BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 05/10/2018

Thiel: Seahawks pass on pass-game uptick

Matt Ryan’s new deal raised the market for QBs just when the Seahawks hope to re-start the offense by rushing more. Will that keep Russell Wilson happy?

In the Seahawks’ off-season, Russell Wilson didn’t get much help in the way of new targets. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

It’s one thing to try to impress the 12s with winning football. It’s another thing to impress an audience of one — Russell Wilson. The Seahawks need to show their quarterback that the recent tumult on the roster and the coaching staff will make him better off long-term in Seattle than anywhere else. Even if it would be far cheaper to start over with a rookie.

Two things happened independently in the last week that likely would put a (?!) in a thought bubble above Wilson’s head regarding his view of the future in Seattle.

None of the Seahawks’ nine draft picks was dedicated to a wide receiver, an obvious position of need, and the NFL quarterback market suddenly reached a level of madness¬† that many supposed was in the middle distance — a $30 million average annual value.

When the Atlanta Falcons signed Matt Ryan, 32, to a six-year, $169.25 million extension, they made him the NFL’s highest paid player — including a $46.5 million signing bonus, part of $94.5 million that’s fully guaranteed.

According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, the new-money value of the deal reaches $30 million annually. Here’s his breakdown:

1. Signing bonus: $46.5 million.

2. 2018 salary: $6 million, fully guaranteed.

3. 2019 option bonus: $10 million, fully guaranteed.

4. 2019 salary: $11.5 million, fully guaranteed.

5. 2020 salary: $20.5 million, fully guaranteed.

6. 2021 salary: $23 million, $5.5 million of which is guaranteed for injury only at signing. The $5.5 million becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2019 league year.

7. 2022 roster bonus: $7.5 million, due third day of 2022 league year.

8. 2022 salary: $16.25 million.

9. 2023 roster bonus: $7.5 million, due third day of 2023 league year.

10. 2023 salary: $20.5 million.

11. All guarantees have no offset language.

There’s no point to drawing real-world analogies to these numbers; the absurdity has all been identified before. Nor is it much better to wonder if the Falcons bosses are nuts; clearly, they think they can can still get a bath out of the water remaining with Jabba the Hutt in the tub.

But with Wilson’s contract expiring after the 2019 season ahead of his 32nd year, he will be in position to get a larger deal than Ryan’s. How such a load will fit into the Seahawks’ priorities of defense-first, run-game-second isn’t clear, but I wouldn’t want to be handed the crowbar and asked to fit everything in.

The Seahawks this off-season had more holes to fill than draft choices to do it with. But with the offensive line relatively set from a year ago, adding only D.J. Fluker in free agency to fill at right guard, they helped fix the offense by using a first-round pick in a running back, Rashaad Penny, and and a fourth-round pick on a block-first tight end, Will Dissly.

The choices reflected coach Pete Carroll’s determination to get back to his religion of ground-pounding, a faith that helped the Seahawks reach back-to-back Super Bowls. As hard as it is to argue with the plan, it worked well not only because Wilson was an excellent QB almost from the start, he was very inexpensive with his rookie contract. His second contract, signed in 2016 that pays him $24 million in 2018,¬†almost seems like a bargain now.

But the investment in a running game, which in theory helps Wilson by controlling the clock and reducing the pressure for weekly fourth-quarter miracles, also limits his chances. It appears that the passing game is going to be shorted.

Behind returnees Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks added free agent Jaron Brown, a tall (6-3), serviceable free agent who caught 86 passes in five seasons as a backup at Arizona. He signed for two years and up to $5.5 million. Beyond Baldwin, mystery remains.

The passive passing game was underscored this week with news that free agent Brandon Marshall, 34, was visiting the Seahawks, who also added to their 90-man roster for training camp Demore’ea Stringfellow, 23, former University of Washington bad boy whose poor judgment has compromised his large body (6-2, 220) and talent.

Marshall, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who played only five games for the Jets last season because of an ankle injury, and was in decline before that, seems an unlikely candidate. So too for Stringfellow, who transferred from UW to Mississippi after being found guilty of assault during campus parties in 2014 following the Seahawks win in the Super Bowl. He was with the Dolphins and Jets last season but never made the field for a game.

There’s nothing wrong with kicking tires, and even a signing of either guy would be cheap. But the Seahawks are back shopping at the remainders table. The salary cap leaves them little room for what the Seahawks have determined to be a luxury.

No team gets to fill all their needs in one off-season. But the Seahawks, for a variety of reasons, had a lot of needs immediately for a team insisting upon annual contention. Wilson will never betray publicly any unhappiness with the changes, because he’s Wilson. Still, an 8-8 or 7-9 record ahead of his contract season will not impress him or his agent.

There’s always the chance that the revamped running game will benefit Wilson more than it takes away from his game. But Wilson has re-upped once with the Seahawks, and he will never be more coveted than heading into his contract year as a fully developed, mature star who knows how to stay healthy.

The audience of one awaits.


YourThoughts

  • Kevin Lynch

    Sign and trade next off season? Can two teams, a player and an agent sit at a table and draw the whole thing out so everyone is taken care of? Does that ever happen?

  • Bruce McDermott

    Make him play out, tag him for 2020, and tag him again if necessary. He won’t hold out. Of course, he won’t re-sign after all that. But it gives the Hawks four more years at an overall cap hit of not much worse than re-signing him early, as I understand it.

    • art thiel

      That’s mostly what Washington, perhaps the NFL’s worst-run team, did with Cousins. Didn’t go well with the annual uncertainty. And the cap hit would indeed be worse. Most of all, Ciara wouldn’t like it,

  • Ron
  • Tman

    Hate to be cynical, but each time I hazzard a glance into the future of the seahawks, I see Lou Pinella looking at the future of the 116 win Mariners. Seeing a long drought, Pinella asks for a release from his contract to manage the Devil Rays. 16 years later the Mariners have a chance at the post season. Can anyone say “the drought is over”?

    Let’s hope it keeps raining in Seattle. If not, we may see Mr. Wilson snagging grounders at short in Yankee Stadium. Easier on the knees than the drubbing he takes each week in the coliseums dotting the landscape of the lower 48.

    • dingle

      We are still paying for the sins of Pat Gillick.

      Oh, wait, this is a Seahawks column. I’m having context issues this week.

      • art thiel

        So you’re saying the 116 win season stole the Mariners’ future. You would be correct.

        • dingle

          Yes. That is exactly what I’m saying. I think it’s been documented rather well, by people who know baseball better than I do.

  • tor5

    The more I learn about this from Art’s excellent insight, the more it seems impossible for any team to be a perennial contender. What I still don’t understand is that, if Russ were to go elsewhere, wouldn’t his new team face the same problems? That is, keeping enough of the team strong enough to contend while the QB eats a fifth of the salary? Why would that be worse for the Hawks than any other team?

    There seems to be a lot of gloom around the Hawks right now, but the beauty of sport is that we never know until the games get played. I’m going to keep on believing that Russ will be one of the all-time greats and that, somehow, he’ll do it as a Hawk. Why not us?

    • art thiel

      Each team’s circumstance is different in a given year. The Rams are going for it this year with some expensive free agent hires. They aren’t thinking a lot about 2019.

      Some team will be able to afford Wilson, 32, for 5-6 years and at $30M plus.

      • wabubba67

        With cap adjustments increasing each year, Wilson will likely be a $38-40/year QB. Percentage of the overall cap paid to a QB will still be comparable to Matt Ryan’s deal.

  • WestCoastBias79

    Unless you have a GOAT contender at QB (or Eli Manning), paying them seems to statistically worsen your chances of winning a Super Bowl. USA Today did an article awhile back and the only Super Bowl winning QB’s that counted for more than 11% of their team’s cap were Steve Young, Tom Brady, and the Mannings. Current Russell Wilson is WAY better than Super Bowl winning Russell Wilson, but the team is not. I’m not betting on a Seahawks ring this year. I love Russell, but he’s not in the GOAT conversation. Kirk Cousins, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan aren’t either. Hopefully the market cools down a bit, the cap goes bonkers, or they may need to look at the draft.

    • art thiel

      Given Carroll’s mandate for premium defenders, it’s hard to see how Wilson is affordable after 2019.

  • Tom G.

    I don’t know what to say about the premise of “the Seahawks are investing more in the run game because they’re preparing for life after Wilson” that’s kind of being implied here other than if T-Jack or even Matt Flynn is the starting QB in 2013, you’re likely a 7-9 or 8-8 team.

    As good as Marshawn and that defense were, they needed the QB to put them in the Super Bowl conversation. Offensively they needed someone that’d help the pass game complement the run game and defensively they needed a QB to take some pressure off those guys in terms of the scoreboard.

    So you needed a upper percentile QB then and you need one now even if the Seahawks are going to use their QB a little differently than teams like the Saints (Brees), Patriots (Brady) and Packers (Rodgers) do.

    That being said, if Russ and/or his agent have already decided that they want to take this all the way to unrestricted free agency and they’re going want to be recruited by other teams like Kevin Durant was once they get there, then you unfortunately pretty much have to start thinking about drafting a QB higher up in the draft NOW.

    • art thiel

      That was the point of my pre-draft columns speculating about trading Wilson. And as Nick Foles, Trent Dilfer and others have proven, you don’t necessarily need a top end QB to win the SB. It just makes it easier.

      The QB salaries for proven vets is going to make cap management excruciating. The team with a rookie-salary QB creates a lot more roster flexibility.

      • Tom G.

        But if people like Foles and Dilfer are the argument for not spending a bajillion dollars on a QB, then the Browns are very much the counterargument.

        Because look at how many QBs they’ve tried since they came back as an expansion team in ’99 and look at how many times they’ve started over with new HCs, coordinators, GMs, etc. partially because of they haven’t been able to find a franchise QB.

        Plus, if you got rid of Russell and opted for a rookie, then you’re likely gonna have to pay Mr. X the going rate for veteran QBs if he’s any good the same way the Browns are gonna have to pay Baker Mayfield in a few years if he’s any good.

        • Tom G.

          I just think no matter what happens, Schneider HAS to walk away from this with a franchise QB in hand.

          If Russell 100% wants to stay, then it needs to be Russell.

          If Russell is going to be wishy-washy at best about staying, then you need to start moving FAST on Plan B, C, D, E, etc. That could mean a highly rated 1st Round pick, a splashy trade or both.

          Either way, you NEED an upper percentile, franchise QB to help you contend for Super Bowls and win Super Bowls (even if you want to be old school and run the ball roughly half the time) because stories like Foles and Dilfer are more of the exception than the norm.

      • John M

        Art, what you say here kind of makes the Pete-John logic the best way to go. With the focus on pass rushing, the chances for a pass-happy team are less than even your star QB will remain vertical through the season, and when he isn’t 20% of your payroll is missing. Among the best things about Wilson playing for the Seahawks is that he’s built and runs like a RB. That’s a dimension that fits what Pete wants.

        As for receivers, you can’t get everybody you would like in any given year, and besides the receivers here there are 4 RB’s and several TE’s that can catch, and the Hawks have shown a tendency to throw a good percentage to those guys. Of course no offensive plan works well without sound blocking and they have tried to fix it this year. Another big question going in is how good the Hawks pass rush will be.

  • Tman

    The Art of the Bribe.

    It is no secret Jimmy Hoffa, head of the Teamsters, had the power to shut down the nation. Hoffa led the nationwide Teamsters strike emptying the grocery store shelves in NY city. With a week to go before food was unavailable to residents on the concrete island, the strike was settled. Teamster members got a good contract. Hoffa, too, got a good deal.

    Hoffa had to go if big business was to weaken or rid itself of unions.

    Since the salary cap is not in the interests of the players, why is it in their union contract?

    Should NFL players instruct their union to renegotiate its contract with NFL owners, ending forever the salary cap limiting players incomes?

    • art thiel

      The cap has been agreed-upon part of the NFL CBA since ’94. It provides a lot more money at the bottom end of the pay scale, where the vast majority of union members reside. The owners will never surrender the hard cap, because it’s the key to their business success.

  • wabubba67

    George Costanza would say that, “The Seahawks have hand.” It doesn’t really matter what Wilson thinks of the 2018 team…he can always be franchised tagged for 2019.

    • art thiel

      He is under contract for 18 and 19, first tag year is 20.

  • Effzee

    They didn’t trade Wilson but their actions sure have shown what they think of him. They got rid of his pass-happy coordinator whose project he was when he was drafted. Pete has been saying forever that they want to get back to the run-first offense. Hence Fluker, Penny, Dissley, etc. They spend every day with Wilson, and by now they damn sure know what his limitations are. They know he’s not a $30M/yr guy. He is not a SB-caliber QB when an offense is designed to feature him. Because of his size limitations, he NEEDS a solid run game to make his own game work. The defense also needs to run game in order to stay off of the field and remain fresh in order to close the deal in the 4th quarter. Pete and John are supremely confident in themselves. They are building for another run, and they are looking to the time post-Wilson. If they can sign him next year, great! If not, next man up.

    • art thiel

      That’s why I imagined they considered a scenario this offseason of trading up into the top 10 to get one of the top QBs. But I think that was too much transition in a single year.

      • Effzee

        Yes. Also, I think John making the point that there are “no untouchables” on the roster was an invitation for people to make offers for Wilson. It would be interesting to see what the market for Wilson is, either in trades or free agency. I’m sure there are a lot of “he is who we thought he was” front office non-believers around the league.

  • Seattle Lifer

    So, what happens when Wilson or any other player demands a sum that equals say 50% of the cap. It appears that that day might not be too far off with some of these signings especially for mediocre or untested players.
    This is not a comment,so much as a real question. If a QB demands so much that a team cannot afford decent protection for the QB, the salary unless it is guaranteed is meaningless after the QB gets stuffed into the ground the first year and cannot play anymore. I know this has been an age old question, but with what seems to be an irrational jump in salaries over the last decade, does the NFL have a plan to remedy this?

  • Husky73

    Wilson is here two more seasons, plus one or two thereafter. No need for panic now (although, the possibilities of two #1’s this year gave pause). The Seahawks survived the transitions of Zorn, Kreig and Hasselbeck. They’ll survive the departure of Wilson. Institutions always outlive individuals.