Turns out, there might be one thing concerning the new contract he negotiated himself with the Seahawks that Bobby Wagner was wrong about — that people would come later “and try and criticize’’ it, as he said Sunday.
The final details on Wagner’s new three-year, $54 million contract that goes through the 2022 season were revealed Wednesday.
The consensus is that the Seahawks middle linebacker did as good a job for himself — if not better — in negotiating his new deal than most of the agents he could have hired.
On its surface, the deal when announced Friday seemed good enough — at $18 million a year, Wagner became the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history, surpassing the average of the five-year, $85 million contract C.J. Mosley got from the Jets.
But sometimes, the devil in the details can paint a different picture.
In the case of Wagner’s contract, though, the details only put the job Wagner did for himself in a better light, according to several experts in the field.
“If I didn’t know that he was his own agent and he just showed me what his deal is, I would think that it was done by one of your prominent agents,’’ said Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who now writes about league financial issues for CBSports.com, in a phone interview. “I’m pretty sure there are a couple of well-known agents — guys who have pretty high-caliber clients or Pro Bowl clients — who wouldn’t have gotten the same contract Bobby got. It would be for less money and with a worse structure.’’
The contract includes a $15 million signing bonus as well as a fully-guaranteed 2019 salary of $9.5 million. Or to put it in the NFL agent vernacular, $24.5 million of the total of $54 million was guaranteed at signing.
It also includes a salary of $10.75 million in 2020 that is guaranteed for injury at signing and will be fully guaranteed five days after the Super Bowl; a salary of $13.15 million in 2021, of which $5 million is guaranteed for injury now and becomes fully guaranteed five days after the Super Bowl; and a salary of $16.35 million in 2022.
The contract also includes $250,000 in roster bonuses for each of the 2020, 2021 and 2022 seasons, or specifically, $15,625 for being on the 53-man roster each week.
Jason Fitzgerald, who runs the website OvertheCap.com, called the contract “a home run for Wagner. He’s 29, so the three-year term gives him an outside chance at signing another contract. … Considering we are talking a three-year deal vs. mainly four- and five-year deals, that’s a big strength for him. His three years at $54 million is through the roof. It’s $3 million more than Mosley, which is significant.’’
Wagner’s injury guarantees in the second and third year total $15.75 million. Kam Chancellor famously received injury guarantees totaling $12 million in the second and third years of a deal he signed in 2017, and some might have wondered if that experience — Seattle had to pay that money even though Chancellor never played again following an injury in 2017 — might have made Seattle more cautious.
“They didn’t do anything out of the ordinary more to benefit them because of Chancellor,’’ Corry said. “He has what he should have based on how they typically structure deals.’’
Corry also noted that the cash flow in Wagner’s deal is 45% after the first year and almost 70% after the second: “A neutral deal would be having 33-and-a-third after the first and 66.7 after year two — that’s neither front-loaded nor back-loaded. So he definitely did his job in terms of how it is structured in terms of the cash flow.’’
As for the roster bonuses, those are favored by teams to try to protect themselves a little further in case players have injuries that knock them out of a significant number of games.
In Wagner’s previous deal he had $1 million in per-game roster bonuses each season from 2017 to 2019 for being on the 46-man roster each week.
As Corry noted, Wagner got the bonus for 2019 taken out and much smaller bonuses of $250,000 for each season from 2020 to 2022 that also are for being on the 53-man roster and not the 46-man, or gameday active, roster.
Wagner didn’t get a per-game bonus last year when he missed a game against the Bears, meaning he was on the 53-man roster but not the 46. But in the future, he would — and in 2019, he doesn’t have to worry about it at all.
“The fact that he doesn’t have any 46-man roster bonuses in that contact is great for him,’’ Corry said. “He did a great job negotiating those out of there.’’
The deal’s structure means Wagner’s cap hit goes up only a little bit in 2019 — from $14.037 million to $15.85 million. According to OvertheCap.com, the Seahawks have $20.327 million remaining in cap space for 2019 after accounting for Wagner’s new deal. And Seattle still has ample cap room in 2020 with $59.653 million after Wagner’s deal, according to OTC, sixth-most of any NFL team.
As is the team’s custom, there is also no guaranteed money in the third and final year of the contract in 2022, when Wagner will be 32 and he could be susceptible to being a cap casualty. The Seahawks could save $16.6 million against the cap that year releasing Wagner while taking a dead money hit of $3.75 million.
That means Wagner is pretty much assured of being with the Seahawks through 2021 and receiving almost $38 million. But the final year salary of $16.35 million he will have to stay healthy for and earn.
Wagner is the third notable Seahawk to represent himself, following the lead of Russell Okung and Richard Sherman. The first deals that Okung and Sherman each received after leaving Seattle were each generally considered as heavily risk-laden for the players in terms of incentives and/or team options, and held up by many as proof that players needed agents to handle the fine print (though Okung’s second deal with the Chargers was generally considered a good deal).
But if some have questioned if players can represent themselves, Fitzgerald said Wagner delivered a definitive answer.
“I think it’s a big win overall for players representing themselves,’’ Fitzgerald said.
Corry likewise said “there’s no way agents are going to be able to torture this deal and go ‘See, this is why you need an agent.’ This is a deal that you can look at objectively and it’s going to stand up.’’
Corry, though, said he doesn’t think it will necessarily lead to a big revolution, noting only veterans with some negotiating legs to stand on, such as Wagner’s “non-holdout holdout,’’ would usually be in a position to try it, and that many players likely wouldn’t want to do the work.
“But if there are other high-profile players who want to follow in his footsteps, he has proven it can be done and be done effectively,’’ Corry said.