“Record guarantees” and “highest-paid player” are not where the two sides landed
The most speculative contract situation of the 2015 NFL offseason ended.
After much debate on when, how, and for how much, Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks reached an agreement, saving the star quarterback of one of the NFL’s best teams from performing his dangerous job at his old, significantly below-market rate.
The headlines for the deal, as was often the case, reflected the length and total value of the contract – it was a four-year deal worth $87.6 million, with reported guarantees of $60 million. Since that time, additional details emerged as they typically do.
According to profootballtalk.com, “as per a source with knowledge of the terms, the $31 million signing bonus and the $700,000 base salary for 2014 were fully guaranteed.
The remaining guaranteed money was solely guaranteed for injury, making it not truly secured.”
The rest of the contract details, according to spotrac.com, were illustrated in the following graphic.
Initial discussions during the spring alluded to the possibility of record guarantees to craft a distinctive and historic deal, considering Russell Wilson’s unique situation as a severely underpaid player, albeit one the team still held significant leverage over.
This leverage remained unchallenged as Wilson and the Seahawks came to terms, and the agreed-upon terms fell short of either setting new records for guarantees or aligning with his reported desire to be among the highest-paid players in his position.
What makes this deal intriguing is its timing. Russell Wilson and his agent, Mark Rodgers, better known in Major League Baseball circles, imposed an artificial deadline on the Seahawks to finalize the deal before the 2015 training camp.
Wilson could have become a free agent after that season, but this was unlikely. The Seahawks could employ the franchise tag on Wilson for both the 2016 and 2017 seasons, as outlined in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The projected franchise tag figure 2015 was $18.38 million, according to Jason La Canfora’s report on CBSsports.com (the 2014 franchise number for a quarterback was $16.91 million).
So, did the fictitious deadline yield the desired results? In the opinion of the author, it did not. Did a deal get completed?
Yes. Was Russell Wilson adequately compensated? Affirmative. However, did he maximize his financial value? In the author’s view, he did not. At that stage in his career, Russell Wilson boasted the second-highest passer rating in NFL history.
He stood as one of the most successful quarterbacks after three years of play, with two Super Bowl appearances, one resulting in a championship.
With Wilson poised for further growth and improvement in his career, a contract featuring only approximately 35% in actual guarantees seemed a low figure for a young player with his impressive resume and presumably even more outstanding achievements to come.
Exploring the hypothetical scenario, let’s consider the alternatives. If Russell Wilson and Mark Rodgers had rejected the deal and Wilson had entered training camp with his original $1.5 million salary, they would have hoped to avoid a career-ending injury.
Wilson had taken the precaution of purchasing insurance for the 2015 season in case of a career-threatening or loss-of-value injury.
In all likelihood, this scenario would have pressured the Seattle Seahawks into employing the franchise tag on Wilson following the season.
As mentioned previously, the projected franchise tag figure 2015 was $18.38 million.
In this case, Wilson wouldn’t have had the luxury of the $31 million signing bonus he had just received. Still, he would have earned a higher average salary than the $17.8 million annual average in the new deal he ultimately signed.
Considering the success Wilson and the Seahawks are likely to have the next two seasons, Rodgers would’ve been able to get more money since the contracts for Andrew Luck, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers project to around $23-$25 million per year.
In the hypothetical scenario, if Russell Wilson and Mark Rodgers had chosen not to accept the initial deal, they would have found themselves in a potential cycle of negotiations and franchise tags.
They might have aimed to negotiate a long-term deal before signing the franchise tag for the 2016 season, and a similar situation would have loomed in 2017.
Assuming that the franchise tag figures would have continued to rise, much like they did from 2014 to 2015, it would likely have reached around $20 million for the 2017 season.
This would have been a critical juncture for Seattle in their negotiations with Wilson, as he would have become a free agent following the 2017 season, holding considerable leverage.
The prospect of free agency without the franchise tag looming would have been a compelling point in negotiations.
With the anticipated success of Wilson and the Seahawks over the next two seasons, Mark Rodgers could have argued for a more lucrative deal, especially considering the contracts of other top quarterbacks, such as Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers, which were projected to be in the range of $23-$25 million per year.
At this stage, it’s conceivable that Wilson might have secured his second Super Bowl ring, putting him on par with Manning and ahead of Luck or Rivers.
This could have justified a substantial contract, perhaps a four-year, $100 million deal with $75 million in guarantees. In this scenario, Wilson would have earned $40 million over three years and inked another contract worth $115 million with $75-$80 million in guarantees.
Undoubtedly, it would have been a risky path, requiring Wilson to stay injury-free and navigate the stresses of yearly negotiations and distractions. However, it would have potentially maximized his financial value.
Russell Wilson’s approach appears to be that of a team player. After his new deal, Bobby Wagner also signed a lucrative contract, reportedly making him the highest-paid middle linebacker in the league. Wilson and Wagner share the same draft class.
Additionally, safety Kam Chancellor has sought additional compensation for missing camp. Wilson acknowledges the importance of having a solid defense to sustain the success he has achieved in his first three years.
Disrupting the team’s core players could affect his future contract potential when his current deal expires in 2019.
The question arises: Did the fictitious deadline effectively secure all the elements Wilson sought?
It seems not. It’s conceivable that if the Seahawks had delayed and presented Wilson with the same contract a couple of weeks into camp, he would still have signed it. A $31 million signing bonus is difficult to turn down on principle.
However, by potentially holding out, Wilson might have been able to command a more lucrative deal. Engaging in a team-friendly agreement is a commendable choice for a leader experiencing compensation at levels he hasn’t before.
That’s an essential consideration. Nevertheless, it does not align with the notion of high contract guarantees and being one of the highest-paid players in the league. Team-friendly and highest-paid are distinct concepts.
At present, Wilson receives more equitable compensation for his top-tier performance at the league’s highest-paying position, with an annual salary of approximately $17 million over five years, which is certainly a substantial sum.
In the future, his negotiation tactics may need to evolve if being the “highest-paid” player is indeed his objective. If not, all the offseason talk about being the “highest-paid” player may have been in vain.