The Seahawks Are in a Bind With Russell Wilson and His Demands

Ryan Glasspiegel
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Russell Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and understandably wants to be compensated accordingly. The Seahawks surely would love to keep him around for the long term, but there’s a price tag and duration that would be unpalatable for them. It’s a really tricky position for them to be in, as Wilson enjoys an amount of leverage that is rarely held over NFL organizations.

Wilson is entering the final season of his four-year, $87.6 million contract. Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reported earlier this week that Wilson set a deadline for April 15th for the Seahawks to negotiate an extension. There are two reasonably plausible paths the Seahawks can go down here:

1. Let Wilson play out his deal, then franchise tag him twice.

This is the dance that played out with Kirk Cousins and Washington a few years ago. According to PFT, if the Seahawks were to slap Wilson with the tag, it’d cost about $30.3 million in 2020, $36.4 million in 2021, and a whopping $52.4 million in 2022.

The third year is almost certainly cost prohibitive, so under this scenario we are looking at the Seahawks paying Wilson a shade under $90 million over the next three seasons, and letting him walk — or pay him big — when he’s 33 years old.

New quarterback rules and meticulous health rituals have enabled Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees to have great seasons into their late thirties and, in Brady’s case, beyond. Wilson’s success, comparatively to those three, involves his legs. While his athleticism would seem likely to wane at least a little bit by his mid to late thirties, he is a wizard at avoiding direct contact so the injury risk isn’t quite as high as it would be with other mobile quarterbacks.

2. Pay this man his money.

It’s hard to fathom exactly what a fair market contract extension for Russell Wilson would even look like. Last offseason, Aaron Rodgers signed a four-year, $134 million extension with the Packers that will see him make an annual average of $33.5 million. There are murmurs that Patrick Mahomes is in line for a $200 million deal.

By my eyes Mahomes has higher upside than Wilson, but Wilson is more proven. He’s won a Super Bowl, and his carrying the Seahawks to a playoff berth last season in what everybody thought was supposed to be a rebuilding year was very impressive. It’s not insane to think that if Wilson were a free agent right now that he could get a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of a six-year, $210 million deal, or $35 million per year on average.

Another lingering factor in all this is that if Wilson signed that blockbuster extension, it’d be obsolete halfway through if he maintains his elite level of play. All of the NFL TV deals are up in 2021 and 2022, and it’s likely that they will rise in excess of 20%, pushing the salary cap up accordingly. At that point, calibrating their salaries as a percentage of the cap, star QBs would arguably be worth in the neighborhood of $40 million a year.

The question becomes what is the replacement risk. There is at least a two-thirds chance that the Seahawks are not going to find someone better than Wilson at quarterback, but an NFL trend we’ve observed in the last several years with the Eagles, Rams, and even the Seahawks a few years ago is that you can have a lot of success with a quarterback on a rookie deal by stocking the rest of the roster with talent. Whatever the line may be, there exists a price for Wilson where that strategy becomes a tantalizing option.

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