You know it’s officially the NFL offseason when some sort of Russell Wilson rumor or report emerges.
Remember the stories of offseasons past that Wilson still would like to play baseball or would like someday to play for the New York Giants?
The Wilson-related report from the NFL Network that surfaced Sunday prior to the Super Bowl was hardly all that eyebrow-raising.
The report stated two things that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone — that Seattle has received “a couple of calls’’ asking if the team would be interested in trading the quarterback and that the Seahawks have said “thanks for asking’’ but “no thanks,” and that there “is no chance’’ Wilson will be traded.
And it’s worth remembering that Wilson has a no-trade clause, which effectively gives him veto power, should a trade ever be something Seattle would consider.
But the mere mention of Wilson and trade in any context — even the fantastical — inevitably leads to talk of Wilson’s long-term future.
Pro Football Talk’s report on the report repeated something that site has mentioned a few times — that some in the league think Wilson won’t be with the Seahawks for his entire career.
“Some in league circles believe Wilson eventually will play for another team,’’ PFT wrote. “The rubber could meet the road if/when Wilson tries to get yet another market-level deal and the Seahawks decide that, dollar for dollar, the investment is no longer justified.’’
Of course, someone could have predicted in 2000 that Tom Brady might someday play for another team and eventually be proven right.
PFT also noted that “the Seahawks toyed with the idea of trading Wilson to the Browns for the first overall pick in 2018, with a plan to draft Josh Allen. At some point, there’s an argument to be made that it’s easier to pursue a championship with a quarterback playing on a rookie deal.’’
That last sentence might be the most relevant when it comes to discussing Wilson’s future.
Wilson is under contract with Seattle through the 2023 season, when he will be 35 years old, on a deal that averages $35 million per year but gradually increases in terms of cap hit, from $31 million in 2020 to $32 million in 2021, $37 million in 2022 and $39 million in 2023.
It also will have its three biggest hits in terms of the percentage of the team’s overall cap as estimated by OvertheCap.com based on what it estimates will be the overall league cap space — 17.6% in 2021, 16.3% in 2022 and 16.2% in 2023.
The number for 2021 is higher because the cap will go down next year from its $198.2 million in 2020 due to COVID-19-related revenue losses. That number is based on an estimate of almost $181 million, which was reported over the weekend to be the expected number in 2021.
In a stat that has been oft-cited but remains true after the 2020 season, any of those numbers would be the highest percentages of cap space for a quarterback of a Super Bowl-winning team in the past 25 years.
Since the 1995 season, the highest percentage of a team’s salary cap any Super Bowl-winning quarterback has occupied was New England’s Tom Brady in 2018 — his salary accounted for 12.21% of the cap, using figures from OverTheCap and Spotrac. Brady also was at 12.2% this year and is projected for 15.1% in 2021.
The Seahawks had about as advantageous of a cap situation as is possible when they won the Super Bowl in the 2013 season with Wilson accounting for 0.5% of the cap while in the second season of his rookie contract. He was at 0.6% when the Seahawks returned to the Super Bowl the following year before signing his first extension that summer.
Wilson was one of three quarterbacks who have won the Super Bowl while occupying less than 1% of the cap — Brady in 2001, Wilson in 2013 and Philadelphia’s Nick Foles in 2017 (Carson Wentz, the primary starter for the Eagles that season, still was on his rookie contract and accounted for 3.4% of the cap).
But having to pay good players is the cost of success, and Wilson wasn’t the only player drafted by the team who cashed in following the Super Bowl. Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner all signed significant extensions following the 2014 (Sherman, Thomas) and 2015 (Wagner) seasons, as had Kam Chancellor following the 2013 season.
And the quarterback carousel that appears in full swing this NFL offseason only highlights that much more the value of a franchise quarterback.
But if the Seahawks surely aren’t going to trade Wilson, they could make a move with his contract to get some cap relief this year, though at the cost of increasing his cap number in 2022 and 2023.
As salary cap expert Joel Corry, a former agent who now writes for CBSSports.com, noted this weekend, the Seahawks have automatic salary conversion rights in Wilson’s contract. That means at any time the Seahawks could turn Wilson’s salary into a bonus allowing them to spread it out over the life of the contract.
As Corry detailed, the Seahawks could turn $17.925 million of Wilson’s $19 million base salary in 2021 (all but the league minimum) into a bonus. That would drop Wilson’s cap number in 2021 from $32 million to $20.05 million, opening up roughly $12 million in cap space, and dropping the percent of his salary cap hit to around 11.1.
But, that would raise Wilson’s cap hits by roughly $6 million for each of the 2022 and 2023 seasons, to almost $43 million and $45 million. That’s a “kick-the-can-down-the-road’’ approach Seattle has usually avoided, but might be more tempting this year with the lowered overall cap number.
But with Seattle already listed as having just $4.1 million in available cap space, it might be something for the Seahawks to consider. Seattle also could consider something similar for Wagner, and extensions for players such as Carlos Dunlap also could reduce 2021 cap hits and create room.
Seattle did something similar with Wilson’s contract in 2017 when it needed some cap space to fit in left tackle Duane Brown at midseason, converting $6.26 million of salary to bonus, prorating it over the remaining three years, which created $4.1 million in cap room.
That dropped Wilson to taking up just 8.6%, the only time he’s been under 12% since his second contract fully kicked in in 2016.
For what it’s worth, that’s also the only season Seattle hasn’t won 10 games or made the playoffs since Wilson was drafted in 2012.