The last time Russell Wilson shone a spotlight on his baseball "career" was also the last time he and the Seahawks were on the verge of negotiating a new contract.
No, no one anywhere thinks for a second Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson would give up an incredibly lucrative and successful football career to take a shot at baseball at the age of 29.
Given that, maybe the idea that there is any ulterior meaning to Wilson once again dipping a toe into baseball — he was traded Wednesday by the Rangers to the Yankees for “future considerations” and it was announced he will take part in one day of spring training with New York next month — is equally ludicrous.
Could an hour or so of taking grounders and hitting BP really gain any leverage for Wilson and agent Mark Rodgers in negotiations with the Seahawks when there’s no chance Wilson would forsake football?
Not tangibly, no.
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But what there could be is at least a little message-sending.
Wilson, recall, took part in one spring training workout with the Rangers in both 2014 and 2015 and in interviews at the time always coyly suggested that baseball could continue to be an option (Wilson played two years of Class A ball with the Rockies in 2010 and 2011 and became property of the Rangers when they took him in the Rule 5 draft in 2013).
Maybe not so coincidentally, the 2015 spring training appearance — when Wilson hit a home run in batting practice — came as Wilson and Rodgers were beginning to get serious in negotiations with the Seahawks for an extension of Wilson’s original four-year rookie deal.
It may be easy to forget now that those negotiations were a little more contentious than might have been expected with reports at the time that Wilson wanted to be the highest-paid player in the NFL and that the Seahawks might consider placing a franchise tag on Wilson if no agreement could be reached.
Ultimately, the two sides agreed on a four-year deal worth up to $87.6 million and $61.5 million guaranteed that made him the second-highest paid player in the NFL at the time behind only Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but also was for one year less than the five the Seahawks apparently preferred, allowing Wilson to potentially become a free agent one year sooner and when he will have just turned 31 years old. Rodgers at the time said that was a specific goal and that it wasn’t until the Seahawks agreed to four years that things really began to move.
There was no mention of Wilson and baseball again until Wednesday, when in the wake of the first non-playoff season for the Seahawks in Wilson’s career, the first significant offensive coaching changes in his career, and there now being just two years left on his contract, it was suddenly revealed that he’d been traded to maybe the most famous franchise in the history of sports.
As Wilson tweeted and said in a statement, being able to put on a Yankees uniform even for a day fulfills something of a childhood dream.
“Always said we’d be a Yankee Pops!,” Wilson tweeted, a reference to his late father, Harrison, who died in 2010. He expanded on that later in the day in an interview with ESPN when he said of his father that “I think he’s smiling from ear to ear. It was always something we talked about. He used to watch all the old Yankees and tell me stories. To be able put on the pinstripes, it’s pretty exciting. It’s going to give me chills.”
But what it might also do is send a reminder that Wilson remains one of the biggest names in sports himself, big enough that for a day in March he will be the biggest story at training camp in a sport he hasn’t played professionally in seven years for a team that plays in the biggest media market in the country.
And it comes at the beginning of a calendar that will go a long way toward defining the direction of the rest of Wilson’s Seahawks career.
The change in offensive coordinator from Darrell Bevell to Brian Schottenheimer (and, apparently, a change in quarterbacks coach, as well) is said to have been aimed in part at giving Wilson a new and maybe more direct voice, the team making clear that for all Wilson has accomplished there’s more that can be done.
The success of that move figures to heavily shape the negotiations between the Seahawks and Wilson that figure to pick up in earnest around this time next year, assuming that Seattle won’t want to play the 2019 season with the specter of Wilson becoming a free agent at the end of it, something it was clear everyone wanted to avoid last time and that the Seahawks have always avoided with their most significant players since 2010.
In the 30 months since signing his last contract Wilson has fallen to eighth on the NFL quarterback (and overall) pay scale. He figures to soon fall to 10th when Alex Smith’s reported new contract with Washington becomes official and the 49ers re-sign Jimmy Garappolo.
But Wilson’s goal next time around will likely be the same as it was the first time — to be the highest-paid player in the NFL, or at least pretty darn close — meaning a contract probably in excess of $30 million a year and with heavy guarantees.
Rodgers, recall, has worked mostly in baseball in his career (and has done a few big deals with the Yankees, such as Andrew Miller’s four-year, $36 million deal in 2014, history that might have helped facilitate Wednesday’s trade) where there is no salary cap and only fully guaranteed contracts.
Maybe all Wilson really wants to do is put on a baseball uniform for a day to honor his day and remember the old times.
But if not Wilson, maybe at least others in his camp won’t mind if the day also makes clear that there remains a whole wide world out there beyond Seattle they are willing to explore.