3:12 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS — In a long-anticipated move, the New York Jets released defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson on Wednesday, ending a seven-year run that turned bitter last season.

The Jets had to cut Wilkerson before March 16 or else his $16.75 million salary for 2018 would have become fully guaranteed.

Wilkerson, 28, was benched for the final three games of last season, ostensibly because he was late for a meeting on Dec. 15 — 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.

“It was a business decision, it wasn’t disciplinary at all,” coach Todd Bowles said Wednesday at the scouting combine. “It was good for both parties.

“I’m disappointed for the team, I’m disappointed for him. Obviously, it didn’t work out. I have a lot of love for Mo. I still think he’s got a lot of football ahead of him.”

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 will save $11 million.

This culminates a significant fall 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. In 28 games over the past two seasons, Wilkerson produced eight sacks. Privately, team officials questioned whether he still had a passion for the game.

In 2015, the Jets had one of the best defensive lines in the league, but they lost Damon Harrison in free agency and traded Sheldon Richardson. Now Wilkerson is gone, too. The only holdover is Leonard Williams, who the Jets selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft.

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