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Barnwell: Seahawks would be good with a mediocre QB, but they've only been great with Russell Wilson

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Normally I reserve article aggregation for our daily Coffee and Cigarettes, but Grantland's Bill Barnwell put together such an excellent deep-dive into the Russell Wilson negotiations/situation that I thought it was worth highlighting separately. Also, I happen to agree with most of the main conclusions he comes to along the way.

The "type of contract" thing.

Barnwell notes that in the modern NFL, there are two types of quarterback contracts, the "full-ride, massive-signing-bonus " style of deal that the league's top passers have gotten, and the "year-by-year" deals that players like Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, and Ryan Tannehill have gotten. There's a huge gulf between the two in terms of overall money, guaranteed money, and signing bonuses, and the question remains: which category does Wilson belong in?

Barnwell's conclusion (with ridiculous amounts of support) is that Wilson belongs in the "full-ride" group -- which I agree with -- and that Seattle will end up compromising and giving Wilson a little more than what Cam Newton got over his first three years (Newton will get $68M his first three seasons, and Barnwell surmises Seattle will give Wilson around $70M in that time). The exact dollar amount is still a question mark, but the idea is that it will get done.

Exact numbers aside, the way I look at it? Bleacher Report's Dan Hope framed this whole discussion really well the other day when he tweeted: "Quarterback rankings/tiers are fun to debate, but realistically, the modern NFL market only has two tiers: quarterbacks who are worth big money and quarterbacks who aren't."

The point: the debate over the exact dollar amount that Russell Wilson is "worth" per year is overwrought; there are no mid-level quarterback contracts. There are big-money deals and crappy deals. Wilson, in my opinion, belongs in the big-money tier (and will get that big money regardless of whether or not Seattle will offer it) and what he gets is relatively irrelevant (within reason, obviously). He'll be the highest paid player for a while, until other top-tier quarterbacks get new deals or restructured deals that surpass his. The world keeps spinning, the cap keeps rising, and in a few years, Wilson likely looks like a good deal.

The bottom line in Barnwell's thinking, which I agree with fully, is formed in the question: "Would Seattle really move on to an uncertain future under center over what amounts to a few million dollars over four or five years?" I think not. Of course, both sides will hold firm while there are no deadlines, and real action will come when those deadlines... (wait for it)... spur action.

The baseball thing:

One piece of the negotiation puzzle has been this loose threat or whatever that Russell Wilson could pursue his baseball career. This has always been a silly notion to me and so preposterous that I haven't even really done much research into Wilson's performance in the sport. Well, Barnwell points to an article from FanGraphs's Chris Mitchell that looked at Wilson's stats in Single-A ball and attempts to construct what type of prospect he would be for the major leagues.

Taking out the fact that Wilson hasn't played baseball in four years, would likely spend less than half his time training for it, and is now 26-years old (probably the most significant factors at play), Mitchell plugged Wilson's numbers into the KATOH machine (a metric that forecasts MLB hitting based on minor league performance).

Per Mitchell:

KATOH gives him a less than one in ten chance of playing a single game in the majors, and basically no chance of being of any big league relevance.


He continued...

Strikeout rate is very predictive for hitters in the low minors, and Wilson's 31% K% was straight up awful. A high strikeout rate in the low minors isn't always a death knell for a hitter, but a strikeout rate north of 30% is extremely concerning when it's not offset by at least average power. And with an ISO of .127, Wilson never hit for much in-game power. To make matters worse, Wilson's one long suit — his high walk rate — has very little predictive power for hitters in the low minors. Statistically speaking, there wasn't much to like about Wilson's game.

But Russell Wilson, when talking with Bryant Gumble on HBO's Real Sports back in April, told us to ignore those statistics.

"Yeah, I wouldn't be worried about the statistics of it," he said. "I know I can play in the big leagues. With the work ethic and all that, I think I definitely could for sure. And that's why the Texas Rangers, you know, got my rights. And they want me to play. You know, Jon Daniels, the GM, wants me to play. We were talkin' about it the other day."

That's great, and I realize his belief in himself is probably stronger than any living human, but Barnwell frames it well when he says,

I understand that Wilson has basically made a career out of proving doubters wrong. If I were Wilson, I would get out of bed every day and assume I could fly until proved otherwise. But doubting Wilson as an NFL prospect after he was incredible at the highest possible level before turning pro is one thing. Wilson wasn't even an average performer three levels below the major leagues as a baseball player.

Statistically speaking, Wilson had the most efficient season for a quarterback in college football history at Wisconsin in 2011 and literally the only thing that kept him from becoming a top-5 pick was his height. There were enormous doubts for Wilson's success in the NFL because of his height, but pretty much none based on his performance in college football. There are no parallels to this in the baseball question.

I mean, Wilson could go live with a host family Myrtle Beach and play Single-A ball for the Rangers, or he could just go ahead and continue being a top-tier NFL quarterback.

The dominating defense and run game thing:

This has been a huge rallying point for detractors of a big-time Russell Wilson contract. Wilson has "won" more games over his first three years than any other player in NFL history, but obviously the team around him has been an enormous force in that success. The question, of course, is how much is Wilson worth to the Seahawks? This is a potential phd-thesis level research subject that can't be answered definitively, period. However, Barnwell's statement here rings true:

"[The Seahawks] would be good with a mediocre quarterback. They've only been great with Wilson."

This is exactly how I feel about the subject. In the modern NFL, you can't win consistently without (at least) a good quarterback under center. There are the one-off outliers that have bucked this idea and won a Super Bowl here and there during the history of the NFL (exceedingly infrequently), but with the parity that exists in this league, in my opinion, being without a "franchise" quarterback is the quickest way to go back to .500, or worse. Even with their historically great defense, I think Seattle would drift back to 8-8 with some middling quarterback in charge, and a post-season run to the Super Bowl seems extremely, extremely unlikely.

Seattle dominated time of possession on offense last year. They turned it over less than any other team. They (along with their special teams units) gave their defense the best average starting field position of any team in the league. Some of the credit for these things obviously go to the defense, but Russell Wilson's efficient captaining of the offense is integral to the historic success of the defense. With a middling to bad offense, the defense would almost certainly see more snaps (they saw the fewest snaps of any team in the league last year), would give up more yardage, would give up more points, and would not approach the historic levels they've reached the last two to three years. They would probably be "just as good," on a talent level, but statistically speaking, they do depend on the balance that a strong offense provides them.

The run game situation is similar. People always want to cite the fact that Wilson has benefitted from the Seahawks' strong run game and that's true, but obviously Wilson is a strong catalyst for the run game's success. Tom Cable knows this, and everyone watching the Seahawks offense recently should know this as well. Cable recently said that, because of the heavy use of the read option, "Marshawn needs Russ like Russ needs Marshawn. It's like ham and eggs or peanut butter and jelly. They've got to have each other for this thing to work. Neither one of them is bigger or greater than the other. And they probably wouldn't be very good without the other one, to be quite honest with you."

To me, this isn't coach speak, this is reality. Wilson may not find the same success as a runner without Marshawn Lynch next to him in Seattle's amazing run game, but that doesn't mean he deserves no credit for it. If you're going to say he depends on a strong run game, it should be noted that he helps create said run game. T-Jack or Matt Flynn aren't going to have the same effect.

The "you don't win Super Bowls with big-money QBs thing"

This is a subject that has been broached a lot recently and while it's true that Super Bowls are hard to come by when you're paying your quarterback a big percentage of your cap (the obvious logic being that you cannot pay as many big-time talents at other positions and must rely on excellent drafting), it's also worth noting that these franchise quarterbacks capable of leading your team to Super Bowls on their first deals are probably just as hard to acquire. The idea of not paying your quarterback because it's hard to win Super Bowls with that much money allocated to the position also ignores the idea that if you don't have a "franchise" quarterback on your team, your chances for a Super Bowl approaches zero.

Another way to think about it: Take a look this graph that shows every NFL franchise's last Playoff win (via Reddit commenter RichieW13)


Isn't there an obvious common denominator?

My point, and I think Barnwell's point as well: If you let Russell Wilson go, and go back to hoping to find a franchise quarterback in the draft or free agency, you could be looking for a long while, and instead of struggling to win Super Bowls, you're more likely struggling to win any Playoff game. Or make it to the Playoffs.

As Barnwell says, "both sides simply have too much to lose by parting ways."