Chicken Littles fretting about the pace of Russell Wilson’s contract talks, the sky is nowhere near falling.
That was the message the agent for the Seahawks’ quarterback sent Thursday in his first public comments about negotiations with the team that began in earnest after the Super Bowl in February.
“As a Seahawks fan, it’s a no-brainer to think that Russell Wilson will be a Seahawk for life. And I tend to be very, very optimistic,” agent Mark Rodgers said on Seattle’s 710-AM.
“And so as long as I’m talking to the Seahawks it’s with a tone of optimism, it’s with the idea of optimism … The goal here is at the end of the end of the day we have a successful negotiation with the Seahawks.”
That echoes what Seattle coach Pete Carroll said earlier this month, that “we are so excited about getting Russell (an extension) and keeping him forever. We want to do all of that.”
So much for national reports from as recently as two weeks ago that both sides were so far apart a new deal this year was unlikely. Rodgers said “95 percent of that speculation has been off-point.”
Rodgers’ message Thursday echoed a News Tribune report from May 15 that there is no insurmountable gulf between the Seahawks and Wilson’s camp and that the delay in talks was because they were complicated and simply a matter of time and process.
Rodgers told 710’s “Brock and Salk” morning show that Wilson was due on a plane Thursday after attending the funeral of the father of Cliff Avril in Jacksonville, Florida. His agent said Wilson will be on the field Friday for the team’s next organized team activity practice at team headquarters in Renton.
Now about that slogging pace of negotiations most – including probably the Seahawks themselves – thought would be done by now, to follow recent offseason extensions signed by Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and others.
Rodgers said he and Wilson – and perhaps even the Seahawks – are in no particular hurry to get a new deal done prior to the 2015 season. That is when the winningest quarterback for the first three seasons of a career in NFL history is scheduled to earn $1.5 million in base pay for the final year of his four-year contract he signed as a third-round draft choice in 2012.
“I think that it’s really, really important here – and I don’t think anyone has stressed this: We really don’t have … neither side has any real deadlines,” Rodgers said. “I know the public and the fans and some of the media have put a sense of urgency on this. But there really are no deadlines.
“Russell Wilson is under contract with the Seahawks. And really if he has to would certainly be fine with playing his fourth year with the four-year contract that he signed coming out, and then moving on from there.”
Rodgers said Wilson has been planning to get the under-market $1.5 million this year from the Seahawks by not having a mortgage on the house in which he and his two Great Danes live in northeast Seattle and by not having a car payment.
The Seahawks’ custom in recent extensions of core players has been to let the current year’s contract play out with the same base pay, but while adding bonuses and front-loaded guarantees.
“Again, from a leverage standpoint, from a threatening standpoint, it just doesn’t feel that way,” Rodgers said.
Ah, leverage. The term teams and agents and clients in pro-sports contract negotiations often seek, even covet, but to which they rarely if ever admit.
The Seahawks would seemingly lose a lot of it by not getting a deal done by the end of the 2015 season. They would then face the prospect of Wilson continuing to decline postseason offers and having to use a costly franchise-tag designation that would likely cost the Seahawks close to $20 million against their salary cap in 2016. That’s based on the ’15 cap number for quarterbacks being $18.54 million per the collective bargaining agreement formula of the league’s top-earning QBs and each team’s $143.28 million cap number. That cap ceiling is sure to raise incrementally with NFL revenues again in 2016.
To keep Wilson under club control again with another franchise tag for 2017 in lieu of a longer-term extension, Seattle would have to pay him per the CBA 120 percent of his previous tag number, or potentially approaching $24 million. Those are monstrous potential cap hits, ones that would likely limit what the Seahawks could do in extending All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, whose rookie contract also ends after the 2015 season. They would make it next to impossible for the team to keep any more core players or sign free agents of any import.
As Rodgers said on the radio Thursday: “Let’s be honest, the franchise numbers for starting quarterbacks in the league is very, very, very, very high, and really is problematic for any team to use.”
Yes, that was four “verys.”
The Seahawks’ motivation for signing Wilson to a longer-term extension is to avoid all that with lower cap hits through lower annual base salaries. Such a deal full of signing and roster bonuses and other guarantees could still line Wilson’s wallet, but at a cost the team can prorate over the length of a deal to make the contract more cap friendly.
Wilson’s leverage to get a deal done this year as opposed to taking what on the surface would appear to be rich annual pays: financial security of having a larger, longer overall contract versus playing and living year to year. A major injury this year or in a franchise-tag season could affect Wilson’s ability to earn guaranteed money in the longer term.
Rodgers’ background is as a baseball agent; he was Wilson’s baseball agent when Wilson played minor-league ball while also a college quarterback at North Carolina State. So Rodgers is more versed in Major League Baseball’s world of no salary caps, guaranteed contracts and lucrative free agency.
An extension now would likely give Wilson guaranteed money far beyond what he could earn with a 2016 franchise tag. The current market shows Miami just guaranteed Ryan Tannehill $44 million. And he’s a career sub-.500 QB who’s never won a playoff game.
Wilson is 42-14, including the playoffs, with two Super Bowl starts and one league title.
That is what Rodgers thinks should count most when factoring in how close his client should ultimately be paid to the NFL’s highest-paid passer, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers at an average of $22 million per year.
“At the end of the day, you could be the greatest quarterback in the National Football League but if your team’s not winning … There’s value in winning, and I think that’s the key element,” Rodgers said in the interview.
“I think the fact that he’s won more games than any quarterback in the history of the league in his first three years I think speaks for itself.”
So apparently is the sentiment that sounds mutual from both sides – and one that may prove to be the reason Wilson ultimately signs his new deal before this season, if not training camp in late July.
“Russell Wilson (is) very, very happy to be in Seattle. Loves playing for the Seahawks. Loves playing for Pete Carroll,” Rodgers said.
“He understands there is something very special going on in this town (with) football, and would love to stay with that a very, very long time.”