Written by Julian Rogers
Up until Tuesday, your Seattle Seahawks were one blown contract negotiation away from initiating the R.J. Archer era of Seahawks quarterbacking. Fortunately for Seahawks fans, the organization (finally) re-secured erstwhile and once-again veteran backup Tarvaris Jackson to solidify the quarterback position group.
Of course, there’s still the nagging issue of what to do about the present and long-term future of starter Russell Wilson. The much-anticipated long-term contract for Wilson has yet to materialize. The angst among the 12s grows with each passing month. More on that later.
The other guys
For those of you holding tickets to the B.J. Daniels experience, you no longer need to wait in line outside the quarterbacks room. Apparently, the Seahawks have concluded that experiment. If you act fast, you can look for Daniels in the special teams and receivers rooms — at least until cuts are made.
The Seahawks, amidst their arms-length approach to securing the best quarterback in the franchise’s history, were down to just two quarterbacks on their roster for the past three months or so: Wunderkind Wilson and WhoDat? Archer. For reasons still unknown as Jackson was finally welcomed back into the fold, the Seahawks felt totally comfortable letting Jackson explore other options for several months while simultaneously giving up on the quarterbacking future of Daniels. Talk about indifference.
Wilson, whose threats (via his agent Mark Rodgers) to play out his fourth year of his contract at $1.542 million (and then hit the 2016 market in some form of free agency), is starting to become believable. They’ve made a believer out of me. Just a few months ago, I thought it preposterous that Wilson and the Seahawks would let negotiations go this route. Now, I think it’s likely in Wilson’s best interests to do so.
As has been chronicled multiple times by just about every sports-related publisher, Wilson’s three seasons that include two Super Bowl appearances and one championship, while being paid out at near-minimum NFL wages, have become the Holy Grail of professional sports general managers — no one has ever gotten so much for so little, so early in a career. Unfortunately for Wilson, his previously low salary — that great gift to the Seahawks’ salary cap — works against him now as he vies for a market rate, long-term contract.
Wilson’s contract difficulty stem from what appears to be double jeopardy. He suffered at the beginning of his NFL career because the entirety of the league undervalued him from the outset. His third-round draft selection netted him a (famously) low rookie contract that paled in comparison to inferior, yet more highly drafted quarterbacks taken before him. It also locked him into a contract that could not be renegotiated until after he had completed his first three years in the league. That’s jeopardy #1.
Jeopardy #2 is that in order to fairly compensate Wilson for both his achievements and remaining potential, the new money he and his agent are angling for will be such a huge jump from his currently scheduled salary for his fourth NFL season (and last of his rookie contract) that it will require an inordinate amount of new (much of it guaranteed) money to meet the standard demanded of franchise quarterbacks: average $ per year.
Bear in mind two notable quarterback contracts: Cam Newton’s new deal and Aaron Rodgers’ contract —the current highest paid quarterback in the NFL on an average-per-year basis ($22 million). With one year to go on Wilson’s current deal, a huge — make that heeeeuuuuuuuge — amount of new money is required to bring Wilson’s new deal, which would be an addition to his current low fourth year salary, up to the standard of Rodgers’ or Newton’s current average (if Wilson and Mark Rodgers will even settle for that).
Cam Newton’s new deal ($103 million with $67 million guaranteed) averages just shy of $21 million per year. In a straightforward comparison, Wilson’s performance easily outpaces Newton’s. Any way you slice it, Wilson scores better than Newton in any quarterback statistic, including wins, during the past three years. Compared to Aaron Rodgers, Wilson comes up short. A fair starting point for Wilson’s new contract would seem to be somewhere between $21 million and $22 million per year.
Split the difference?
Let’s just land at $21.5 million per year for Wilson, for, say five years and we all go home happy, mmmmmkay? Not so fast.
Newton got to his average of almost $21 million per year by adding new money to his already high salary. A former first-round pick, Newton was entering the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which would have paid him $14.666 million in 2015. The pretty incredible amount of cash the Carolina Panthers decided to pay Newton in his rich new contract was helped along by the already high salary of the final year of his rookie deal.
No such happenstance for Wilson. To get to a deal equal to Newton’s (which Wilson and Mark Rodgers won’t settle for) the Seahawks will have to surpass the Panthers’ deal by many, many millions, to leap over Wilson’s paltry year four salary while making an attractive per-year average.
The Seahawks, in desperate need to hold to some semblance of fiscal responsibility, may be trying to dig in their heels at staying below the Aaron Rodgers line of average salary. Rumors abounded last month that the Seahawks wanted to offer a four-year, $80 million package to Wilson. Clearly, that wasn’t enough. We’re here, aren’t we?
Wilson’s camp probably has a strong argument for a salary better than Rodgers’, even though he doesn’t have statistics that surpass Rodgers’. For one, Rodgers’ deal is now two years old. Quarterback salaries go up every year, as do salary caps. Second, the current salary cap is now about $20 million more than it was when Rodgers signed his league-leading deal. It will only go up more in 2016 and beyond. A per-year average salary equal to Aaron Rodgers for Wilson would come out to a lower overall percentage of the Seahawks team cap number than Rodgers percentage of the Green Bay Packers’ team cap number.
Not so long ago, it seemed crazy that Wilson might actually play out the final year of his contract. If he follows through on that intent — refusing to accept a below-market deal from the Seahawks now — thus forgoing future millions down the line, and instead plays 2015 for $1.5 million and becomes eligible for free agency in 2016, the Seahawks will almost certainly put the franchise tag on him (guaranteed salary; average of top five salaries at his position). That will guarantee him a 2016 salary of approximately $20 to 25 million (based on current salary averages) and probably more, if/when quarterback salaries are recalculated and are actually higher, like they are every year. Hold onto your Seahawks navy blue hats: After his one-year franchise deal in 2016, the Seahawks could franchise him again, but it would cost them 120 percent of his 2016 salary (fully guaranteed) to do it again.
If the Seahawks are backed into this plan, they will pay little this year, for the rights to pay a ton for a disgruntled player in 2016 for one year only, plus the scenario of paying an impossible-to-justify sum for another one-year deal for the same previously disgruntled player. They’re looking at about $25 million in guaranteed (or as good-as-guaranteed) salary for Wilson through 2016 at the very least. And then they have to negotiate an even heftier long-term deal all over again, while Wilson’s leverage has only gotten stronger.
No, a long-term deal now is what the blue birds would prefer. Many believe the Seahawks won’t pay more than the Aaron Rodgers’ deal to lock up Wilson. I think they just may, for the reasons above. They just might even do it before this season, but Wilson may wait them out. Barring injury, they will certainly pay more than Rodgers’ deal starting in 2016.
The risk to Wilson, of course, is that he suffers a debilitating injury in his low-wage 2015 season. Naturally, Wilson will take out (if he hasn’t already) a Lloyds of London or similar insurance policy that will protect him from catastrophic injury before he can cash in with the long-term largesse of Seahawks owner Paul Allen.
Keeping it going
The Seahawks did manage to make some quarterback news by bringing back Tarvaris Jackson. It looks like another season of holding the clipboard for Jackson as Wilson coyly plays out his final contract year. At least the Seahawks won’t have to try to sell tickets to R.J. Archer’s aerial circus.