" back on the right track.

Not to mention the sense of stability and consistency in terms of winning and playing for a team who has achieved nothing short of excellence at the quarterback position for over 25 years. During his seven seasons with the Jets, Wilkerson never even sniffed the postseason.

In just one year with the Packers, the likelihood he runs out of Lambeau Field's hallowed tunnels in January increases tenfold.

"This is all new to me, but just going to Green Bay and visiting, I just felt like that was the place for me to have a new start," Wilkerson said. "There's a lot of great tradition there and a lot of great players came through that organization and hopefully I can be a part of something great there and good things can definitely happen for me and the rest of the team there.

"Just when I walked in the facility, just looking at everything, the trophies and everything on the wall -- the energy and the vibe -- it was like, "I've got to be here; this is the place to be.'"

The Packers return for the start of their offseason program on Monday, April 16. Wilkerson will get a chance to reconnect with Pettine and get a feel for his new environment and teammates on a limited basis before OTAs at the end of May.

"I'm definitely excited, I can't wait for Monday. When we get to OTAs and we put on helmets, I'm probably going to walk to the mirror a few times to see what it looks like. This is definitely different. I'm sure I'll be checking myself out. I'm definitely excited."


Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (48) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

4thand1's picture

Only the truly great players are more motivated more than the rest. As great as players like Jerry Rice and Walter Payton were, they worked harder than anyone.

Oppy's picture

The truly great players typically have extra motivation and hyper-competitiveness usually stemming from a life long fear of failure. Combined with their superior talent, they can become truly great.

I'd argue there's far more "more motivated" players who are career specials teamers out there, because they don't have the superior (or perhaps even starter) talent.

They know their league minimum paychecks could stop at any moment and there's a good chance the dream is over if it happens.

That's some "more motivation". :)

Hematite's picture

I'm hoping for a big year for him but considering his recent injury history I'm not expecting much.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Tarynfor12's picture

" If you need two alarm clocks to get up in the morning, you must not like your job."...Sherlock Holmes.

Wilkerson may not use two alarm clocks but he certainly hits the ' snooze ' button way too much. Cannot expect the all from one who continuously shuts down his alarm to rise and shine.

Tundraboy's picture

Nothing like starting off on the right foot. Give the man a chance first. Didn't dislike either. Not into that.

Tarynfor12's picture

He's getting a chance but his history cannot be ignored because he's now a Packer.
I'd rather be surprised from having low expectation than to be disappointed from high expectation, especially from one who has a disappointment track record.

dobber's picture

This is truly a one-year fix for the Packers, in my mind. He's demonstrated that he's a risk once he gets paid, so if he has a really strong year, he's priced himself out of the Packers' plans (but likely nets the Packers a nice comp pick). If he's the same player that sloughed through the last couple years in NY, the Packers won't want to bring him back (but he'll probably still bring a weak comp pick when someone signs him).

holmesmd's picture

Yes, it’s often more comfortable for people to be skeptical & negative. That way their egos won’t be hurt by being wrong. Did you feel that way about Fackrell!? He’s old, skinny, plays slow as molasses... Why the leap of faith in some and skepticism for others? I prefer trying to find optimism and hope in all people. I’m secure enough to be wrong but I find life more enjoyable that way. To each his own.

John Kirk's picture

More comfortable being skeptical and negative? I don't think either side of that coin is more comfortable, in general, maybe on a case by case basis. There are things in life I'm very positive and upbeat about and there are many I am less so. I'm not more comfortable in either arena. I'd like to be more optimistic on everything but years of data and evidence on certain things makes me much more of a realist. I think Muhmmad Ali had one of the greatest age specific quotes of all time...

"A man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. "

Aging is a gift of perspective. Realism is often panned as negativity by those who are optimistic in nature.

Oppy's picture

Taryn said she's skeptical of Mo because he has a two year running history of being a disappointment, which is absolutely fair.

And as much grief as I gave Taryn about Fackrell (mostly just because she was known to say she's never been wrong about her takes on packers players), she had zero reason to be skeptical of him, because he performed well in college and did not have a recent history of under-performance when he joined the league.

While I tend to find people who are pessimistic as their defacto mode to prevent themselves from being disappointed or as a way to hedge their intellectual bets as being emotionally fragile, I think being skeptical of a player who hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire the last few years is just.. Well, it just makes sense.

John Kirk's picture

I agree on Wilkerson but your worldview I'm not so sure about.

Emotionally fragile to be pessimistic? I would say "conditioned" is a much fairer term. You don't know what people have been subjected to that you haven't. If you've been "fortunate" enough to avoid repeated major life trauma that is great for you and should produce an attitude of gratitude and humility. I've ridden both tracks. I retain much of my worldview from my youth today whether in good or bad times. However, I completely understand pessimism. as I do optimism. Often, both are predicated on experience so neither is emotionally strong or weak rather just a function of experience. I'm going to be more optimistic when things are going my way and more pessimistic when they aren't. That's natural and conditioning.

Good Will Hunting is my all time favorite film. His character is fascinating and offers much to me and my experience. I hardly would call him emotionally weak because he carried a pessimistic view of the world due to his constant abuse and being bounced from foster home to foster home. Protecting one's self from further abuse is self preservation akin to putting the gloves over your face in boxing to not get hit further in the face. Never ever swinging back would be emotionally weak but don't ever confuse covering up for emotional weakness.

Oppy's picture

I'm naturally pessimistic in a lot of regards because I have observed many situations that typically turn out poorly. However, I have no fear in being optimistic when I feel things have just as much potential to go well as not.

That is not the same as a person who makes a conscience decision to be pessimistic because you can't be let down or hurt if you don't expect anything.

And, yeah, those people are emotionally fragile... that's why they need to "cover up" as you put it.
I'm not making character judgements, here. I'm being matter-of-fact. If you need to protect your emotions, it's because they're fragile.

John Kirk's picture

I understand the opening paragraph...but how do you judge who is feeling things have just as good of chance of going either way? Someone who has been taken advantage of in a relationship over and over and then expects it to happen again is emotionally weak, or are they just smart? Yes, any relationship can go either way but if it's gone all one way for you, you'd be a fool to not be concerned that the next one will go the same way. It is very hard to convince yourself otherwise. That isn't emotionally weak at all. It's self preservation mode. Fight or flight. It takes one heckuva fight to overcome bad experiences in my opinion.

We've all suffered in some way. I've been taken advantage of quite a bit in my life because of my giving nature. Does that make me pessimistic on a new person entering my life/circle? Yes. Does it stop me from being me? No. I used to hate being taken advantage of but now I see the value in it. Those who would choose to take advantage are not those I want in my circle and I will move on from those who wish to. It's a litmus test for me now. My circle is very small. I have many of the same friends from my youth as in from 6 years old. I have 3 very good friends from age 6 and here we are 40 years later still friends. I have two others that I'm close entered in high school and the other in broadcasting in Chicago. I'm not emotionally fragile to expect people to take advantage of me. I'm wise. That doesn't mean I'm closed off to opening my circle if someone won't. Would hate to be judged as emotionally fragile because I expect people to take advantage of me when it's possible someone won't.

Oppy's picture

I don't really want to "Look, dude" you.

But, look, dude, you're the one who is judging emotionally fragility as something to be ashamed of, or a negative. I'm just stating facts.

You talk about "self preservation mode" and "covering up". These are things you do to protect something sensitive and fragile.

I don't have a hang up about it. You do. And, for the record, the point came up because a poster stated, and I quote: "I'd rather be surprised from having low expectation than to be disappointed from high expectation.."

We're talking about freaking football, here. Not your future divorcee. Lighten up, francis. :)

John Kirk's picture

I know what we're talking about, Oppy. You're as fragile or moreso than I am. We're all fragile. The lie is trying to feed the perception that you aren't when you are. Oh, and fragility is not something to be ashamed did you ever get that impression from my words?

Tarynfor12's picture

That is not how I view all things. The constant downturn of play by the Packers and the failure of most FA's they have signed in the recent FA market should justify my position in the quote expressed of me.
The glass half full/half empty argument is optic thinking, since looking at it in a mirror from overhead reverses. Empty doesn't always mean negative as not having something can be an optimistic good viewpoint.
However, no need to argue with others over what I say in the comments,as some will always argue them out of need to be utterly optimistic. : )

Oppy's picture

Just for clarity's sake, and to actually be done with this:

Taryn, I was actually defending your position, an attempt to explain to the poster who jumped down your throat about your views on Fackrell/Wilkerson were not at odds with one another.

I made an aside on your comment about rather being pessimistic and surprised; meant to be illustrative of the difference between being just plain old negative for defensive purposes, and the justifiable hesitancy you have voiced over Wilkerson's future performance- but I did not intend my commentary on emotional fragility to be pointed AT you.

Now I've spent far too much of my time dealing with John Kirk seemingly believing that I'm putting down people who suffer the human condition known as feelings. Good gracious.

John Kirk's picture

Since we're on clarity... you labeled pessimism and anyone who practiced it as..."emotionally fragile". Now, you're defending against the idea you were putting down people who suffer the human condition of feelings? What an overnight rewrite. I merely pointed out that EVERYONE is emotionally fragile and it's not a bad thing to be pessimistic if it helps protect you from having damage done to yourself. I offered what I considered wisdom while you offered something else to the point of mocking me having a future divorce. Almost married 19 years on my first and only marriage. I'm surprised I made it this far without your guidance. :)

Oppy's picture

Your reading comprehension sucks.
Did I say all people who are pessimistic are emotionally fragile? No, that's not what I said. You literally missed half of the sentence.
Read it again. And Again. And again, if you have to.
I was pretty specific. The entire post I made was about sensible, experience based pessimism, and my brief point about a specific different type of pessimism was an aside meant only to illustrate the difference between the two. But here we are, still posting about it, because you either didn't read the full sentence or you failed to comprehend it. Done with it.
Have a good day.

John Kirk's picture

it doesn't suck. Why didn't you ask me to reread from the outset of this back and forth? I just went back and read it again. You think people who are pessimistic in nature are emotionally fragile to protect their feelings, or are that way to protect themselves from being let down. YES! I am emotionally fragile. You are emotionally fragile. EVERYONE is emotionally fragile. Pessimism or optimism has nothing to do with emotional fragility because EVERYONE despite their proclivity for optimism or pessimism IS emotionally fragile. There are only varying degrees of fragility and pessimism and optimism doesn't determine that.

We can be done but I did enjoy this. You opened the door with your quip on pessimism. I am optimistic this is finally over. :)

dobber's picture

I read somewhere that a pessimist is an optimist with more information.

Do with that what you will.

John Kirk's picture

Love it, dobber.

4thand1's picture

I hit my snooze and got for work for 40 years.

Tarynfor12's picture

Showing up is over rate it's value....many employers and other employee's would have benefited greater if showing up by some didn't happen....the loss in production wasn't worth the cost of the employee input.

holmesmd's picture


Tarynfor12's picture

You need help lifting a box and the person showing up to help only had the intention of keeping his hands in his pocket. Your better off doing it alone right, since your help has already shown he's only showing up to work. Why would another offer him a job?

holmesmd's picture

Do you know the man?! He played for a dumpster fire team that never had a shot to do squat! Shutting it down last season may not have been professional behavior but I can understand the temptation. His talent is undeniable so I would caution anyone trying to write the guy off. Many said the same crap about JP and he was our most impactful defensive player over the 3 years he was in GB. The Bears also sucked and had not used him properly. He began to have fun and play better with a new start. Let’s hope the same for Mo. Few men are beyond redemption IMO.

Tarynfor12's picture

You always give back fully what you took pay for or give the money back and leave....When you quit on your team you've quit on yourself and that is a mark that scars all involved and those taking you on had better know it.

holmesmd's picture

Point taken. Take mine: people can mature & change. Different environment & opportunity can do wonders. Let’s see what the man can do. GB obviously felt he was worthy of the chance.

Bedrock's picture

Big things should happen because of the pass rush ability of our big 3 lineman, Clark, Mo, and Daniels. Add Lowery to the mix along with less use of the 2-4 nickel...we should see improvement in the pash rush. Bigs will be eating up bigs and winning their one v one matchups. I can’t stand watching our 2-4 having 2 bigs swallowed up by double team combinations of 5 o-lineman. Someone will be in favorable matchup now.

dobber's picture

I have some hope that Reggie Gilbert will get them some depth on passing downs that will allow CMIII to work from the inside.

Tundraboy's picture

As do I.

Royalty Free GM's picture

What do you guys think how many sacks we should expect from this cheap messiah this year?
0, 3, 6, 9 or 12?

Tarynfor12's picture

Whatever the number, don't expect it to be around again for a second year. GB is a stepping stone to more money on another team or the discard barrel.

dobber's picture

I should have read ahead. Yes! I agree!

It's just a matter of whether they get a really nice comp pick or a weak one out of it.

Nick Perry's picture

I don't think 7 to 9 maybe 10 sacks is out of the question, especially playing under Pettine again.

What about you?

I might be wrong but you didn't much care for the Jimmy Graham signing either did you?

Royalty Free GM's picture

NP- Wilkerson is a big questionmark. About 1 million per sack would be ok, considering our current overpaid sack leaders.
So much hype about this player?

Graham? Not with that kind of money, no. I would have used that money on Trumaine Johnson.
Jordy had 6 TDS in last six games he played with Aaron. I don’t think Graham gets that so... our offense has gotten worse.
Of course a lot of depends how healthy this team will be.

But overall I trust that Pettine can get much more out these players than Capers. Our RB situation looks good.
It’s time to get our offense better by getting a deep threat with our excellent hands and that is Ridley. Then draft couple very good corners.

Something like this:

1st round- WR - Ridley
A rare chance to start making our offense NFL’s best by drafting the best.

2nd round - CB - Hughes/Davis/DJackson
Selecting first very good corner.

3rd round - CB - Hill/Kelly/Stewart/Meeks
Selecting second very good corner.

4th round - EDGE/LB/S - Ejiofor/Mata’afa/Nwosu/O’Daniel/Blanding/Reid
Two picks.

Trade up one or two times if necessary. We have more picks than any other team (12)

AgrippaLII's picture

I don't care if he gets a sack all season. I do expect him to be in the QB's face though. Make the QB unload before he wants to and good things will happen.

holmesmd's picture

I say 6. If the DL plays well together as a unit and Mo gets 6 sacks, I predict he will get another 3-4 year offer from GB.

Nick Perry's picture

I liked this signing a lot and I admit was beyond bummed out when he left after his first visit without a contract. Clearly the Packers knew what they were doing as Mo got to compare 3 or 4 other organizations to the Packers. I think that comes in handy when the Packers resign him if that's what happens after this year.

What excites me most about adding Wilkerson is pairing him with Daniels and Clark up front. With Lowry and Adams the Packers now have a damn good rotation where they should be able to get pressure quickly up the middle consistently. Maybe the opposing QB won't be able to step up so easily and get that extra second or two to complete a pass. I anxious as hell to watch Clark, Daniels and Mo play together with Perry and Matthews behind them. THAT has the potential to be one hell of a pass rushing group and we haven't even mentioned Biegel, Gilbert, and Frackrell. Wilkerson has the potential to be a real difference maker in this defense and make everyone around him better.

Johnblood27's picture

...and a healthy Mount Adams.

He was a quick twitch penetrator that had great impact at Auburn.

I was bummed when he went down last year.

ricky's picture

The real question will be if Wilkerson plays well this year, stays healthy and focused and is a good locker room and on field presence, do you re-sign him for big bucks? He is definitely in a "prove it" year, and very often, players excel during those chances. Hopefully, this will be the case. But is he motivated by getting a big payday? Or by redeeming himself as a player? Hopefully both. Meanwhile, if he stays healthy, I truly expect him to make a big impact.

Lare's picture

Reggie White had his calling to come to Green Bay to help resurrect a franchise, could Wilkerson do the same?

DetroitSUCKS's picture

give the man a chance so much negative out there ..could be worse guys we could be rooting for the Lions

Royalty Free GM's picture

Don’t take this so seriously, this is fan talk ;) I would like to read more about people’s own opinions. Now this feels like espn’s echo chamber.
This is boring enough right now :D

Johnblood27's picture

you could become a presence-free GM here...

Nononsense's picture

Not all jobs or bosses are the same. Its perfectly conceivable that Big Mo was burnt out or uninterested in playing football for the Jets anymore for whatever reason and that all he needs is a change of scenery. New bosses, teammates and just the overall environment. You cant tell me every player enjoys playing for Bill Belichick and the Patriots, or how many more would hate working there if they were 4-12 every year instead of playing for SBs. Not playing well for the Jets, especially with all his injuries the last two years can be excused and means there is a very good chance that with better health he can have a rebirth and refind his passion for playing the game again in a new uniform and environment.

Im willing to let it play out before passing judgement on Big Mo, GB isnt exactly the place you'd expect he'd want to stay long term but ask Charles Woodson how he felt about GB after being here a few years. He went from not wanting to play here at all and really didnt have the smoothest of a first year here to become a great player again and he actually grew to love this place.

LambeauPlain's picture

If Big Mo comes in motivated, I see 4 things to turn his “can do” skills into “will do” attitude:

1. Pettine
2. Guys named Big Mike, Kenny, Dean, and don’t forget Adams....he was one of the top DTs in last year’s draft but was derailed by injuries
3. Incentive laden K
4. Real opportunity be in Lombardi Trophy chase.

I like his chances.

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