Many fans are likely getting tired of hearing about Russell Wilson and the contract negotiations that may or may not result in the team agreeing to an extension prior to the April 15th deadline he has reportedly given the team, but until that deadline arrives, that’s likely what everyone everywhere is going to be talking about. Then, once that deadline has passed, everyone will either be talking about the ramifications of the fact that the team missed the deadline, or discussing the contract the two sides agreed to and its ramifications across the roster and the league.
As such, without getting too deep into specifics, since the numbers are anybody’s guess at this point, I’m simply going to cover some basic concepts I would use in structuring Wilson’s contract if I were in the front office of the Seattle Seahawks.
Second Year Flexibility
I’ve yammered on and on about the fact that the salary cap situation for the league could see a shift in dynamics depending on how negotiations come out regarding the next CBA, so I’m not going to rehash the specifics of that here. However, what I will go over is the fact that if there are significant changes in the CBA that result in material impacts on the salary cap in 2021, then the team should work to minimize any negative effects of these impacts.
Specifically, with Wilson already under contract for the 2019 season, the 2020 season would be covered by the first year of any extension. Thus, what the Hawks front office needs going forward is the flexibility to remain competitive in 2021 and beyond regardless of structural changes to the cap and its size.
There are several different roads through which the Hawks can obtain this second year flexibility, however, the biggest is through properly structuring the contract during the 2019 and 2020 league years.
Wilson being under contract for the 2019 season makes accomplishing this flexibility somewhat easier because it effectively becomes the third year of the contract. That means there are two seasons prior to the end of the current CBA in which the team can use guaranteed money to provide more flexibility once the next CBA is finalized.
Length of Contract
One little thing which the Hawks can use in structuring the deal is to lengthen the contract relative to the deals the team has signed over the past few years. Specifically, when handing out second contracts in recent seasons the front office has largely stuck to three and four year contracts, but that was not always the case. When Percy Harvin was added from the Minnesota Vikings he signed a six year contract, while Zach Miller and Sidney Rice each signed five year contracts when they relocated to Seattle as free agents.
Thus, when looking at extending Wilson, the team can use a longer contract that gives it multiple favorable advantages. The first of these is that using a longer contract gives the team more flexibility in later years with dead money being at the front of the contract. As I covered back in February, signing bonuses are only amortized over the first five years of a contract. Thus, if the Seahawks and Wilson agree to an extension that is five years or longer, any signing bonus would have been completely amortized prior to the start of the fifth year of the extension (sixth year of the contract since 2019 would see the first one fifth, and the remaining signing bonus would come over the first four years of the extension).
Thus, for example, if the two sides reached a seven year extension, the result would effectively be an eight year contract with no signing bonus proration over the final three seasons of the contract. Those three seasons would be Wilson’s age 36, 37 and 38 seasons, and would give the team greater flexibility to move on without large dead money cap hits if his arm suddenly falls off in one of those seasons. Alternatively, if he continues to perform at a high level, the team can renegotiate the contract in his mid-30s in order to put his contract on a pay-as-you-go structure as he enters the quarterback danger zone of the late 30s and early 40s.
In addition, using a longer contract term would allow the team to rock the news cycle with absolutely blockbuster numbers. Assume for a moment Wilson were to agree to a five year contract with a $34M average annual cap hit. Such an extension would have a total value of $170M, and while that would be the highest APY in the NFL, it’s not a number of material significance. Last offseason Matt Ryan became the first NFL player to sign a contract worth $150M, and $170M is not one of those game-changing, round numbers that is absolutely mind blowing.
Tacking a couple of dummy years on the back of the contract could truly give it the wow factor to make it a headline contract. Thus, adding a sixth year on the contract with a $30M base salary would push the deal past the $200M marker, and that would be a headline grabber.
However, if there’s going to be headlines to be grabbed, then I’m all about going all in. Why add a sixth year that is likely to be negotiated early on an extension that reaches the $200M plateau, when adding a sixth and seventh year at $40M apiece would push the deal into the stratosphere. Doing that would hit the $250M mark, and that give Wilson not just the ability to claim the title of the first quarter billion dollar quarterback in league history, and that’s a claim to fame that he would carry for some time. Brett Favre is still known as the first quarterback to sign a nine-figure contract, and Wilson agreeing to a quarter billion dollar deal would put him into company with another former Seattle sports figure Alex Rodriguez.
Thus, while there are lots of specifics and details to hammer out over the next ten days, the Seahawks have the ability to not just retain Wilson for the rest of his prime, but to make a statement that grabs the type of headlines Wilson seems to love while cementing his legacy in the NFL. Wilson’s performance on the field has shown no sign of slowing down, and it’s just a matter of time before he becomes the highest paid quarterback in the NFL. That likely won’t be a title he holds for long, but the Seahawks have the opportunity to cement his legacy with the type of titles that can never be taken.
The question isn’t whether the headlines will be big. The question is how big the headlines will be.