J.J. Wilcox broke hearts in San Francisco, took better deal with Jets

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It wasn't quite a pen-in-hand situation, but J.J. Wilcox came close to signing last week with the San Francisco 49ers. How close?

The veteran safety was at the 49ers' facility in Santa Clara, California, getting ready to sign a contract after meeting with some of their coaches.

"I was walking upstairs to do it, but I received a phone call from my agent," Wilcox said Tuesday at New York Jets minicamp. "We talked. I called my family back home and we had a conversation. We felt it was just best to go a different route."

And so he signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract with the Jets, who wanted an experienced safety after losing top backup Rontez Miles to knee surgery.

Wilcox admitted "my idea and intention was set for San Francisco." So what changed his mind? He said the Jets offered "a better deal." In free agency, money talks. It must have made for an awkward goodbye at the 49ers' headquarters.

"It was, it was," Wilcox said. "It was very tough. But at the same time, it's a business. You have to take care of your family."

Wilcox also said he wanted to play for coach Todd Bowles, a former NFL safety. But the 49ers also have a famous ex-safety in their building -- general manager John Lynch, a Hall of Famer.

Wilcox is a terrific pick-up for the Jets because he's experienced (39 starts in five seasons) and versatile, capable of playing strong or free safety. Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are entrenched in the starting lineup, but Wilcox sounded like he's ready to compete for playing time.

"Everybody knows that I'm a starter and I can play in this league. It's been proven," said Wilcox, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017 after four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. "I still can do it. As of now, I have to be the best I can be and help these guys grow."

Bowles has been known to use three-safety packages -- a big nickel, so to speak -- so there could be opportunities for Wilcox to see the field with Adams and Maye, who should be ready for training camp after arthroscopic ankle surgery.

"I always wanted a chance to play for Coach Bowles," Wilcox said. "I had the opportunity and I took it."