A couple of stories broke on Wednesday that involved quarterbacks, and you could call these stories "Luke and Leia" because they might be more related than you think.
The first, less important story is that Russell Wilson let go of his football agent -- Bus Cook -- and simply made his baseball agent -- Mark Rodgers -- the sole person in charge of his financial interests in the NFL. For whatever reason, Wilson feels that Rodgers is the best person for the job when it comes to extension talks with the Seattle Seahawks, which should begin as soon as their season is over. (So, February 2?) People might jump to the conclusion that Wilson is prepared to play "hardball" with the Seahawks (which would be a mistake, because "hardball" is a baseball term and this is football, geez Russ) but the truth is that franchise quarterbacks really can't get away from a franchise.
That's why they're called "franchise quarterbacks."
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With the way NFL agreements are structured with the NFLPA, basically the worst you could do is give Wilson the franchise tag every year until a long-term agreement is made. And in fact, he's still under contract next season, so really they have a full year to figure out how much he's going to be worth over the next eight years. Since Wilson has been making less than a million per year on his rookie contract, I think him and Rodgers are eager to ink something that's going to give him a bonus and guarantee well north of $20 million. By next summer, Wilson will have signed away the rest of his twenties to the Seattle Seahawks. You really couldn't name a franchise quarterback in the modern era that got away from a team in his prime years without some sort of caveat like injury (Drew Brees) or jail time (Michael Vick.)
Well ... maybe you could count Jay Cutler. That's the other news.
The Chicago Bears announced on Wednesday that Cutler is going to be benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen for this week's game against the Detroit Lions. Though Cutler has a career-high in completion percentage, touchdowns, and passer rating, he really didn't come into this season with that good of a career to begin with. Cutler leads the NFL in interceptions (18), fumbles (12) and is posting a passer rating of 89.5 despite playing with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, and Matt Forte.
He has thrown multiple touchdowns in 10 of 14 games this year, but has only posted a passer rating above 100 in three of those games. Cutler has one of the most impressive arms in the NFL but a quarterback is more than just an arm. For all intents and purposes, a quarterback shall have two legs, an additional arm, a head, my axe, and if you're Mark Sanchez, four hot tubs. Cutler is not a good quarterback.
But that didn't stop the Bears from giving him a $126 million contract a year ago, with $54 million guaranteed. He was paid over $22 million this season and will be paid $15.5 million next season -- guaranteed. My understanding is that it's another $16 million in 2016, if he is healthy.
To say "it's a bad contract" is an understatement on par with "North Korea gives 'The Interview' two thumbs down." (Timely reference. Nailed it, Ken.)
So how do these two stories relate? Well, I just want to emphasize that what happens next with Wilson will not in any way reflect what is happening in Chicago with Cutler. The guarantee given to Cutler far out-paced the guarantee that he would be a good player (when he never really had been before) but Wilson provides much more assurance that the next six, seven, or eight years will be very, very good.
During Wilson's "down season" this year, he has had his fair share of career games. There was the 300/100 game against the Rams. His two other games with over 100 rushing yards. His nine games with a passer rating of 98 or better. His double dip of victories over the San Francisco 49ers. His road passer rating of 105.3. His continued string of excellence in nationally-televised games.
When Wilson signs a contract, whether it's for $126 million or $162 million, it's going to be worth it -- Because "Russell Wilson" is the only guarantee you need.
Seahawks vs 49ers, Win Probability Chart (via Pro-Football-Reference)
It is extremely difficult for a road team to get the benefit of the doubt in Seattle lately, and that's just by statistical standards.
Even after intercepting Russell Wilson's final pass of the first half, even with a 7-3 lead going into the locker room, the 49ers never had much of a chance to win this game, so say the odds. Knowing that the Seahawks would get the ball to start the second half, and that they were playing at home, the win probability was almost always in their favor. Then it went from "probably gonna win" to "Oh, most def" after they scored 14 points over about a five-minute span between the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth.
The pass interference call got all the hype, but that's not what won Seattle this game. Driving down the field for a drive of 60 yards and a touchdown to take the lead, and forcing five punts and two over-on-downs drives is what did it.
Cools and fools (chart via Advanced Football Analytics)
You're cool, Bobby Wagner
Even though he has missed five games this season, Wagner should make his first career Pro Bowl. The team is 7-2 when he's played, 2-2 when he hasn't, and since his return four weeks ago the Seahawks have given up 27 points. That's less than a touchdown per game, in case you forgot your abacus.
Since returning he has 35 tackles, 21 for stops, and a sack.
Not cool, tackles
There's gonna be some question next offseason as to the long (and short) term situation at left tackle with Russell Okung. Sunday's injury is just another in a long line of setbacks for the first pick of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider regime, a career beset in average play and not a single full 16-game season for a guy owed $7.2 million next season ... but they can save $5 million if they release Okung. However, it's not as though the team can be confident that they have his replacement on the roster already.
Britt had two penalties against the 49ers, as well as allowing a sack per ProFootballFocus.
Alvin Bailey didn't appear to be much better than Okung, but he also didn't appear to be all that much worse. After all, Seattle scored three points in the first half with Okung, and 14 points in the second half with Bailey. Not only would he cost a fraction of Okung, but how can we be sure that Bailey won't be replacing Okung next season anyway if another injury happens?
You smell of rich mahogany, Michael Bennett
I saw Bennett in this turtleneck and blazer in the locker room and was hella jelly. He's pretty cool.
Welcome to being cool, Paul Richardson
It's hard to stand out among the best rookie class of wide receivers in NFL history, but for most of this season Preach had barely poked his head out of the sand. There's nothing wrong with that. As much as people want to point out to me how receivers need a couple of years to acclimate themselves (I'm aware of this "rule" and I've done research on wide receivers) it's not like it would have hurt to see a little more from Richardson out of this season. I think we saw more out of Golden Tate's rookie season than Preach's. But it's not over yet.
Richardson caught three of four targets for 30 yards and a touchdown. The numbers are hardly "there" yet, but it does seem like Wilson is more trusting of Richardson and that they are just a little closer to lining up their wavelengths each week.
Not so tight, ends
Tony Moeaki and Luke Willson didn't catch any of their three targets, and Moeaki had a drop. One of my two biggest concerns at midseason (in addition to the loss of Brandon Mebane) was the loss of Zach Miller. It's still a concern.
At least Wilson is trusting his receivers more now. Jermaine Kearse had a career-high 78 yards.
DVOA update (via Football Outsiders)
Seattle remains the class of the NFC, moreso after the Packers loss to the Bills this week. That dropped Green Bay down from four to five, and the AFC has four of the top six teams in DVOA. That could be good news for the Seahawks if their path to the Super Bowl ends up being slightly easier than it was last season.
At least we know the 49ers won't be there.
Probably the most fascinating team in DVOA right now is the Buffalo Bills. Though their playoff chances are very small -- 6.4% for a wild card -- they have the number one defense and number three special teams. The offense is still really bad, but maybe the Bills are a good sleeper pick for 2015. They should be getting back Kiko Alonso next season. Imagine if they had Kiko Alonso.
The Rams actually have the number one defensive DVOA dating back to Week 10, and are top-12 in overall Weighted DVOA (which takes the last eight weeks into more account than the rest of the season.)
The Cardinals have locked up a playoff berth but the Seahawks have higher odds of winning the division. All they have to do is beat Ryan Lindley in Arizona this week and they'll be in first place with one week to go. The team that doesn't win the division still gets a pretty good break though: They'll likely get the first wild card and a date with a losing team from the NFC South.
Stat of the Day
Over the last 3 games, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, and Tharold Simon have COMBINED to allow 100 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT.— Miracle On ARth St. (@KennethArthuRS) December 15, 2014
Week 16 opponent: The Arizona Cardinals
Overall - 18 ; Offense - 23 ; Defense - 6 ; Special teams - 23
You remember these guys.
In a "must-win" situation four games ago, the Seahawks beat the Cards 19-3 and set off an impressive run that has taken Seattle from 6-4 to potential Super Bowl favorites once again. In that game, the Seahawks held Drew Stanton to 14-of-26 passing for 149 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. What are they gonna do to Lindley?
That's not the only change for Arizona in the last month. Starting running back Andre Ellington was placed on IR, but they've actually been a better running team over the last two weeks. Safety Tyrann Mathieu will also be out due to a thumb injury. However, the Cardinals will have Larry Fitzgerald, who missed their first matchup.
Russell Wilson stats update
On Sunday: 12-of-24, 168 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 69.4 passer rating, 7 Y/A, five rushes for 24 yards
It could be better and Wilson has surprisingly struggled at home this year, at least compared to his first two seasons.
In 2014: 248-of-396, 2,897 yards, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions, 93.6 passer rating, 7.3 Y/A, 106 carries for 754 yards, five touchdowns
In the last 40 years, a QB has rushed for 800 yards in a season only four times: Twice by Michael Vick, once by Randall Cunningham, and once by Robert Griffin. Wilson is 46 yards shy with two games to go. Vick didn't post a passer rating above 80 in either of those seasons, Cunningham was actually at 91.6 with 30 touchdown passes. Griffin's wasn't too long ago -- he had a passer rating of 102.4 that year and then became Cutler before Cutler.
My final Andy Rooney thoughts:
The Bears will probably now fire Marc Trestman and then let the next coach/GM decide what to do with Cutler. I had mentioned before that Cutler was one of the rare examples of a "franchise QB" that a team got rid of in his "prime" and in case you're forgetting how something like that happens, I'll remind you.
The Denver Broncos drafted Cutler 11th overall in 2006 -- the third QB off the board behind Vince Young and Matt Leinart -- and three years later he made his first Pro Bowl after throwing for over 4,500 yards with 25 touchdowns. But that season they fired Mike Shanahan and hired Josh McDaniels away from the Patriots, and McDaniels reportedly wanted Matt Cassel from his former team after Cassel just had a very good season in replacement of Tom Brady. When Cutler got wind of McDanels possibly not liking him, he demanded to be traded. (I want to be liked too, it's cool, Jay.)
Instead, Cassel was traded to another former New England coach, Todd Haley, who was just hired by the Kansas City Chiefs and needed a new QB to replace Tyler Thigpen, Brodie Croyle, and Damon Huard.
Eventually the Broncos flipped Cutler to Chicago, along with a fifth round pick, in exchange for Kyle Orton, a third, and two firsts. Orton actually turned out to be about as good as Cutler honestly, and that's what got him benched three years later in favor of Tim Tebow. And three years after he was benched for Tebow, the Bills benched EJ Manuel for Orton. Of course, Manuel was drafted in the first round just a year ago (the only QB taken in the first round, before Geno Smith went to the Jets in the second) to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was also a given a nonsense contract by his team one upon a time, then released, then signed with the Tennessee Titans, then was an injury replacement for Jake Locker, then released in favor of Charlie Whitehurst, and then signed with the Houston Texans to replace Matt Schaub (the Texans are starting either Case Keenum or Thad Lewis this week), who is being paid $10 million by the Oakland Raiders this season because they thought he might be a good stopgap to replace Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn.
Both of whom have spent time as a backup to Wilson, who isn't being replaced by anyone.
And this has been another edition of "18 degrees of quarterbacks who aren't as good as Russell Wilson."