Around this time three years ago, Seattle was desperate for a superstar not named Felix Hernandez. By this time, the Sonics were long gone and Ichiro Suzuki could no longer garner 200 hits in a season. Seattle hoped that it had found its man when the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn in March of 2012, but the real find came a little over a month later when the Seahawks struck gold with Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft. Since then, Wilson has helped pioneer the Seahawks to three consecutive seasons with eleven wins or more, including its first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, while having a cap number well below one million each year. His extremely cap-friendly contract allowed the Seahawks to bring in free agents such as Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, who have helped anchor what is arguably the league’s best defense.
Now, it’s Wilson’s turn to strike gold. The 26 year old is entering the final year of his four-year rookie deal, and the first off-season in which he can negotiate an extension with the team. Talks between Wilson’s party and the Seahawks have already begun, and while there is little doubt that Wilson will eventually sign a nine-figure contract with Seattle, the question is when, how, and how much?
Since Wilson is still under contract for next season, it isn’t absolutely imperative to get a deal done this off-season. The Seahawks could instead choose to let Wilson play out his deal and re-sign him next season. This would start the clock on his massive contract one year later, enabling the organization to field a better team for the upcoming season. By having Wilson play on a cap number around one million for the 2015-2016 season, Pete Carroll and John Schneider would be able to entertain the thought of bringing in a luxury free agent, something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do with a tighter budget.
General Manager John Schneider has already publicly claimed that the club aims to take a creative “outside the box” approach to Wilson’s new deal. What exactly this entails is unclear. Will this mean that Paul Allen will try to make Russell Wilson a stockholder of Microsoft? The answer to this is no, because that would be a violation under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. In fact, this could lead to fines on both sides, with a possible loss of draft picks as well. A more plausible way to interpret “outside the box” would be a hint at a fully guaranteed contract, or one that is almost fully guaranteed. This would give Wilson more financial security up front, with potentially a smaller salary per year. This would also benefit the Seahawks because it would lead to a slightly lower salary cap number, freeing up more room to sign outside free agents, leading to a more talented roster. So long as Wilson manages to stay healthy, there would be little reason to criticize the nature of this unconventional contract. Given the fact that Wilson has not showed up on an injury report even once in his first three seasons, this may be a risk that the Seahawks would be willing to take. How much is Wilson going to cost? All signs point to him receiving an annual salary of well over $20 million an year. If this was the case, a five-year, $100-125 million dollar fully-guaranteed contract may be in order, shattering Aaron Rodgers’ record for money fully guaranteed at signing with $44. 5 million.
With Wilson’s rookie contract set to expire at the end of next season, the Seahawks don’t need to fear watching Wilson walk away. It’s a virtual certainty that Wilson will re-sign with the club eventually, given Wilson’s unwavering loyalty to the city and his constant claim that he wishes to play in Seattle for as long as possible. One thing that will vanish, however, is the Seahawks’ luxury of being able to pay a quarterback of Wilson’s caliber fewer than $1 million per year and sign players with the extra cap space. While Wilson, who is set to sign his well-deserved contract soon, will no longer have the best value out of any player in the league, the superstar will remain in the Emerald City for years to come.