Russell Wilson's Quick Riches
Russell Wilson just got a $31 million raise for next season. Is he disappointed?
The Seattle Seahawks quarterback just signed a four-year, $87.6 million extension that guarantees $60 million and has a $31 million signing bonus. Wilson, who was set to earn around $1.5 million in 2015-16, will now earn an average of $21.9 million a year, making him the second-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, just shy of Aaron Rodgers's $22 million. Wilson's contract also places him second in the league in guarantees.
Earlier reports indicated that Wilson, working on a self-imposed Friday deadline, had sought $25 million a year -- which was never going to happen -- and record-setting guarantees. It's interesting that despite Wilson's reported desire to become the highest-paid quarterback, his new contract doesn't set the market. That probably seems appropriate to the critics who balked at the idea of Wilson earning top-dollar; sure, he's taken his team to two straight Super Bowls, winning one, but he also ranked just 20th in completion percentage, 10th in quarterback rating and 16th in touchdowns among starters last season. He was also 19th in attempts, reflective of the Seahawks' balanced approach that emphasizes the ground game.
But Wilson will have a chance to prove himself, and earn an even bigger payday in the near future. Perhaps the most significant factor in Wilson's contract is its short time frame; teams usually try to lock quarterbacks in their prime into long-term deals as salaries continue to trend upward. Wilson will now be able to renegotiate for even more money when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2020 at just 31 years old. By then, impending free agents such as Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Andrew Luck will have set the new quarterback market.
He can already thank predecessors, especially Ben Roethlisberger, who helped set a new trend for franchise quarterbacks striking deals that guaranteed more money in a shorter time frame. Roethlisberger signed a four-year, $87.4 million extension with the Pittsburgh Steelers in March that guaranteed $60.75 million at signing and $65 million in the first three years. And in June, Cam Newton signed a five-year, $103.76 million extension with the Carolina Panthers with $60 million in guarantees -- though only half is guaranteed against injury.
Now the question becomes how the Seahawks, and teams generally, continue to build deep rosters around expensive quarterbacks. Wilson commands high value precisely because of the ring he's won, but the Seahawks were partly able to build a championship team because their starting quarterback had only a six-figure cap hit. Wilson's cap expenditure now rises to upward of $7 million this season, $18.5 million next year, and $23.2 million in the final year of his deal. His salary will only command 4.9 percent of this season's cap of $143.28 million, but even if the cap continues to increase by around $10 million a year, his share will eventually rise north of 12 percent. According to Chicago Bears blogger Johnathan Wood, only one quarterback with a cap hit greater than 12 percent has made it to the Super Bowl since 2000: Peyton Manning, who lost twice.
With Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham each set to earn between $8 and $14 million against the cap in the next few years, it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks weigh their personnel priorities against their financial considerations. Safety Kam Chancellor began a holdout shortly after Wilson's deal was announced Friday, and the team is working on an extension for linebacker Bobby Wagner, who seems rather pessimistic about Seattle's chances of maintaining its roster depth:
Seattle has built championship teams by drafting well, especially in the middle rounds, and relying on cheap, young talent that gives them ample roster flexibility. Now they are paying the price for that success -- $31 million to start.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at email@example.com