The final accounting of Russell Wilson’s new contract is in, with full details released Friday morning. And there are no real surprises.
In one new detail, Joel Corry of CBSSports.com reported that the maximum new-money value of the contract is $146 million because there is an escalator clause that could increase his base salary in 2023 — the final year of the deal — by $6 million based on how he performs in the 2020, 2021 and 2022 seasons.
That means Wilson could have a base salary of $27 million that season instead of $21 million. Albert Breer of SI.com reported on April 22 those can be reached through a combination of awards such as being named to the All-Pro team and hitting certain benchmarks for touchdown passes and other such stats.
If that were to happen, Wilson would average $36.5 million over the four new years of the contract (2020-23) instead of the reported $35 million. That means Wilson could make $163 million over the next five seasons (with his new deal technically kicking in in 2020, or $32.6 million per season). Either way, the new money makes him, at the moment, the highest-paid player in NFL history, surpassing the $33.5 million new-money average in a deal Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signed last summer.
As revealed by OvertheCap.com and Spotrac.com, the final year of Wilson’s current deal (2019) was altered so that much of the base salary was converted into a signing bonus. That dropped his base salary from $17 million to $5 million. By prorating the bonus, Wilson’s cap number for 2019 rose by only $1 million, to $26,286,668.
That was critical in allowing the Seahawks to get Wilson signed but still allow for them to have some cap flexibility in 2019.
With Wilson’s contract accounted for, OvertheCap.com calculates that Seattle has $9.2 million in effective cap space remaining for 2019.
Much of that will be eaten up by the players the team will draft next week. Overthecap.com lists the Seahawks as having a rookie pool of $4.2 million for the four picks it currently has (the practice squad and injured reserve will also take up a couple of million).
That rookie draft-pool number could change if the Seahawks make moves to add picks, as is logical to expect given that they have the fewest in the NFL.
Wilson’s cap hit numbers for the rest of the contract are what had been generally expected — $31 million in 2020, $32 million in 2021, $37 million in 2022 and $39 million in 2023.
Much has been made of the cap numbers and whether they will leave the Seahawks the flexibility to fill out the rest of its roster with a team competitive enough to win a Super Bowl.
Seattle Times columnist Matt Calkins wrote about that earlier in the week, noting that recent history has shown that teams with highly paid QBs have struggled to make the postseason. None of the six highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL made the playoffs last year and in 2017, just one of the six teams with the highest-paid QBs did.
New England’s Tom Brady has famously structured his contracts in recent years to limit his cap hit. A deeper look reveals some nuances, such as the way the Saints have used voidable years in Drew Brees’ deals to try to manipulate the cap, that make this trend not quite as tidy as it is portrayed.
Only four times since 1996 has a team that had a quarterback who accounted for more than 10 percent of its salary cap won the Super Bowl. Brady’s 12.1 percent last year was the highest since Steve Young accounted for 13.1 percent of the 49ers’ cap in 1994.
OvertheCap.com estimates that Wilson will account for 14 percent of the Seahawks’ cap in 2019 and 15.5 percent in 2020. But as Calkins wrote earlier this week, coach Pete Carroll said configuring the rest of the roster to complement Wilson is a challenge he embraces (and why Carroll and general manager John Schneider are among the highest-paid at their jobs in the NFL, as well).
The percentage of the Seahawks’ cap that Wilson’s contract will count for beyond that is hard to determine because the league will have a new collective bargaining agreement in 2021 that could reset how the salary cap is configured (though Seattle’s hope appears to be that it will still be in the 15 percent range, given that Wilson’s rising cap numbers coincide with what has been the rise in the cap in recent seasons).
That uncertainty over the future cap numbers is one reason why Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, floated the idea of tying Wilson’s salaries to a percentage of the cap, to assure his average per year would stay at the top of the market, with both sides unclear how new revenue streams could impact the NFL’s revenue pool in 2021 and beyond.
Ultimately, several items it was rumored Wilson’s camp proposed that would have been precedent-setting — another was a clause not allowing the Seahawks to place the franchise tag on Wilson when this deal runs out in 2023, meaning he would have known he would be a free agent — were not included.
Other items that are included in Wilson’s contract are standard in NFL and Seahawks deals, such as that his 2020 and 2021 base salaries of $18 and $19 million, respectively, will become fully guaranteed five days after the start of the new league year in March..
Wilson’s side had also asked for some of his future base salaries to be guaranteed, another precedent the Seahawks resisted, and didn’t give in on. They have not guaranteed a base salary after the first year of a contract since Percy Harvin in 2013.
But as Spotrac.com notes, Wilson hardly has to worry — not that it’s logical to even think the Seahawks would cut him any time soon — with the contract carrying insane dead cap numbers for a few years (the dead cap number is the total Seattle would have to take onto its salary cap if a player is released). Wilson’s dead cap number for 2019, for instance, is $78 million.
The first time it would make some financial sense to release Wilson would be the 2023 season, when his dead cap number falls to $13 million and Wilson would have already earned $131 million (when including his 2019 numbers).
As the days have passed since Wilson signed and the details have become clear, some league observers have wondered if Wilson should have tried harder to set some precedents, such as tying his salary to the cap. He is one of the few players in the NFL with the leverage to do so.
But Wilson made it clear in his news conference this week that he was looking for a reason to stay put.
The Seahawks gave him that when it included a no-trade clause — which means Wilson would have to give consent before being traded — as part of a contract that makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history as well as giving him the biggest signing bonus ($65 million) and total guarantees ($107 million) in league history.
Rodgers may well have been among those wanting Wilson to fight a little harder to get some unique clauses in his deal.
To Wilson, the total numbers were more than good enough, as he told Rodgers when he got a call eight minutes before midnight Monday night that he thought they finally had a deal.
“When it came down to it,’’ Wilson said. “It was a no-brainer for me.’’
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.