Do the Seahawks think Wilson is worth what Wilson thinks he’s worth?

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Ultimately, all the speculation and conjecture about Russell Wilson’s future with the Seahawks boils down to the same basic question that has hovered over his head the last few years — is he truly an elite NFL quarterback?

Though the apparently contentious negotiations on a contract extension between Wilson and the Seahawks are full of nuance and NFL salary-cap related detail that could take hours to explain, in the end it comes back to perceived value.

Specifically, do the Seahawks think Wilson is worth what Wilson thinks he’s worth?

Wilson has one year left on his initial four-year rookie deal, which will pay him $1.5 million in 2015.

If he does not get an extension, he could become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, though the Seahawks could (and almost certainly would) place a franchise tag on him, assuring he stays with the team in 2016 (and they could place tags on him in 2017 and 2018, though at markedly higher salary numbers).

Increasingly, debates about the value of a quarterback to his team tend to be won by the player.

Ryan Tannehill has yet to lead Miami to a winning record in three years with the Dolphins. But he recently signed a contract extension valued at $19.25 million per year, the seventh-highest per-year average salary in the NFL according to Spotrac.com.

“That’s the hardest position to find somebody competent,’’ said former NFL agent Joel Corry, who now writes about salary-cap related issues for CBSSports.com. “Normally if a team has a quarterback that is at least above average, they are afraid of the unknown. But Seattle does things a little differently. Maybe they are more comfortable than most going into the uncharted territory of push-comes-to-shove (with Wilson).’’

Wilson, though, also is a little different, standing 5 feet 11 and featuring a playing style that hardly fits the mold of the traditional NFL quarterback.

He also plays in a system that runs as much as any in the NFL, meaning he is not asked to carry the offense in the same manner as traditional franchise quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, and for a team that has one of the better defenses in the NFL.

“That could be a consideration from Seattle, at least currently, as to why they have not offered a top of the market contract just yet,’’ said Jason Fitzgerald, who covers NFL finance for OvertheCap.com. “When you look at some of the contracts they have offered — whether it was Marshawn Lynch, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Percy Harvin and so on — cost was never an issue.

“ … The fact that they are not doing the same for Wilson could indicate that they feel what you see now is his ceiling and there is no more upside.’’

Seattle is reported, most recently by ESPN, to have offered Wilson a four-year deal up to $87 million, or just under $22 million a season, though that figure has not been confirmed.

Wilson is thought wanting a deal that would put him on par, if not surpass, the top-paid players in the NFL. Spotrac lists Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers as the highest-paid player in the NFL on a per-year basis at $22 million.

Thought to be just as critical, though, is the amount that would be fully guaranteed at signing. Unlike in Major League Baseball and the NBA, contracts in the NFL are not fully guaranteed. Most contain a percentage of guaranteed money.

Increasingly becoming a point of status in the NFL is the amount of money that is fully guaranteed at signing. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh set a record for money fully guaranteed at signing this year when he got $59.955 million from the Dolphins. Rodgers leads quarterbacks, getting just more than $44 million in his deal signed in 2013.

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One reason teams are reluctant to offer large full guarantees is that NFL rules require guarantees to be fully funded at signing (essentially, a check is written to the NFL, and the money is put in an escrow account). Teams usually shy away from offering more than a year or two of guaranteed money.

There’s more at play here, of course. Cam Newton’s recent extension with Carolina valued at $103.8 million over five years raised the market for quarterbacks that much more.

As Corry says, “Whenever you have a good-to-great player, the longer you wait, the more it’s going to cost you.’’

There’s also the specter of franchise tags that Seattle can use on Wilson.

Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, noted the tags during a recent interview with 710 ESPN Seattle as a reason he doesn’t feel there are any deadlines in getting a deal done.

The talks are considered at a standstill. It remains early in the process, though. If there is no deal done when the Seahawks open training camp in late July, then the idea that Wilson could play the 2015 season without a new deal becomes much closer to reality.

In a possible attempt to spur things along, Mark Rodgers this week sent a 16-page letter to the team stating his position and the case for Wilson.

It undoubtedly hit all the high points of Wilson’s three years with the Seahawks — a 36-12 regular-season record; consecutive Super Bowl bids and the franchise’s first Super Bowl title; and a career passer rating of 98.6 that ranks as the second-best among active quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers is the leader at 106.0).

Fitzgerald said he thinks if Wilson were to hit the open market someday, his value would become clear.

“There certainly would be teams out there willing to pay top-of-the-market money,’’ he said. “Some team will look at the numbers he has and lack of passing opportunities and blame that on the system (rather) than the inability of the quarterback. Whether that team is Seattle is a different story.’’

 

Quarterback pay
A look at the quarterbacks with the top 10 average salaries in 2015:
Quarterback, team Avg. salary
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers $22M
2. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers $21.85M
3. Cam Newton, Panthers $20.76M
4. Matt Ryan, Falcons $20.75M
5. Joe Flacco, Ravens $20.1M
6. Drew Brees, Saints $20M
7. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins $19.25M
8. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers $19M
9. Jay Cutler, Bears $18.1M
10. Tony Romo, Cowboys $18M
Source: spotrac.com