For Russell Wilson’s new contract, ‘thinking outside the box’ just might be guaranteed
Seahawks might be able to save salary cap space by guaranteeing all or most of Russell Wilson’s new contract
Seattle Times staff reporter
When it comes to Russell Wilson’s pending new contract with the Seahawks, does “outside the box’’ equal “hometown discount?”
That was the hopeful assumption among fans last week when Seahawks general manager John Schneider used that phrase when discussing Wilson’s contract during an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle.
“Russell Wilson wants to win championships,’’ Schneider said, adding that winning consistently means “thinking outside of the box a lot of times. We will do that with Russell. Russell knows there are certain dominoes that have to fall into place. ... He knows. He gets it. He wants to win. He wants to win for a long time.’’
But some who study the NFL salary cap say that statement probably shouldn’t be taken as thinking Wilson will simply accept a lot less money when he signs a new contract with the Seahawks, which is expected to happen before the 2015 season.
Wilson is eligible for a contract extension now that he has completed the third season of his original four-year rookie contract. That contract was set via the NFL’s labor agreement and paid Wilson a base of just $662,434 in 2014 with a salary cap hit of $817,302.
That made Wilson the 58th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL this season on a per-year average basis.
That Wilson was being paid so little at a position that often costs the most has been regarded as a huge advantage for Seattle the past few years, giving the team immense flexibility within the NFL’s salary cap.
That will change now that Wilson is set to sign a new deal. But as Schneider said, the team will explore every avenue possible to reward Wilson while maintaining as much wiggle room under the cap as possible.
Given Wilson’s success in his first three seasons and the value of quarterbacks, some have speculated he could be in line for a contract that would make him among the highest-paid players in the NFL, if not the highest paid, topping the $22 million average salary for Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
In comments after the season, Wilson said being the highest-paid player in the NFL isn’t important.
“No,’’ he said. “For me, I just want to keep winning. I don’t worry about all that stuff.”
Still, it’s likely he’ll want a contract that makes clear his status as one of just eight active quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl.
So how does Wilson get a fair deal that is also the most team-friendly?
Former NFL agent Joel Corry, who now writes about NFL financial issues for CBSSports.com, says the most obvious way would be to include record-setting guarantees.
“The only way I would be willing to do a hometown discount as a player is if you fully guarantee the deal,’’ Corry said. “That would be worth it because of the certainty.’’
That’s an idea seconded by Jason Fitzgerald of the website OvertheCap.com, which analyzes NFL salary issues.
“A real outside-the-box contract for the NFL would be one where a majority of it is guaranteed upon signing,’’ he said.
Unlike Major League Baseball or the NBA, NFL contracts typically are not fully guaranteed. Most players can be released and not owed another dime.
Rodgers’ $110 million is only 49 percent guaranteed, for instance.
Drew Brees of New Orleans is considered to have the record for the most guaranteed money at $60 million as part of a five-year, $100 million deal signed in 2012.
Corry says a win-win for Wilson and the Seahawks would be “some sort of a deal that had set some sort of a record for guaranteed money that won’t be broken for a while. I mean totally guaranteed. But then the overall dollars are significantly less than what the typical quarterback deal would be or what you would expect the deal would be for him.’’
Corry threw out the idea of a possible five-year extension that would guarantee Wilson something like $75 million to $80 million.
Guaranteeing the money could allow for it to be pro-rated in a manner more favorable for the Seahawks, and especially for the next few years as the team adjusts to having to pay higher salaries to key players (middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is another now eligible for an extension and could get $10 million a year or so).
Corry said what has to be remembered are the precedents that contracts set and the understanding of that on each side.
He said a contract giving Wilson a record-setting guarantee, if less money overall, would be one that “you can sell so you are not getting criticized by the entire agent community as doing a contract that would upset the marketplace.’’
Wilson recently decided to have his baseball agent, Mark Rodgers, also handle his football contracts.
“The fact that Wilson’s agent is likely not going to be as concerned with some of the more traditional football metrics might make such a deal work as long as the Seahawks don’t mind setting the precedent of such a large guarantee on a contract,’’ Fitzgerald said.
Corry notes the way the rules are written “there are only so many things you can do with the salary cap and be outside the box,’’ making the idea of guaranteeing all, or a high percentage, one of the more likely options.
What can’t be done is offering Wilson a percentage of the team or something similar — at least, not without that also having to be accounted for within the cap.
“You can’t subvert the cap,’’ he said. “They’d have to value that some way and it would have cap implications.’’
The salary cap is expected to be around $142 million in 2015 after standing at $133 million in 2014.