Russell Wilson and the Seahawks ended months of constant speculation, hand-wringing and hot takes on Friday by agreeing to a four-year contract extension that will keep Wilson in Seattle through 2019. What does this deal mean for Wilson, the Seahawks and the future of quarterback contracts?
In the short term, everyone's happy. Wilson, who has made a little over $2 million from his rookie contract, becomes one of the highest-paid players in the NFL, while the Seahawks can rest assured knowing they've locked up their franchise quarterback for the next five seasons. Meantime, Andrew Luck can look at Wilson's deal and know that pretty soon, he's likely going to become the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history.
Where does Wilson's deal stack up?
"The term was key," Wilson's agent Mark Rodgers told the Seattle Times on Friday, in reference to Wilson's deal. "You do a four-year extension so you can look at your client and say ‘look, (when) you are going into the final year of this deal at 30 years old, you are (still) a young man.'"
Most top-tier quarterback deals tend to be of the five-year variety as Cam Newton's recent extension was, because players look for more security and teams look for more club control. Wilson set out to get four years for his extension, because he believes that the real time for him to cash in on his talent and production will be his third contract. The Seahawks wanted five years on top of 2015, the final year in his rookie contract, but compromise became the key.
Once the two sides agreed that four years was the extension term, things apparently came together pretty quickly.
Wilson's deal represents $87.6 million in new money over the life of the extension, an average-per-year (APY) of $21.9 million. This falls just below the per-year average of Aaron Rodgers, and just above that of Ben Roethlisberger. Taking Wilson's rookie-deal salary of $1.5 million for 2015 into account, you'll probably hear some people describe Wilson's deal as "$89.1 million over 5 years/$17.8 million per year," but that's really not how it works. The new money is all that matters.
For instance, when Aaron Rodgers received his five-year extension in 2013, he had two years and $20.75 million left on his old deal, which ran through 2014. So, while Rodgers' extension was for five years and $110 million, adding the two years of 'old money' onto that would have made it a seven-year, $130.75 million contract.
Except, that's not how his contract is viewed, and no one says that Aaron Rodgers's deal is worth $18.6 million per year. With Wilson and his measly $1.5 million salary in 2015, Seattle is simply continuing to reap the benefits of being the team that drafted Wilson in the third round.
Bottom line, if anyone says that Wilson is really only making $17.8 million per year, they have an agenda or don't understand how agents and teams value contracts. Wilson's deal is elite-quarterback money.
In fact, as Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap writes, "while Wilson is not going to be the highest paid quarterback based on the annual value of the deal (he's behind Rodgers), he will surpass any other player in every new money metric there is leading into his fourth season."
Wilson's $31 million signing bonus, combined with his yearly salary, means that he'll see $70.6 million in cash payouts before the 2019 season begins -- more cash than what Rodgers got in the first three years of his extension -- and more than any player in history over the first three years of a deal. This is why Wilson could compromise on keeping the 2015 season at such a low salary point ($700,000 in fact, cut in half for cap purposes).
There were reports that Wilson would try to get up to $75 million in fully guaranteed money. This would have meant that per the CBA's funding rules, Seahawks' owner Paul Allen would have had to put that sum in an escrow account for Wilson to be paid as the contract matured. Seattle would not blink in that area, so no new precedent was set. Like nearly every other contract in the NFL, Wilson's deal fully guarantees on a rolling basis, meaning his salary in 2016 and 2017 doesn't become fully guaranteed until the fifth day of the waiver period for each respective league year.
Instead, Wilson's deal has $61.3 million in for-injury-only guarantees, but the fully guaranteed amount is $31.7 million. This fully-guaranteed number comes in under that of Aaron Rodgers' $54 million in full guarantees, but does sit above that of Cam Newton, who got $31 million fully guaranteed.
For comparison to other young quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill's four-year contract extension had $21.5 million guaranteed, Andy Dalton's six-year, $96 million extension gave him $17 million fully guaranteed and Colin Kaepernick's six-year, $114 million extension includes only $12.9 million in fully guaranteed money. Wilson's deal is straight-forward, and does not contain performance incentives or playing time bonuses.
Bottom line: Wilson's new deal does not make him the "highest paid quarterback" in the NFL -- a claim he was reportedly asking for -- nor does it give him an NFL record in guaranteed money. However, Wilson avoids playing 2015 at $1.5 million in favor of a $31 million bonus check, and over the first three years of his extension, he'll almost surely receive $70.6 million in cold, hard cash.
Where is Wilson in his career?
Russell Wilson heads into his fourth NFL season as a player the Seahawks see as on the rise. He has put together some great performances in three seasons, and has had some stinkers here and there, but the view is that he's still developing, and can -- and will -- improve in several key areas. His quick game, his third down passing and his red zone efficiency are a few things that Seattle will focus on in 2015. However, for some perspective, it's worth pointing out that at the same point in his career (three years in), Aaron Rodgers had completed 35 passes and hadn't started a game. This is a relatively young player with a high ceiling.
A topic of much discussion has been Wilson's true value on a run-based team. Wilson drives a low-volume passing offense -- in fact, no team threw the ball less than Seattle last season -- but Pete Carroll and the Seahawks' front office value him so highly because of the way in which he runs their offense. He's very efficient, rarely turns the ball over and is one of the best players in the league at generating "explosive plays" or passes of more than 16 yards, and runs of more than 12.
How do you measure this efficiency in an offense that deliberately tries to run fewer plays than anyone in the league? Here are a few stats that paint the picture: Wilson is the first player in NFL history with a 95.0 passer rating in each of his first three seasons, and his career passer rating of 98.6 is the best all-time through a quarterback's first three years. His career 7.9 yards per pass attempt is second only to Aaron Rodgers among active players, and fifth all-time since the merger. He's posted a career postseason mark of 9.01 yards per pass attempt.
Wilson's thrown interceptions on just 2.1 percent of his career attempts, a rate that, should it continue, would place him among the league's best all-time (Aaron Rodgers' 1.6-percent interception rate leads all quarterbacks, and Tom Brady's 2.0-percent is second all-time). For his career, including playoffs, Wilson's thrown 84 touchdowns to only 32 interceptions, while completing 63 percent of his passes. He leads all quarterbacks in the NFL over the last three years with 10 fourth-quarter comebacks and 15 game-winning drives.
Another huge dimension of his game, which fits perfectly with what the Seahawks want to do, is that Wilson has added 1,877 career rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground -- at 6.07 yards per carry. Seattle's run game is centered around the read option with Marshawn Lynch, and Wilson's a major force for their success in that area. Defenses must honor his ability to pull the ball back and run with it, which has in turn made life a lot easier for Lynch to go Beastmode on the league.
Not only does Wilson generate yards and confuse defenses with the read zone, but he protects himself and rarely takes hits when rushing the football.
One concern is that Wilson has plateaued, and his 2014 passing yards per attempt and quarterback rating did dip a little over his 2012/2013 numbers. Another concern is that Wilson can't continue to depend so much on his rushing ability. Another is that he needs to improve on passing from the pocket, and another is that he must take on a bigger load in the passing game in order to account for his bigger stake in the salary cap pie. These are all valid concerns, and he'll have to address them with his play going forward.
Bottom line? Wilson has areas in which to improve, as does every young quarterback, but he's a very, very good fit for what Pete Carroll and the Seahawks want to do -- i.e., protect the football, move the chains, beat up on opponents with a punishing run game and hit explosive passes downfield.
The Seahawks are 42-14 with Wilson at quarterback, and they hope that his leadership, poise and big-play ability will help them maintain that .750 winning percentage over the next five years.
SB Nation presents: An example of why the Seahawks have faith in Russell Wilson
What does it mean for Andrew Luck?
With the Wilson deal done, Andrew Luck can look forward to a gigantic payday. When it happens, though, remains to be seen, as the Colts have already picked up his fifth-year option for 2015, worth $16.1 million. Whether it happens prior to this season or the negotiations run into next spring, the former first-overall pick will eventually see a contract extension that rivals or exceeds Aaron Rodgers' $22 million new-money average per year -- and will almost surely include an NFL-record in guaranteed money.
Wilson's deal, while rich, did not set a new market in average-per-year new money or fully-guaranteed salary. Luck's deal will likely do that, and Rodgers' contract will be the bar they'll look to surpass. Where Wilson did set the market is in three-year cash flow, and Wilson's $70.6 million in cash over the first three years of his extension is going to be the barometer for Luck's camp to keep an eye on. Whatever happens, Luck is going to be a rich man.