Matt Ryan just became the NFL’s first $30 million player, and the handwringing is already beginning about Russell Wilson’s next contract.
Ryan reportedly signed a five-year deal worth $150 million, with $100 million guaranteed. So there’s the new bar for quarterbacks; Aaron Rodgers and Wilson (and maybe another QB or two) will surpass it in the next year.
Wilson is signed through 2019, so the Seahawks will need to extend him next offseason. However, it sounds like Wilson’s camp is expecting to get the franchise tag in 2020, which would mean Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, does not think the Seahawks will meet his asking price next year.
That could mean the agent is going to target a fully guaranteed deal, a la Kirk Cousins. Or it could mean Mark Rodgers wants to trump Aaron Rodgers’ new contract this time — something he did not do on Wilson’s first extension. Or, perhaps Mark Rodgers is just generally posturing ahead of the big negotiation.
Some think Wilson and/or his agent are already playing power games with Pete Carroll and John Schneider. Some thought Wilson’s Yankee Doodle Day was a message to Seattle that he is capable of orchestrating his destiny — i.e., the QB will gauge how well he likes new OC Brian Schottenheimer before he decides whether he wants to stay in Seattle.
There also was the odd “Is there anything we need to know here?” query from Wilson’s camp after Schneider attended Josh Allen’s Pro Day. The GM confirmed to 710 ESPN that he talked to Mark Rodgers but said, “It really was not that big a deal.”
Assuming Wilson has not changed his mind amid all of the team turnover, the quarterback wants to stay in Seattle. In December, he told Pro Football Talk, “I hope I never have to play for anybody other than the Seattle Seahawks. … One of my dreams is to have always played for the same team for a really, really long time and my whole entire career.
“One of my favorite players in the world is Derek Jeter. I mean, to think about Derek Jeter playing for the New York Yankees for 20-plus years and to be in New York City and play for that team and win multiple World Series, that is true excellence. That is a true legacy. I hope that I can do that. I hope I get the fortunate situation to be able to play for the Seattle Seahawks for 20-plus years.”
If Wilson still feels that way, a new deal should get done. It’s just a matter of what it will look like.
Will Mark Rodgers want a Cousins-style deal or will he just want to trump Aaron Rodgers’ contract (or whichever one is highest at the time of this negotiation)?
The guarantee is a big topic. Cousins got $84 million fully guaranteed from Minnesota, and $94.5 million of Ryan’s deal apparently is fully promised at signing. So $100 million in full guarantees is the next bar.
It will be interesting to see which approach Mark Rodgers takes — the short, guarantee-it-all deal or the longer, give-me-more contract. In 2015, there was some thought that he would try to get a fully guaranteed deal for Wilson, so perhaps he plans to copy the Cousins model this time — and is expecting the Hawks to resist.
Three years of the franchise tag for Wilson would result in about $119 million guaranteed, so maybe that is the number Rodgers is planning to start at. Rodgers knows the Seahawks would not want to pay $36.4 million in 2021 or $52.4 million in 2022 when they could get better cap numbers on a long-term deal.
But then the length of contract would become the issue. Rodgers/Wilson got their wish with a four-year deal in 2015; will they want a short contract again?
Cousins’ guarantee averages $28 million a year (three years), while Ryan’s is $18.9 million (five years). Will Mark Rodgers ask for something like a fully guaranteed four-year, $120 million deal? The Seahawks could do that and come up with reasonable cap hits of (from 2019) $21.3 million, $24 million, $30 million, $34 million and $36 million. That would take Wilson to age 34.
But would the Seahawks be willing to guarantee that amount, especially after getting burned on the deals they paid Marshawn Lynch, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett? And would they even guarantee $100 million for less than five years? These might be the reasons Mark Rodgers reportedly is bracing for a franchise tag in 2020.
Whether it’s the shorter Cousins model or the more conventional contract, the only way a deal will not get done is if Wilson really doesn’t want to stay in Seattle. If he wants to stay, he will end up signing a market deal and Seattle will be willing and able to pay it. The devil will be in the details.
Some foolish observers or non-football-savvy economists think the Seahawks need to trade Wilson so they can get cheaper at QB. They’re probably the same chuckleheads who think the Hawks are going to be a sub.-500 team in 2018, too.
Wilson is a top-10 NFL quarterback — a rare find. Carroll and Schneider are not going to ditch their franchise QB and hope they stumble on another. That would set the franchise back at least a couple of years, and the 66-year-old Carroll doesn’t have that kind of time to waste.
“It’s gonna be a challenge for us,” Schneider recently told KJR, adding he intends to re-sign Wilson. “You always have a chance when you have a quarterback. Russell’s an outstanding quarterback.”
On KJR last month, Carroll was asked whether Wilson’s contract was hurting the rest of the team.
“This (paying a franchise QB top dollar) is the normal transition that happens. We’re not surprised,” Carroll said. “We’re tuned into this and we’re managing it. We’re functioning well, and we’re able to find players we like.”
Wilson currently takes up about 13.4 percent of the team salary cap, which is pretty standard for top QBs — e.g., Cousins takes up 13.5 percent of the Vikings’ cap, and Matthew Stafford is at 15 percent for Detroit. A $30.4 million cap hit (via the franchise tag) for Wilson in 2020 would take a projected 15.2 percent of the cap, about the same percentage as Ryan, Cousins and Stafford.
Asked on KJR which cap percentage would be too high for a single player, Schneider said, “Too early, too hard to tell on that. You want to be able to compete every single year and not have everything tied up in one player. It’s a balancing act, no question.”
Schneider will find the balancing much easier starting next year. Even with Wilson set to count $25.3 million against the 2019 cap, the Seahawks have so few big contracts left that they are projected to have the third-most cap space in the NFL: $80 million.
Beyond 2019, Seattle’s cap is wide open (not counting rookies or injured players, just 11 players signed). Schneider and Carroll are vetting their roster this year for the next window of contention and accompanying big deals.
The Seahawks have other possible extensions to address this year — Duane Brown, Frank Clark, maybe K.J. Wright. Next year it will be Wilson’s turn. Some obviously are concerned about it, but there’s no reason to be. It’s just the business of the NFL.
“When it’s appropriate, we’ll be talking,” Carroll told KJR last month. “I’m not worried about that at all.”