The Seahawks were absolutely correct to make Russell Wilson the NFL’s highest-paid player

The Seahawks were absolutely correct to make Russell Wilson the NFL’s highest-paid player

The Seattle Seahawks will have Russell Wilson at quarterback for at least four more seasons, and all it cost the franchise was the richest annual salary in league history. On April 15, minutes before a self-imposed deadline came to pass, Wilson came to terms with the only franchise he’s ever known on an extension that will pay him $140 million over four years.

It was a late-night twist to a mini-saga that threatened to derail the good vibes following a better-than-expected 2018. Wilson’s prowess behind center kept Seattle from bottoming out despite massive roster turnover and a lack of star power on both sides of the ball. But that successful year also pushed the dual-threat quarterback toward what would have been the final season of a four-year contract extension signed back in 2015.

According to NBC’s Peter King, Wilson and his agent Mark Rodgers told the Seahawks they wouldn’t negotiate again if a contract wasn’t reached before midnight April 15. While the franchise tag could have provided Seattle with at least a few more seasons of Wilson, the club instead removed all doubt and made its most valuable player the latest quarterback to wear the NFL’s “highest-paid player” crown — usurping Aaron Rodgers in the process.

While the Seahawks will cough up $35 million annually to keep the one-time NFL champion in town, they may have still gotten a deal compared to Wilson’s reported contract demands. The veteran reportedly came into negotiations with his eye on a game-changing contract. King says the quarterback’s extension “would [have likely included] devices to adjust future years of the deal based on how high the cap goes up year to year.” That would have been a stipulation no NFL player has ever had in a contract before.

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With a traditional, albeit expensive, extension, the Seahawks avoided setting a precedent that cut across the entire NFL. In their scramble to strike a deal, Wilson and Seattle left the complications of a market-altering deal to the next wave of big-money quarterbacks. But even at $35 million per year, Wilson could still be underpaid.

It’s basically impossible to overpay a real franchise quarterback

Wilson isn’t just a good player — he’s a five-time Pro Bowler who hasn’t been far from the NFL MVP award in the last two seasons. He’s never had a losing season, never had a passer rating below 92, and never had a year with fewer than 3,000 passing yards.

The Seahawks made the playoffs in 2018 with a 10-6 record in what should’ve been a rebuilding year, largely because Wilson carried the team on his back.

How much is a player of that caliber worth on the open market? It’s hard to know considering the only passers that ever become free agents are typically journeymen starters and backups.

The notable exception in recent years was Kirk Cousins, who received a three-year, $84 million deal from the Vikings in 2018. The $28 million average was a record at the time and the fact that it was fully guaranteed is still an unprecedented facet of his contract.

And that was for someone who probably wouldn’t crack many top-10 quarterback lists.

The obvious reason for the pricy investments at quarterback is because it’s the most important position in football, by a significant margin.

A statistical study by the University of Missouri a few years ago found that losing a quarterback for four games due to injury or suspension would drop a team’s win total by an average of 1.3 games. Losing any other position didn’t negatively affect a win total by even half that margin.

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That’s based on the average quarterback. Imagine how many wins that model would show Wilson — an offensive dynamo who can threaten defenses with both his arm and legs — is worth. In the grand scheme, most quarterbacks are probably underpaid relative to what they offer a football team.

So if giving Wilson 17 or so percent of the team’s annual salary cap annually is what it would’ve taken to secure him, it’s not an outrageous price for the Seahawks to pay. That would have amounted to about $32 million in 2018 — just behind Aaron Rodgers’ $33.5 million average — but likely jump to around $34 million in 2019, given the salary cap’s consistent rise. At $140 million over four years, Seattle will have Wilson on board for what may be less than market value over the final two years of his monster extension.

That’s a more than fair price tag for the impact that Wilson provides.

Building a winning roster AND paying up for a QB is doable

Having a quarterback on a rookie salary is one of the best bargains in sports, and can allow a team to try to stack a roster. It’s why the Rams’ bold 2018 offseason was possible, but it doesn’t mean Los Angeles has to disappear from contention when it gives Jared Goff an extension.

Tom Brady has been praised during the New England Patriots’ prolific dynasty for his willingness to accept less than the record-breaking amounts he clearly deserves. It’s not like he’s surviving on scraps — Brady has still made over $212 million in his career, and stands to make $15 million more in 2019.

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But Business Insider estimated in January that Brady could’ve been ready to eclipse the $300 million mark in 2019 if he aimed to maximize his NFL earnings.

Maybe his relatively modest contracts are the reason why the Patriots have had sustained success for nearly two decades now. That’s not quite it, though.

The Patriots are never in salary cap trouble. Even if Brady counted $32 million against the team’s cap in 2018 instead of $22 million — the Patriots wouldn’t have needed to trim the roster elsewhere to make room.

New England’s consistent success is a testament to the team’s ability to consistently reload with talent around an MVP-level quarterback. That’s a difficult model to follow, mostly because finding Super Bowl talent isn’t easy. But it’s far from impossible, even if one player is eating, say, 17 percent of the salary cap. That still leaves 83 percent of a $188.2 million salary cap — or $156.2 million — to build a winning roster.

If the Seahawks can’t find a way to acquire talent and win with that amount, it’s on them — not Wilson.

Maybe it was wise for Seattle to avoid opening Pandora’s box with a contract that fluctuates based on the salary cap. But even at what looks like a staid $35 million annually, building a Super Bowl-winning roster with Wilson at quarterback is still absolutely an achievable goal. It’s way easier than trying to find another Russell Wilson.