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Do K.J. Wright and D.J. Fluker owe thanks to Richard Sherman for staying in Seattle?

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NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Just over a year has passed, 53 weeks ago Sunday to be exact, that Richard Sherman and the San Francisco 49ers agreed to terms on a year three contract that would take Sherman to the Bay Area to continue his NFL career in a uniform other than that of the Seattle Seahawks for the first time. The contract, while loaded with upside, lacked a significant amount of guaranteed money and was the butt of many jokes from fans and observers alike.

Sherman, as most fans likely remember, negotiated the contract himself without the help of an agent, and as such the contract took on a form which differed from the contracts of many other NFL players. It had only a modest signing bonus, had very limited guaranteed money, and carried with it incentives based on performance and playing time thresholds that would be difficult for any player to reach, much less a cornerback that would be on the wrong side of 30 and coming off a torn Achilles.

As a reminder for those who have forgotten, Sherman’s contract broke down with the following terms:

  • $3M signing bonus,

And then for 2018 it included:

  • $2M base salary,
  • $2M roster bonus for passing a physical and making the 53 man roster in 2018,
  • $2M in per game roster bonuses,
  • $1M in playing time incentives,
  • $3M in All Pro/Pro Bowl incentives,
  • $50k workout bonus

While for 2019 and 2020 it included:

  • $7M base salary,
  • $2M in per game roster bonuses,
  • $1M in playing time incentives,
  • $3M in All Pro/Pro Bowl incentives,
  • $50k workout bonus.

In short, and as noted above, it was light on guarantees, but heavy on incentives, with the potential to be cut before the 2018 season with only ever having made $3M from the 49ers. At the same time it carried the potential for Sherman to make up to $13.05M per season based on hitting playing time and other incentives.

Effectively, if I were going to summarize Sherman’s contract structure with the 49ers in one sentence, it would be this: Minimal guarantees to protect the 49ers, but playing time and performance bonuses to provide upside to Sherman.

And that leads us to the contracts the Seattle Seahawks signed with free agents K.J. Wright and D.J. Fluker this past week. First, we’ll look at Wright’s contract which breaks down as follows:

  • $5M bonus at signing,

While for 2019 it includes:

  • $1.5M base salary and
  • $1.5M roster bonus (uncertain at this time whether this is a bonus for making the roster or per game roster bonuses).

And for 2020 it includes

  • Nothing guaranteed (per Wright in an interview with Cliff Avril and Jason Puckett on KJR).

Then, turning to D.J. Fluker’s contract it includes the following:

  • $1M signing bonus,

While for 2019 includes:

  • $850k base salary,
  • $150k first game roster bonus (this appears to be a $150k bonus for making the Week 1 roster)
  • $1M in per game roster bonuses ($62.5k for each game he is active) and
  • $1.5M in playing time incentive

And for 2020 includes:

  • $2M base salary,
  • $1M in per game roster bonuses ($62.5k for each game he is active) and
  • $1.5M in playing time incentive.

If I were going to summarize Wright’s contract structure with the Hawks in one sentence, it would be this: Minimal guarantees to protect the Hawks, but playing time and performance bonuses to provide upside to Wright.

And if I were going to summarize Fluker’s contract structure with Seattle in one sentence, it would be this: Minimal guarantees to protect the Seahawks, but playing time and performance bonuses to provide upside to Fluker.

So, now I’m just waiting for all the Hawks fans to come out and criticize Wright’s agent and Fluker’s agent and mock them for signing contracts that were extremely similar in structure to the “horrible” contract I was informed Sherman had signed with the Niners. Thing is, these contracts were negotiated by certified agents, so the same type of mocking of these players is unlikely to come, in spite of the fact that they both signed very team-friendly deals.

In fact, based on the fact that both Wright and Fluker ended the season healthy enough to play in the playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys, one would imagine that their agents should have been able to drum up larger markets for them. Instead, in a market where off ball linebackers are signing record contracts, Wright signed a deal that included limited guarantees for 2019 and zero guarantees beyond this season. Meanwhile, in the midst of massive contracts being handed out to offensive linemen left and right, Fluker’s agent negotiated a deal that is likely to see him earn less over the next two seasons than Richard Sherman earned in 2018 coming off an Achilles injury and on the wrong side of the age of 30.

This all brings us to a point that may not quite be obvious just yet, and that is that John Schneider and Pete Carroll may owe a huge thanks to Richard Sherman for teaching them how to structure third contracts for players. In the past, every third contract that the Seahawks front office has handed out has utilized a structure similar to that used by the team when signing players to second contracts: a decent signing bonus, injury guarantees in years one and two and escalating base salaries.

As recently as last August the team gave just such a structure to left tackle Duane Brown, who to this point has aged gracefully, but who is set to play his age 34 season this fall. Brown has shown no sign of slowing down, but offensive linemen often don’t show much in terms of decline. They play at a high level, until all of a sudden one day there is an injury and their playing days are done. Seahawks fans saw that happen with Walter Jones, and it’s identical to what happened to other high level tackles such as Orlando Pace, Joe Thomas and dozens of others.

And yet in spite of nearly a decade of precedent in how the team structures third contracts, and less than eight months removed from signing a third contract with Brown, in the past week the Hawks front office handed out two contracts structured very similarly to the contract Sherman signed with San Francisco last offseason. In addition, the terms of the contract Mike Iupati signed with Seattle have yet to be made public, however, it is not inconceivable that when those terms are reported it would represent a third such contract.

So, at this point, it seems that perhaps Schneider and Carroll should reach out to Sherman and say thanks for showing them the way to structure a third contract that gives the player upside potential while protecting the team. After all Sherman did for the franchise, a thanks would seem like the least they could do.