BY Art Thiel 05:13PM 04/24/2015

Thiel: Pull of parity alters Wilson extension talks

To give the Seahawks the best chance to mitigate the travail in Glandaie, it makes sense to play out the final year of Russell Wilson’s contract. Risks abound, but NFL parity is pulling hard.

Russell Wilson might be willing to wait a year before he eats like a king. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The Seahawks are upon their biggest test yet: The gravitational pull of NFL parity. For three seasons, they have been at or near the top, but the system is made to to pull back  elite teams to the black hole of the NFL’s mediocre middle. Resistance may not be futile, but the pull to the center is remorseless.

Rivals have been waiting for this moment: The Seahawks finally are on the edge of losing the advantage of having a Super Bowl-winning quarterback on the cheap.

The bargain of Russell Wilson’s third-round rookie contract meant the Seahawks could invest large coin on the rest of the roster. That’s primarily how they could afford to get and keep quality players on what has become one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.

But since the Super Bowl defeat, they have invested for 2015 $8.5 million in RB Marshawn Lynch instead of $5 million, and $8 million in TE Jimmy Graham instead of $4 million for Zach Miller. There have been many other comings-and-goings under the salary cap, but those increases for veteran players suggest an urgency to fulfill expectations that the offense is going to have to carry more of the seasonal load as the defense gets compromised with injury and age.

The Seahawks have an NFL-high 11 picks in the draft starting Thursday, none of which is in the first round, which the Seahawks avoid as if it were an Ebola cocktail.

To general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, the risk for unproven pro talent at the top end isn’t worth the reward. They traded out of Thursday’s first round, as they did the previous two previous first rounds. Before that, the previous two first rounders were LB Bruce Irvin (15th overall, 2012) and LG James Carpenter (25th overall, 2011), both of whom have yet to play up to their draft positions.

Carpenter left in free agency in March after the Seahawks a year earlier declined their contract option. They have a similar option coming with Irvin for 2016, which is worth $7 million, so the chances seem reasonable that the option won’t be picked up.

The two first-rounders who met expectations for this regime were the 2010 picks, LT Russell Okung and FS Earl Thomas. The year before that, under the previous stewardship of the lamentable Tim Ruskell, was pass-rushing DE Aaron Curry, the can’t-miss pick at No. 4. Sporting News this week had the Curry selection as No. 8 on its list of the 15 most overpaid NFL draft picks. Over four years with the Seahawks and Raiders, he made $31 million and had 5½ sacks.

Sitting out the first round, Schneider figures, is better — and cheaper — than bombing out. So don’t expect the Seahawks to trade up into the first round, not after they have earned black belts in the martial art of low-round/no-round drafting.

Schneider likely cannot be prouder of the fact that the four wideouts who caught passes in the Super Bowl  (Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Chris Matthews and Ricardo Lockette) were undrafted free agents.

But the season’s final pass is one of which he cannot be less proud, and brings us back to Wilson’s immediate future.

The fact that Wilson’s final pass, to Lockette, turned into the most significant play in Super Bowl history, as well as an unforgettable Seattle sports disaster for eternity, now plays a role in the apparent slow going in negotiations to extend Wilson’s contract. If the pass had been completed for the game-winning touchdown, the talk in April would be about how the Seahawks maintain an edge after consecutive Super Bowl triumphs.

A fine problem to have, certainly. But since that was denied, there is little doubt that players and coaches have boxcars full of intensity to get back to where they were, plus one yard.

I asked Schneider Wednesday what stuck with him, after some time had passed, about Carroll’s plan to navigate beyond the travail in Glendale to a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

“What stuck in my mind regarding Pete was the maturity of it, the understanding of what happened and how to put that in a specific spot and move forward — to use it as motivation,” Schneider said. “Every year as we start, there are going to be different challenges. Last year there was winning the Super Bowl (again) and best defense ever, and the challenges of dynasty.

“Those (were) big challenges to overcome. So now this challenge this year is being able to overcome what happened and go from there and look toward Super Bowl 50.’’

It strikes me that the best way for the Seahawks to meet that challenge is to let Wilson play into the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, at $1.5 million, and use the freed-up cash to pay other players who give the Seahawks the best chance to win in 2015.

The Indianapolis Colts did that with their star QB, Andrew Luck, and followed up on April 9 by picking up his fifth-year option, which will guarantee him a $16.1 million salary in 2016.

Delaying the start of Wilson’s second contract has its risks. For the Seahawks, it may send the wrong message to some longer-term players. And if the club doesn’t start paying him big now, they will have to pay him more later, particularly if the franchise tag is used in subsequent years.

For Wilson, the risk is he could have a career-damaging injury in 2015.

With stakes this high, so are the risks. But the reward is to increase significantly the chance to return to the Super Bowl to find the extra yard. Nothing can never erase what happened in Glendale, but two wins in three Super Bowl appearances certainly mitigates it for the career legacies of all parties.

The strategy of playing out Wilson’s contract goes against the grain of Schneider’s strong preference in maintaining competitive excellence by planning two, three and four years ahead.

But he’s straining against the formidable gravitational force of NFL parity, and one play changed everything. He may have to change too.


YourThoughts

  • Jamo57

    Just playing editor here, Art. Don’t forget 1st rounder Earl Thomas III taken shortly after Russell Okung. Pick courtesy of the Broncos if I remember correctly.

    • art thiel

      Good catch. Fixed. Thanks.

  • ReebHerb

    My gut feel is if you don’t pay Wilson now, he’s not going to be a happy camper. You might be able to lock him up for two years but then it will be goodbye.

    • art thiel

      Wilson will deal well with any outcome.

  • poulsbogary

    When one or the other of the parties moves the negotiations into the public forum, watch out. That is the tell-tale indicator that things have deteriorated. If they can just keep things private then there is a better chance of coming to an agreement. I think Russell’s problem from a negotiating standpoint is there are many Qb’s in the league who are in reality better than him.

    • art thiel

      These talks haven’t gone public. No terms have been leaked. Each side has been careful.

      As far as Wilson relative to other QBs, you’re just wrong.

      • John M

        Agreed, Art, RW has something few people have, period. If he gets an above average line this year I think the whole offense will surprise. Re. the money, I think it’s his agent. He’ll milk this forever simply because he knows it’s unlikely he’ll ever have another Russ . . .

        • art thiel

          His agent will do nothing against Wilson’s wishes.

      • poulsbogary

        To say that RW is the best qb, one would have to defy every single meaningful performance tracking tool currently in use. He won a super bowl. Actually, the defense won that SB, and Percy returning that kickoff won it. Russell didn’t have to do anything. And then, when there actually was somehting on the line, he threw the pick. I’m wrong? I was one of the few who, before last season started, pointed out the statistical improbability of the hawks winning a 2nd straight super bowl. If only I had been wrong. I wish to heck i was wrong.

        • art thiel

          Wilson’s passing number totals will never match QBs on teams that throw more. But by all other measures — win percentage, passing efficiency, 4th quarter comebacks — he ranks among the best. And he came a yard short of blowing away the repeat-SB improbability.

          He does more things well than any active QB. Of course it helps that he Lynch and a great defense. All winning SB QBs have similar helpmates.

        • Eric K

          You moved the goalposts, first you said there were many QBs better (which is vague do you consider 5 or 6 many or 15?). Now you say he isn’t the best. Not to speak for Art, but I don’t think anyone is saying he is the top QB in the league. But to quote Bill Barnwell from Football Outsiders, “Anyone who doesn’t recognize that Wilson is one of the top 7 or 8 QBs in the league simply doesn’t know how to evaluate QBs”

          • poulsbogary

            Not sure if your issues with my phrasing is your problem or mine. In any case, the fact that Barnwell has made such a statement tells me there is considerable debate about where russell falls in the list. Stating a range from 1 to 8 is just as vague as stating he is a mid-pack qb. To me, the top echelon of qb’s–the very best–would be 1 to 3. The worst would be 20 and up. The rest would be mid pack. Russell is mid pack. Again, the numbers bear this out.

          • Eric K

            Your saying there are 3 Top QBs, 4-19 then 20-32, then yeah I think your criteria for tiers are ridiculous, #4, say Brees maybe is no better than #20 maybe Dalton or someone like that? Seriously that is what you think?

            I think there are maybe 8-10 top QBs that are capable of winning a SB, Wilson is solidly in that camp.

          • poulsbogary

            In the context of the disussion–contract negotiations–it really comes down perceived value. My list does not matter, but it is my prediction of how the organization places a value on wilson. I don’t think the organization will pay him top 3 money and they are fools if they end up doing so. It really comes down to– How does russell perceive himself? and how does the organization see him?

    • coug73

      Russell Wilson’s winning % trumps all meaningful statistics kept by the NFL. Two SB’s and counting. Oh, high character and work in the community makes RW more than a good QB his a good citizen. I strongly believe RW is the QB the Hawks want to keep.

      • art thiel

        No mystery there.

  • jafabian

    The drawback of letting Wilson go through the season without an extension is the possibility of a Randy Johnson-type pout. Of Wilson having a season that doesn’t meet his usual standards due to the distraction and then having that go viral throughout the team. It can be said Wilson is above that but there’s nothing to support that contention. That shouldn’t force the Seahawks to offer the moon to Wilson. They need to operate a sound business. My advice to Wilson would be a quote from Pope Francis: Money must serve, not rule.

    • art thiel

      A pout is a risk, but having become acquainted with both gents, Wilson is nothing like the Unit. Wilson is so far ahead psychologically than Randy and nearly all athletes, I think a loss of production is a minimal threat.

      I’m impressed by pulling s quote from a pope. A site first.

  • coug73

    It seems silly to live in the past. What is done, is done. Move forward and put the best team you can on the field. It’s now time and looking forward.

    If I was Wilson I would bargain hard. Ask for as much guarantee money in the short time, say 3 years and let the chips fall were they may.

    • art thiel

      Dunno who’s living in the past here, but be assured Wilson is bargaining hard.

      • coug73

        SB 49. I’m thinking how to get to SB 50 is more important than being motivated by SB 49.

        I’m just a casual observer.

        • art thiel

          Past failures and slights are the engines that drive the entirety of team sports psychology, especially with the Seahawks.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” – Theodore Roosevelt.
    Have you ever noticed how Wilson always has this soft voice in control voice manipulation?There is always learning opportunities to come of failure.

    • art thiel

      Bombast works only if you’re Don King on Don Trump.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        A true reality indeed ,Art.

  • whoKarez

    I seem to remember another first rounder in recent years. What was that guy’s name?

    • art thiel

      Walter Jones?

  • fredbrack

    Convincing analysis, Arthur, plus solid metaphor.

    • art thiel

      Why thank you, kind sir.