GREEN BAY – Muhammad Wilkerson did his due diligence during his first venture into free agency, visiting as many interested NFL teams as possible before making his final decision.
The process, which lasted a little more than a week, ultimately brought the Pro Bowl defensive lineman back to the Green Bay Packers, where Wilkerson took his first visit after receiving his official release from the New York Jets on March 5.
“I really just wanted to take all my visits with teams that were interested, making sure the fit was right,” said Wilkerson in a conference call with Green Bay reporters on Thursday afternoon.
“Green Bay was the best fit for me. I got a good vibe with the coaches and the staff and felt like that was the best place for me.”
A cap casualty in New York, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound defensive lineman said his interactions with the Packers’ coaching staff and culture are what led to him signing with Green Bay.
Wilkerson has one direct tie to the coaching staff in new Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. A first-round pick in 2011, Wilkerson played his first two NFL seasons in Pettine’s system and began showing serious signs of playmaking ability in recording a career-high 69 tackles and five sacks in 2012.
Wilkerson, who has experience lining up anywhere on the defensive front, enjoys how Pettine’s medley of exotic blitzes keep an opposing offensive line off-balance. He believes Green Bay is the place where he can get back to “being dominant” like he was during 10-plus sack campaigns in 2013 and 2015.
“That had a key part in it,” said Wilkerson of Pettine’s influence in choosing to sign with the Packers. “Being that we were together in New York for a little bit. Besides, he’s just a great guy you know and his resume speaks for itself with his coaching staff that he’s been with.”
Wilkerson also has another connection to Green Bay in fellow New Jersey native Mike Daniels, whose younger brother, Sean, played with Wilkerson at Temple.
Wilkerson spoke with Daniels early in the free-agent process and had the chance to meet him during his visit with the Packers. When Wilkerson looks at the Packers’ defensive line, he sees a unit with the potential to be special in the aftermath of Daniels’ first Pro Bowl appearance, and the breakthrough performances of Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry in 2017.
“Those guys have been successful,” Wilkerson said. “And I just feel like me coming to Green Bay will add more athletic ability of course to the defensive line. So I’m just ready to work with an experienced guy like Mike. And then you have younger guys like Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry who are on the rise.”
Wilkerson said he has no regrets about how his time in New York ended and believes he still has what it takes to revert to his 2015 form, when he registered 64 tackles and a career-high 12 sacks prior to signing a long-term extension with the Jets.
Wilkerson said he spoke with Pettine during his visit with the Packers and believes the two share a similar vision for what he’s capable of in Green Bay’s defense. What remains to be seen is whether it means playing more than 80 percent of the defensive snaps like Wilkerson frequently did during his time in New York.
Regardless, Wilkerson is ready for the fresh start his one-year deal with the Packers provides.
“I’m ready to get back to my dominant play,” Wilkerson said. “I know what type of player I’m capable of being, and I’m just ready to do it at a new place, a new organization and a new group of guys. I’m just really excited about the things to come this year.”