BY Art Thiel 12:45PM 04/16/2019

Thiel: Best things about Wilson’s deal, and worst

It would have been intriguing to see what the Seahawks might have done with 3 first-round picks from Oakland. But making Russell Wilson the NFL’s highest-paid player was better.

Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson: Back to the future. / Corky Trewin, Seattle Seahawks

From the perspective of successful football business, here’s the best thing about the Russell Wilson contract extension:  He’s the main reason the Seahawks have a +269 point differential in the fourth quarter since 2012, best in the NFL.

Best thing about the deal from fans’ perspective: They are spared from the specter of Wilson playing on what amounts to a series of three consecutive one-year contracts (this season plus two via franchise tags) that would have kept 12s in tinfoil hats, speculating conspiratorially whether Wilson’s play choices or decisions to avoid contact were “business decisions” to save himself or to improve his personal stats at the expense of the team’s best interests.

Best thing about the deal from general manager John Schneider’s perspective: He won’t be tempted to take a trade offer in the next 10 days for Wilson from Jon Gruden of the top three Raiders’ choices (Nos. 4, 23 and 27) to do what Schneider does worst: Draft in the first round.

Best thing about the deal from the perspective of owner Jody Allen and the Vulcan empire: Asset appreciation, and continuing control of the best anti-Klingon weapon.

Best thing about the deal from coach Pete Carroll’s perspective: Keeps alive the best shot to return his team to the Super Bowl and, with the game on the line, completing a 1-yard touchdown pass for the win.

Best thing about the deal from Ciara’s perspective: She cannot justifiably be called Yoko Ono.

Best thing about the deal from Wilson’s perspective: He’ll have enough money to jump-start his post-career plans to be a bigger-than-sports mogul. Whether that means buying out shareholders when Boeing fails, or buying out Mark Zuckerberg when Facebook fails, is hard to say. But both could use someone experienced in comebacks.

Best thing about the deal from local media’s perspective: The story is over. Can you imagine three years of clumsy questions and vapid answers?

A fair amount of credit for most of these developments goes to Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, mostly because — according to him — he listened to the Prime Directive from his client.

“Russell wanted more than anything to stay in Seattle,” Rodgers told NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. “My job was to make sure of it, while doing the best deal possible. The no-trade clause clinched it. We didn’t want to get to draft night three years from now and have his name in trade rumors. Once they offered that, we knew we would have a deal.”

If the sentiment was indeed the genuine desire if Wilson and his wife, it took pressure off the negotiations to create a new NFL paradigm.

The rumor over the past few days said the talks included a proposal for an escalator clause that would have tied Wilson’s salary increases to the presumed annual increase of the players’ share of the salary cap. The proposal would have been unprecedented for the Seahawks and the rest of the league, complicating the already brutal chore of hiring enough premium players around the star QB who are good enough to contend for a championship.

But there is no escalator clause, although Wilson’s salary will nevertheless remain the proverbial pig in the payroll python.

The no-trade clause was part of a $140 million, four-year extension that gives Wilson the most guaranteed money ($107 million) and highest average annual value ($31.5 million) in NFL history. It includes a $65 million signing bonus, payable this year, and keeps Wilson a Seahawk through the 2023 season, when he’s 35. And there are no guarantees beyond the first year except for injury, in keeping with team policy.

The length of the extension goes beyond the expiration of Carroll’s current contract, and will come after a new collective bargaining agreement with the players union. That means the infusion of anticipated gambling revenues eagerly anticipated by NFL clubs will have no impact on Wilson’s fixed costs.

He’ll make $157 million in the next five years, including the $17 million he was set to earn in 2019. The deal reportedly was completed just before midnight Monday, after which a sleepy-eyed Wilson tweeted a video about it as he lay in bed with Ciara (suitable for work).

The worst thing about the deal, of course, is the consequence to the rest of the roster under the NFL’s hard cap.

The Seahawks also want to extend the contracts of LB Bobby Wagner and DT Jarran Reed, and they have already committed the franchise tag to pay DE Frank Clark $17 million for next season. The market for Clark’s position was recently set high by the Cowboys’ re-signing of DeMarcus Lawrence to a $105 million, five-year deal, with $65 million in guarantees.

Had the Seahawks elected to trade Wilson, who is at his career pinnacle from the standpoints of age, health and skill, they would have had the money to re-sign easily the three top defenders, then add a bounty of picks in a draft where right now they have a league low of four choices.

Despite that ransom of potential talent, Schneider and Carroll knew they had the rarest commodity in team sports, a premium franchise QB, and would go to their football graves answering the question, “What were you thinking?!” if Wilson were dealt.

So it may mean the Seahawks must now trade sackmaster Clark, perhaps for picks in the second and third rounds in a draft heavy with quality pass rushers. It’s part of the way for the Seahawks to get whole after blasting a magnum hole in the budget.

There are no workarounds for the facts that Wilson has the most wins by a quarterback in his first seven seasons in NFL history, and that his career QB rating of 100.3 is second in league annals only to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who is 35.

The hardest part is not funding a franchise QB. It’s finding him.

Deeds done.


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YourThoughts

  • Tim

    Really glad for this for all the reasons mentioned plus the fact that up to this point, I really like Russell’s public persona–his work ethic, positivity, and the fact that he seems like a good guy. I really didn’t want him to be insincere like A-Rod which I might have concluded he was had a deal not gotten done. We’ve got a future Hall-of Fame quarterback locked up for five years. What’s not to love about that?

    • Tim

      Great article by the way, Art!

      • art thiel

        Thanks.

      • Husky73

        I agree. Truly great reporting…and I mean great.

        • Tim

          Yes…truly my favorite sports journalist all time. Nice tribute.

        • art thiel

          As long as you don’t mention Albom . . .

    • art thiel

      It beats the alternative. Wilson is conscious of his image, which doesn’t mean there are parts of his life he shields. But he’s not near A-Rod’s phoniness.

  • coug73

    The Seahawks aren’t playing for second place. The $140 is well spent when Russ leads the Hawks to a Super Bowl victory.

    • art thiel

      Others will say second is the best they’ll do with such a misshapen payroll. Fortunately, neither is provably true, so maybe we’ll just play the season.

  • sandy johnson

    Entertaining read, but the Yoko Ono reference went whoosh, right over my head.
    Perhaps a kind reader can explain it to me.

    • sandy johnson

      Wait, don’t bother, I get it now.

    • art thiel
      • sandy johnson

        Thanks tho.

      • Kirkland

        The “Yoko Ono” tag got hung on Janet Jones when Wayne Gretzky got traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the L.A. Kings in 1988, just weeks after their wedding.

        • art thiel

          It was original only with Yoko.

    • Kevin Lynch

      One thing about Yoko. She couldn’t sing. But she had the elite business sense of a….I hate to say it… Mark Rodgers. She made hubby John Lennon a fortune. Granted, she had quite a brand to work with: THE BEATLES.

      • art thiel

        Hadn’t thought about Yoko/Rodgers analogy. He probably can’t sing either.

  • 1coolguy

    Well done Art – everything you write is spot on! Now let’s trade Clark, save $17m+, get a few high draft picks and draft a DL and hopefully a tall receiver that RW can see!

    • art thiel

      Your lips to Schneider’s ears.

    • Husky73

      1cool….Schneider has dome great work, but he could use your mentoring in First Round Picks 101.

  • DB

    proverbial pig in the payroll python…. Is this from that new rap album you are doing? -Love the alliteration. Seriously, I have no idea how you continue to come up with this stuff, but it’s certainly part of what makes you one of the greatest sportswriters of your generation.

    • art thiel

      Thanks for noticing. I eagerly await the interest from rap producers. The line has yet to form.

      • Husky73

        Someone must have Future’s number?

  • tor5

    Your usual great analysis, Art! Indeed, it would have been “intriguing” to trade Russ for draft picks. But I’ll take the gamble that he will be great for another 5 years over trying to score a Mahomes in the draft. For me, the gamble in trying to replace Wilson is not just finding the talent, but in finding the blend of talent, positivity, and general lack of knuckleheadedness. Yes, Russ can be a little bland and predictable in his clean image, but he’s also been eloquent on some social issues and has only ever spoken in ways to uplift teammates and our city. The on- and off-field combo that Russ brings is priceless, and in that respect we got a bargain. I can only imagine how it would feel watching Wilson take all this to another team while we nurtured a succession of cocky/fragile 21 year-old egos. The python is a little bloated right now, but also smiling!

    • art thiel

      Wilson does indeed bring low maintenance to the job, although some in the Legion of Boom resented the fact that the coaches didn’t hold RW as accountable for his errors as they were. But that wasn’t Wilson’s issue, it was a coaching issue. And almost every high-profile QB generates some locker room resentment.

      But he has walked his talk.

      • tor5

        Perhaps coaches could have handled some things better, but I was only amused by the idea that the QB should be treated “the same” as everyone else. Maybe in the Mars League, but that’s not how it works here on Earth. It seems those who didn’t understand this are now playing elsewhere.

        • art thiel

          Richard Sherman was pissed that Wilson wasn’t held to the same standard as everyone. No great QB ever is.

  • StephenBody

    I was going to write something about pay disparity and perception and “how much is too much” but, what for? We’re all drunk on our Seattle version of “four more years” and premature visions of The Ghots of Super Bowls Future and nobody wants to hear about questions of how wildly out of whack NFL salaries have become. It’s not a problem that’s going to get better, though, and rather sooner than later, even the most casual sports fan is going to look at FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS to play football and look at their ticket and apparel and parking and Red Zone prices and say, “Hey, wait a minute…” I’ll just sit on this dissenting view for a while, I guess.

    • Husky73

      It’s “too much” when they can’t get it.

    • art thiel

      Any look from 30,000 feet reveals absurdities in any business, industry, culture. Why are we paying Nick Saban $8M and his players nothing? Why are we plotting a “space force” when we have a “crisis” at the southern border? Why does big pharma charge insurers $5K for a single dose of a drug that is nearly free in Europe? Why do we play $20 for a single shot of premium Scotch?

      • StephenBody

        Replies in order:
        1. Because the NCAA presidents are now entering their 83rd consecutive year of denial and knee-jerk conservatism.
        2. We’re NOT “plotting a space force”. There’s a big difference between the senile rantings of a dementia victim and anything like a Plan.
        3. Because we haven’t gotten Big Pharma in a headlock and threatened the CEO’s with prison if they gouge customers.
        4. Hey, $20 is CHEAP for a GREAT Scotch! I’ve seen Lore on a restaurant list for $55 a shot.

        NONE of these things is being done with wide ppopular support. In every case, there is growing activism aimed at changing those prices and stupid plans. In the NFL’s case, there is no similar movement aimed at reining in salaries. But that WILL take care of itself. As “professional athlete” continues to show up in those polls asking for the least respected professions, discontent will continue to grow until finally there IS a backlash.

  • Bruce McDermott

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, even with this deal the Seahawks as of now will have the second lowest cap figure in the NFL in 2020. That will change, of course, as they start signing Bobby, Reed, etc., but they can make this work fine, as long as Schneider drafts well in the lower rounds, as he has been known to do. The Hawks now know who their QB will be and how much he will cost for several years, and he’s good, so that’s worth a lot.

    • art thiel

      It’s entirely possible, but the margin for error has shrunk considerably. They can’t have whiffs on the order of Harvin, Moffitt, Graham, McDowell, etc. Massive contracts rob a roster of its ability to avoid a huge dropoff from ones to twos.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art! The best part of this deal for me is that not only did Wilson submit a reasonable deadline to negotiate before activities of his last contract season commenced, it’s also that the Seahawks worked to that deadline. It’s great to see sensible actions take place in a world where that rarely is the case, and wearing tin foil hats is usually required.

    • art thiel

      It was indeed free of public histrionics between the parties. They can’t help social media.

  • George Leonard

    $140 million dollars? If the Seahawks can pay that much money for one player, the city of Seattle should impose a 100% player tax on the Seahawks so that we can build housing for all the homeless folks, and pay for their food and medical care so that they can remain homeless and never have to work..

    $140 million is a nice start for that – it’s the Liberal way.

    • art thiel

      Don’t forget Gates, Bezos, the Allen estate, Schultz, Alberg, Stanton, Larson . . . bygawd they should give up all their wealth and fix everything.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      It’s always to hear the braying from those unaware of other pro athletes and the $100 million dollar line. Evidently, this represents some deep “knowledge.”
      All: please instantly self-educate on the many dozens of MLB and NBA players who have broken the $100M line.
      Then instantly self-educate on NFL players. (Hint #1: it’s a smaller number.)

      Moving on . . . Green Bay is technically a public entity and must release yearly financials, and it is always entertaining to see the distribution that the socialist NFL owners get from a single national tv contract. (Hint: each team gets the identical check due to the socialist owners split the revenue precisely equally.)
      The revenue from this source alone plays ALL player salaries plus about 50% and this doesn’t include the first beer sold, parking spot sold, regular season game ticket sold, exhibition game ticket sold, local broadcast contract inked, seat license sold, program sold, souvenir sold, apparel sold, or local tax break extracted from the duped taxpayers.
      There. Glad to have provided context for Wilson’s money.

  • jafabian

    That was an interesting Instagram post by the Wilsons with Russ sounding more like Venus Flytrap than his usual Andy Travis. Maybe they were just amped up with the prospect of an even bigger payday.

    If a franchise is to be more than just a winner but a consistent championship contender it will need first and foremost a QB that can win a Super Bowl and the Seahawks have that in Wilson. Not a RB, WR, lineman, linebacker or DB but a QB. All the NFL dynasties have proven that. Next on John Schneider’s to do list will probably be continuing to build a defense that can put Russ on the field as much as possible. They have about as good an O-Line as they can get. I’m wondering if his new contract addressed his participating with minor league baseball at all though. He doesn’t seem to take in any drills when he’s at George Steinbrenner Ballpark but I’m sure the club holds its breath when they see him take BP for the Yankees.

    • art thiel

      They’re not worried about baseball in the off-season. They’re worried about his helicopter flying.