Schneider basically indicated that Wilson is on board with helping the team structure the deal in a way that it does not inhibit the Seahawks’ ability to remain a contender. The GM also hinted the deal will be put together in creative fashion and might not resemble many of the quarterback deals done over the last two years.
Schneider also made vague reference to other “dominoes that have to fall” — perhaps a reference to expected deals this offseason for quarterbacks Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) and Ryan Tannehill (Miami) or to other contracts the Seahawks are working on (Marshawn Lynch?).
“I think Russell Wilson wants to win championships,” Schneider told 710 ESPN. “We talk about being a consistent championship-caliber football team, and that means thinking outside of the box a lot of times. We will do that with Russell. Russell knows there are certain dominoes that have to fall in line or fall in place. I’ve talked to his agent now, much like several of our unrestricted free agents. (Wilson) knows. He gets it. He wants to win. He wants to win for a long time.
“I’m not going to get into specifics of contract negotiations or anything like that,” Schneider added, “other than to say that we’re going to do what’s best for this organization moving forward, first and foremost. That does not mean that you just do exactly what everybody else has done around the league, and I think that we’ve proven that we do things in the manner that we want to attack it.”
Wilson is expected to receive a deal that averages at least $20 million and guarantees more than $60 million — numbers in line with recent contracts for some of the NFL’s top quarterbacks.
In 2012, New Orleans QB Drew Brees received $60 million guaranteed over the first three years. In 2013, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan received $57 million guaranteed and $63 million in the first three years; Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers received $54 million guaranteed and $62.5 million in the first three years; and Baltimore QB Joe Flacco got $52 million in guarantees and $62 million in the first three years.
As former contract negotiator Andrew Brandt told 710 ESPN last week, those deals are the baseline for Wilson and Luck.
The Seahawks are not going to treat Wilson in the same dubious manner the San Francisco 49ers dealt with Colin Kaepernick or the Chicago Bears handled Jay Cutler — basically year-to-year deals that protect the team. The Hawks don’t have to do that.
But Schneider and team negotiator Matt Thomas apparently are planning to be creative.
Their deals last year with five key defenders were very straightforward. All-Pro defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas received market-setting deals with simple signing bonuses and huge pay hikes beginning this year ($10 million salary for Sherman, $5.5 million for Thomas). The four-year deals for Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and K.J. Wright were all made with the same simple structure (although Bennett has in-season roster bonuses in 2016 and 2017).
The deal with Wilson will be more complicated. It will obviously eclipse Sherman’s five-year, $57.43 million contract as the team’s most lucrative (read: biggest drain on the salary cap).
But there are ways for the Seahawks to pay Wilson $20 million or more a year and not have it count against the salary cap all at once.
One “outside the box” possibility is to pay Wilson a huge signing bonus (e.g., $30 million) and then pay another similar option bonus in 2018. Both bonuses would be prorated over five years. If the Hawks paid Wilson $5 million salaries in 2016-19, Wilson would count just $11 million in 2016 and 2017 and $17 million in 2018 and 2019 — but he still would receive $75 million over the first three years and average $20 million over the first four.
His 2015 salary would be $1.5 million (the minimum based on play-time incentives he has reached) and his cap number would be about $7.7 million.
The Hawks could install larger salaries starting in 2020 — which is the final year of the collective-bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players. Before that season, though, Seattle could redo Wilson’s deal as necessary.
In the end, the contract would look like a seven-year deal worth $140 million, but it would be more like a four-year deal worth $80 million, with a whopping $75 million guaranteed. And, barring the unforeseen, the Hawks would reset the deal in 2020 at market prices.
There are certainly other ways they can move the money around, but that example is probably what Schneider was referring to when he said the team will be “thinking outside of the box … with Russell.”