Throughout the “will they sign him?” saga surrounding Russell Wilson, one oft-referenced talking point was that none of the six highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL made the postseason last year.
In 2017, just one of the six most well-compensated QBs made the playoffs, and two years before that, one of the top five and none of the top three.
The implication is that it’s hard for teams to dedicate so much of their salary-cap space to one player and field a championship supporting cast.
Much of the otherworldly talent on the Seahawks’ Super Bowl team was on rookie contracts, including Wilson and Richard Sherman. Quarterback Jared Goff led the Rams to the Super Bowl last season on a rookie deal, second-year superstar Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game, and, of course Tom Brady — who’s been playing at a discount for several years — has raised the Lombardi Trophy in two of the past three seasons.
Take examples such as those — and there are more of them — and you could understand why the four-year, $140 million extension Wilson agreed to Tuesday might have sparked as much fear as it did joy among Seahawks fans. But it’s also easy to cherry pick facts to feed a narrative.
For instance, in 2016, the three highest-paid QBs were Eli Manning of the Giants, Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers, and Matt Ryan of the Falcons. All three won 11 regular-season games each, two made their respective conference championship games, and the Falcons held a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl before collapsing.
In 2015, Peyton Manning was the sixth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL and could barely contribute for the Broncos, but still ended the season as a Super Bowl champion. And though none of the six highest-paid QBs reached the postseason last year, the seventh, Drew Brees, led the Saints to a 13-3 record before a missed pass interference call cost them the NFC championship.
In other words, front offices who make their quarterbacks among the highest-paid players in the game have it tough, but they don’t have it impossible.
Wednesday, Seahawks general manager John Schneider was asked about the challenge of building around a high-priced QB. He admitted such a challenge exists but added “we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t have faith that we could build around Russ.”
Then coach Pete Carroll chimed in.
“I love that kind of challenge,” he said. “We don’t care about that (the six highest-paid players missing the playoffs), but we do like the opportunity to go kick butt on that kind of a thought that you can’t get it done. That’s kind of right up our alley, so ain’t nothing wrong with that.”
Tuesday, my colleague Larry Stone wrote that, with the suspense of Wilson’s future with the Seahawks over, it now becomes about his legacy. I believe the same is true of Carroll and Schneider.
Like Russell, the pair has already helped bring a Super Bowl to Seattle. But also like Russell, there’s potential immortality for them if they can build a dynasty.
We all saw what happened to the Packers last season after they made QB Aaron Rodgers the NFL’s highest-paid player. Despite Rodgers’ supreme talent, Green Bay went 6-9-1 in a season that was reportedly fraught with tension and ultimately led to 12-year head coach Mike McCarthy’s firing.
That’s unlikely to happen in Seattle, but the message is clear: One great signal caller doesn’t make a team.
Under Carroll and Schneider, the Seahawks drafted Earl Thomas in the first round, Bobby Wagner in the second, Wilson in the third round, K.J. Wright in the fourth, Sherman and Kam Chancellor in the fifth, Chris Carson in the seventh and signed Doug Baldwin as an undrafted free agent. They lured Pro Bowl offensive tackle Duane Brown, and have watched recent draft picks Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett flourish.
But the challenge they face now is different. The Seahawks have only won the division once since Wilson’s second contract kicked in and haven’t gotten past the second round of the playoffs. That’s hardly shameful, but surely short of what they were hoping for.
If you’re a hard-core 12, you had every reason to celebrate Tuesday. Wilson is one of the top quarterbacks in football and will be here for five years.
Still, he’s just one guy. The biggest drama may be over for the Seahawks’ front office, but now the real work begins.