The Seahawks and Russell Wilson have agreed to a four-year contract extension worth nearly $22 million a year that makes Wilson the second-highest paid player in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers.
Working on a self-imposed deadline, Wilson and the Seahawks seemed to compromise on a few points that made the deal work for both sides. While not all details are known just yet, we can generalize about some of the benefits for both parties in the contract.
Why the Seahawks are happy
Seattle had nothing to gain by waiting this contract out. Prices are only going to rise and another Super Bowl or deep playoff run was only going to inflate the price. They have now locked in their most expensive player for the next four years and can build their roster accordingly around Wilson’s locked-in salary cap charges. This also takes the guesswork out of the equation in terms of available money when Seattle negotiates with their other pending free agents or those disgruntled with the current contracts looking for a raise.
Seattle didn’t set a market with this contract, which is a big win for them. Wilson will mark the first Super Bowl-winning quarterback in over a decade to not set the market on an extension. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning set a market in their younger days. Drew Brees and Rodgers both did it, and so did Joe Flacco. Draft status likely plays a role in all of this, as the others were top-32 picks. Roethlisberger, Manning and Flacco, like Wilson, were not prolific passers when they signed record-setting contracts. Wilson could not duplicate that success at the negotiating table. At the end of the day, Wilson will earn $1.3 million less than Rodgers over the comparable four-year timeframe.
Seattle did not need to stray from their four-year contract philosophy. While having a quarterback signed longer term is always a good thing, Seattle may see benefits from this. Clearly, it sets a precedent for any other players to not seek more than four-year deals. This is consistent with recent extensions for Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and others. It sets a clear framework for their next set of players, such as Russell Okung and Bobby Wagner, who are looking for new deals.
The way the NFL works with players often declining in the blink of an eye, you need to be able to churn your roster every few years. Adding more years to this contract likely would have meant more prorated money and difficulty managing the roster. For as much as Wilson is loved in Seattle, there are questions as to how great he can be. By keeping everyone on these four-year deals, the team can effectively turn over its roster every three years before cap troubles can really compromise the road to sustained success.
Why Russell Wilson is happy
According to SI’s Peter King, Wilson will receive a $31 million signing bonus as part of the contract. That is a massive number that was only exceeded by Rodgers ($35M) and Brees ($37M), and matched by Roethlisberger. That is a huge figure that virtually guarantees a large portion of the contract, regardless of any contractual guarantees. A bonus that high means the Seahawks would incur a $12.4 million charge against the salary cap if they release or trade Wilson in 2018, so it really locks him in for a long period of time.
The $31 million signing bonus also means that Wilson will earn at least $31.66 million this year, a massive $30 million raise in salary. That figure is almost unheard of in an extension for a player. The $30 million in new money over the initial term of his old contract will be on par with the $30.15 million Rodgers netted in 2013. It will be at least $10 million more than that earned by Cam Newton and Matt Ryan, two players considered comparable from a contractual perspective.
The contract is four years, meaning Wilson will reach free agency in 2020 — before the expiration of the current CBA. This is important because it prevents Wilson from potentially being impacted by rules that are designed to discourage extensions at the end of the CBA and also locks him in on the current CBA parameters rather than being impacted by possible changes in a new deal. Given how long quarterbacks play, this should give Wilson the chance to earn two more lucrative extensions if he continues to play well.