Wilson deal is coming: What will it look like?

Salary cap logoIf scuttlebutt is to be believed, the Seahawks are closing in on their much-anticipated contract extension for Russell Wilson.

The Hawks are almost sure to have it nailed down in the next month. Last year, they finished up big extensions for Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman the week before the draft.

Both of those deals were market-setting, and Wilson figures to get a very lucrative deal as well. The question everyone wants answered: What might it look like?

General manager John Schneider has given some clues over the past month or so.

At the Combine, he said they would think “outside the box” with Wilson’s deal and won’t necessarily “do exactly what everybody else has done around the league.”

Schneider stressed that Wilson wants to win: “He knows. He gets it. He wants to win. He wants to win for a long time.”

Some took that to mean Wilson would give the Hawks a team-friendly deal, but it probably means he is willing to give them a team-friendly contract structure.

The popular theory is that Schneider’s “outside the box” comment is an indicator that the Hawks plan to guarantee Wilson’s full deal in exchange for a smaller total package. A few weeks ago, we posited the idea that the Hawks could guarantee $75 million over the next four years (or the first three years of the extension).

The most important numbers in any contract are the guaranteed money, so the best way to judge any contract is to break the guaranteed money down by year. Among quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford leads the way in guarantees at $13.8 million per year. Aaron Rodgers is at $10.8 million, and Drew Brees and Matt Ryan both are around $8 million.

Wilson would blow them all away with $18.75 million per year guaranteed.

The Seahawks surely are not going to do a window-dressing deal like the ones Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick got. They both look like $100 million-plus contracts, but they guarantee less than $6 million a year — Kaepernick’s deal guarantees a paltry $2.2 million per year (11.4 percent of the total deal).

Last week, Schneider reminded everyone how the Hawks do business — preferring to keep players’ cash payouts and cap hits as close as possible, not stacking up too much prorated bonus money into future years.

“You want to try to be careful in getting yourself in those types of situations because it becomes too much like a credit card,” Schneider told 710 ESPN.

Schneider said Matt Thomas, the Seahawks’ salary-cap manager, has “his hand on the pulse of paying as you go and not being out two or three years where you’re committed to guys in (prorated money). There’s an art to it. He does an excellent job with it.”

The Hawks prefer a cash/cap ratio of between 70 percent and 80 percent. Even if they guarantee most or all of Wilson’s deal, they probably will stay true to that standard for cap purposes.

If they pay Wilson $75 million over four years and give him a $20 million signing bonus, it would yield the following salaries/cap hits:

Wilson cap hits

It also would give the Hawks five players with cap hits of at least $10 million in 2017, although Marshawn Lynch ($12.5 million) probably will retire by then and Jimmy Graham likely will have a new contract that will cut his $10 million hit way down for that year.

Sherman and Thomas both will count more than $10 million in 2018, too. But if the cap continues to rise by $10 million per year, the Hawks probably can afford Wilson and those guys. And in 2019, the Hawks can give Wilson a new deal, spreading out that guaranteed $20 million.

However they structure it, one thing the Hawks are not going to do is put themselves in a situation like the Saints have with Brees, who will count $26.4 million this year and $27.4 million in 2016.

As Schneider said, “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.”

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