Turns out, Russell Wilson got back to the Super Bowl, after all.
The Seahawks’ quarterback has been in Minneapolis this week for festivities around Sunday’s Super Bowl 52. On Thursday, Wilson talked about his charitable and philanthropic motivations while on a panel discussion hosted by Microsoft at its store in the Mall of America in suburban Bloomington, Minnesota. That’s about 10 miles from this weekend’s NFL title game between New England and Philadelphia.
Wilson’s panel was called “Create Change.”
Change has already been created for Wilson this week. Potentially mammoth, windfall change.
He became one of the happiest people in the league not named Alex Smith or Kirk Cousins.
Smith, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, got traded this week to Washington. The Redskins then, according to ESPN, agreed to give the 33-year-old a new, four-year contract worth $23.5 million annually with $71 million in guarantees.
That means the Redskins are about to make Cousins, their starter until now, a free-agent quarterback. For years they’d kept him from the market with a franchise-tag designation. Cousins is four years younger and has a higher career passer rating than Smith, who is now on his third team. Cousins has only played for one.
So how many tens of millions is Cousins going to get as the most attractive free-agent quarterback available this spring? In a league that values and inflates quarterback markets higher and harder than Bitcoin?
Back up the Brinks.
And all that means Wilson is going to get even bigger bank when his Seahawks contract ends after the 2019 season.
For him, back up the whole darn vault.
Wilson is younger than both Cousins and Smith. He’s started two Super Bowls, two more than Cousins and Smith combined. He’s been selected to as many Pro Bowls in his six seasons as Cousins and Smith have (four). Wilson is coming off a 2017 season in which he led the NFL with 34 touchdown passes, gained a league-record 86 percent of Seattle’s yards on offense and accounted for all but one of its offensive touchdowns--all while having the NFL’s worst running-back production and an iffy, often porous line “supporting” him.
If Smith is getting $23.5 million per year with $71 million guaranteed, Cousins could be headed for at least $25 million on average in March. Plus, Atlanta’s general manager has already said a new contract for Super Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan, the league most valuable player two seasons ago, is a top priority this offseason. Ryan has taken his Falcons farther than Smith and Cousins ever have taken their teams, yet to only to half as many Super Bowls as Wilson has led Seattle.
And if Ryan is going to get more than Smith and Cousins--and more than San Francisco’s Jimmy Garappolo, for that matter--then two-time NFL MVP and 2010 Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers should be worth at least $30-35 million per year to the Green Bay Packers, right?
Essentially, each domino that falls is likely a raise for Wilson.
Rodgers’ contract with Green Bay ends when Wilson’s does with Seattle, following the 2019 season. Rodgers is scheduled to earn $19.8 million in base pay in 2018 and $20 million in ‘19. He will be 36 years old when his current contract ends.
Wilson will have just turned 31 at the end of 2019--younger than Smith is now. Wilson’s agent Mark Rodgers insisted in 2015 when he and Seattle hammered out their $87.6 million extension with $61.5 million guaranteed that the current deal be only four years. The Seahawks wanted five, because every team wants to have their franchise QB under contract control for as long as possible. That sticking point is why negotiations on Wilson’s deal dragged through that entire offseason three years ago, into the start of training camp.
“(It) puts him in a situation where he’s still a young man and he gets an opportunity maybe to talk about another contract down the road,” Rodgers said on July 31, 2015, the day the Seahawks announced Wilson’s richest deal in team history. “You don’t do a contract necessarily thinking about the next contract. But I think that’s the big difference between a four-year extension and a five-year extension. That’s a long year.
“That was a bit of a goal and I think we got there. And he was pleased with it.”
Or, as Wilson put it that day: “Pretty cool.”
Wilson is scheduled to earning $15.5 million in base pay this year and $17 million in 2019. His a cap number is $23.8 million and $25.3 million in the last two years of his deal.
That’s with the per-team salary-cap limit expected to settle at $178-180 million for 2018. Thanks to league revenues from steadily climbing broadcast and streaming rights that seem impervious to our society’s and multimedia’s economic ebbs and flows, the NFL salary cap has increased each year since 2013 by $10 million, $10 million, $12 million, $12 million and $11 million.
At that annual rate of inflation--three to four times our nation’s--the league’s cap will be at least $200 million per team in 2020. That is also the year of the next negotiations between the league and its players’ union, talks that union chief DeMaurice Smith said Thursday at the Super Bowl he is preparing as if it will be “war.”
(As an aside, and as always: only our military prepares for war. Let’s avoid every other reference, shall we?)
Nevertheless, Smith is girding for labor acrimony to get his players a larger piece of the NFL’s giant cash pie, not a smaller one. So that cap number could be well north of $200 million in the first year’s of Wilson’s next deal.
This time next year, the Seahawks will be faced multiple, weighty considerations about Wilson’s future. How much of their cap do they want to devote to a 30-year-old, two-time Super Bowl quarterback who is undoubtedly the man around whom the entire franchise revolves? One-seventh? Wilson’s deal is taking up a little more than 1/7th of Seattle’s cap for 2018, assuming the NFL cap number is the expected $178 million. One-seventh of, say, $210 million for 2020 is $30 million per year. Would they dare go 1/6th, to $35 million per year? By then, after Ryan and Rodgers, the market may dictate that.
I was co-hosting on Seattle’s KJR-AM radio again Thursday morning and talked with Tony Softli, who was an NFL team executive for 11 years including four as the Rams’ vice president for player personnel. I asked him what the maximum fraction of the cap that teams he’s worked for in Carolina and St. Louis were willing to devote to paying a QB. Softli said 1/7th, and no more.
But that was with an incrementally smaller league cap.
By 2020 the Seahawks will look far different financially and structurally than they did when they signed Wilson to his extension three years ago. Wilson and All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner are undeniably the two players around whom the rest of the team is transitioning; both are still in their 20s. The franchise is no longer basing its roster construction and salary-cap allocation around how to pay Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and keep them happy. Two of them had season-ending injuries in the last months of 2017.
The third, Thomas, seems to be trying to talk and walk (to opposing locker room and coaches) his way out of town.
As Wilson said Jan. 1, the day after the Seahawks’ 2017 season ended with them out of the playoffs for the first time in six years: “This isn’t the end of an era. It’s a beginning.”
So the Seahawks may be willing to go above that 1/7th threshold on its cap to devote to Wilson in 2020. They may have to. Now we’re talking $40 million per year.
While the intent of his agent was to get Wilson to the cusp of free agency again in 2020, the Seahawks could of course keep him off the market by using their franchise tag on him for that year. The franchise-tag number for quarterbacks--the average of the top-five salaries for 2018 at the position--is projected to be $23.6 million this year. It’s only going to go up the next two years. And it will potentially skyrocket after Smith, Cousins and then Ryan and perhaps Rodgers get their new deals.
Wilson and his agent would be all for that. Yes, their insistence on holding the Seahawks to four years in 2015 is going to pay off royally after two more seasons.
Wherever the imminent gold rush leads, the cost of the Seahawks retaining their franchise cornerstone spiked this week. Perhaps higher than even Wilson could have expected.