Russell Wilson’s Upcoming Contract Negotiations

If you like reading these kinds of articles from me, then you’ll love my book coming out this August titled, “#Caponomics: Understanding NFL Roster Building through Super Bowl Champion Salary Cap Analysis.” E-mail Caponomics@gmail.com to be added to our e-mail list, get chapters early, get bonus chapters and be informed when the book is being released!

It was very cool to see Peter King seeming to be using some of the stuff I’ve been discussing in his columns for a second time as he discussed Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers’ contracts in this MMQB article. He’s not talking about the contracts in terms of dollar figures, but as percentages of the salary cap.

Now, I definitely don’t think I’m the first person to start looking at contracts this way, but I (wishfully) think that I am the first one to write about contracts that way as I don’t think I had seen it before I started analyzing and comparing contracts that way in the spring of 2014. So Mr. King, if you are reading, I’ve been reading your work for as long as I can remember, thanks for reading! Also, I’m throwing my hat in the ring for your fourth guest Monday MMQB article during your vacation month!

Anyway, my shameless plug is over, so the article King wrote was about the looming battle between the Seahawks and Wilson and his agent, Mark Rodgers, so let’s get to it.

Over the last week, I’ve realized some things while writing Caponomics, Brian Cushing told me a story about Drew Rosenhaus a couple years ago while we were training at DeFranco’s Gym that has stuck with me as one of my foundational ideas for the direction of my career as an NFL agent. He was talking about how he marvels at the way that Rosenhaus seems to know the details of every single contract that you could possibly ask him about.

It sticks with me because it made me realize that to be a great agent, you have to be a master of the NFL salary cap. Once I discovered Over The Cap, I realized that it writing about these issues would help me become an expert on the salary cap, contracts, how much players are worth, and everything that goes along with this field. Thankfully, Jason gave me an opportunity after seeing some of the things I wrote on my own personal blog.

How important is having an understanding the salary cap to my career aspirations? Enough that I’ll write about it for free for as long as I can, but you could always e-mail me at Caponomics@gmail.com to get updates for when my book analyzing the salary cap situations of the last 21 Super Bowl champions is coming out as well as previews and bonus chapters!!

I apologize to Mr. Rodgers, but I would argue that this is why Wilson should have an agent who is 100% dedicated to being an NFL agent. This is in no way meant to be disrespectful to Rodgers in any way, I admire him, he’s a fantastic baseball agent, but I just don’t know if he has the same level of understanding that an agent who is 100% focused on the NFL has. It’s worth mentioning that, according to Adam Schefter, Wilson chose to stick with Rodgers with his upcoming contract negotiations rather than his now former NFL agent Bus Cook. There are claims that he didn’t fire Cook, but was “making a change.”

As Peter King wrote in that article I referenced above, Rodgers had this to say in regards to the contract, “Sometimes, the best deal is the deal you don’t do. For me, there would be a greater disappointment in taking a below-market deal than there would be in honoring the fourth year of the contract.” King correctly points out that this does not sound like an agent who is “thinking of taking a hometown-discount deal for his client.”

When discussing the top of the market contract that Wilson is probably looking for, King compares it to Aaron Rodgers contract, which is a five-year, $110 million extension that he signed in April of 2013 for an average of $22 million per year. The contract had a then NFL-record guarantee of $62.5 million. King mentions that at $22 million per year, that means that Rodgers’ year on cap hit was 17.8% in year one, but he was mistaken because of the confusion of his 2013 salary staying the same and the confusing manner with which the contract is structured. The way it worked out, according to ESPN, is that Rodgers made $40 million in mostly bonus money in 2013 and $62.5 million from 2013 to 2015 with $110 million in new money over the course of the extension. His contract never exceeds $21 million for the duration of the deal, but because of the way it’s constructed, Jason has it at $22 million on Over The Cap.

What ended up happening with Rodgers is that what he negotiated in 2013 is mostly coming into affect now. King mentions that Mark Rodgers is probably taking into account that teams now have $20 million more in salary cap space than when Aaron Rodgers signed that top of the market deal, we must remember that the contract wasn’t in regards to the 2013 salary cap, but today’s. It does illustrate how well the Packers have projected into the future as Rodgers is right around the maximum that a quarterback should be paid and you could argue that he’s worth it as the 2014 MVP.

Here are Rodger’s contract figures with projected cap increases of $5, 7.5, and 10 million:

(As always, click on the figures to enlarge them)

Aaron Rodgers Projected Contract

As you can see from the struggle I have in that paragraph just explaining this all, this stuff is confusing as all hell, I regularly get confused. That’s why, in my opinion, you need to become an expert in the salary cap to be a good NFL agent. I don’t think that Mark Rodgers will have the experience to finagle the salary cap and get Wilson every dollar he can in a manner that best serves both sides. That’s what being an agent is about really, right? You need to know how to best serve your client, it’s not about how much money can I get for them in this contract, I think it’s a multi-faceted approach with questions like, “How much money can I get for them in their lifetime? How do I get them the most money in a manner that helps them have the kind of personal and team success that maximizes their brand in the short-term and long-term?” I also know that agents and teams need to be mindful and able to accurately project what the salary cap will look like in the future, so that they can get the maximum

Just looking at quarterback cap hits in 2014, we can learn quite a bit:

2014 Top QB Cap Hits

We must also compare this to the top QB cap charges on the 21 cap era Super Bowl champions:

Super Bowl QB Cap Hits

The cap hit column is in regards to what number salary cap hit they were on their team. In the 2014 group, Stafford was the only one who wasn’t the top cap hit on his team as that goes to Ndamukong Suh and his plain silly 2014 cap hit of 16.85% as a defensive tackle. As you can see from the Super Bowl QBs, that’s a higher cap hit than any championship quarterback, which means it’s also way higher than any player who has ever won a Super Bowl. The percentage on the right is the difference between the player’s cap percentage and the Super Bowl average.

Anyway, let’s bring it all the way back to Wilson. What he and his agent need to decide is simple and summed up well by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, so I won’t try to rewrite something that’s stated perfectly:

“Wilson eventually needs to decide whether to capitalize on leverage that only will grow with the passage of time — or to leave money on the table in order to allow the team to put a competitive team around him. Regardless, his best-case scenario will only get better and better as February 2016 approaches, with the Seahawks or someone else will pay him as much he wants.”

To summarize that, does Wilson want to keep winning Super Bowl or make as much money as possible?

Wilson’s one of my favorite players and people in the NFL right now and he’s always proved people wrong, but in my research, I’m beginning to really comprehend the kind of value that Super Bowl teams get out of their salary cap. Just when you look at those 2014 figures, there was almost no way the Bears or Rams could win Super Bowls with those two as their quarterbacks at cap hits higher than anything that’s ever won a Super Bowl. You look at Eli Manning at 15.34%, which is 2.26% higher than Steve Young’s 1994 cap hit, a team and cap hit that was aided by the cap-less 1993 year as they re-signed 17 of their veterans to contracts in December of 1993

to avoid the cap.

In the group that’s left, you have Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. Now, every one of those players has been in the “elite” conversation, as well as Eli Manning, so we know they’re worth a large percentage of the salary cap, but just how much are they worth? I excluded Manning from this group because his contract is at a cap figure that I don’t think any player could be worth considering the research I’ve been doing for the last six months.

With that group of eight, what it comes down to is figuring out exactly how much they are worth. I left Tom Brady out of that group because at 11.13% of the cap, he won himself a Super Bowl in 2014 and gives us a unique angle to approach this from. Considering that he might be the greatest quarterback of all time, then how is anyone making a higher percentage of the cap than him in 2014?

What I feel like we’ve seen in the last 15 years is the quarterback market has increased to a level where no player can be worth the value let alone 12 of 32 top paid quarterbacks in the NFL. This is further complicated when players like Cam Newton and Andrew Luck are at 5.27% and 4.53%. Want to know why the Cardinals were so good with and even without Carson Palmer this year? At 9.77% of the cap, he’s actually around the value that he brings to the team. With their great defense, the 2014 Cardinals constructed their team like the 2002 Buccaneers and Brad Johnson at 9.57%.

An unintended consequence of the 2011 CBA is that with the more reasonable rookie contracts under it, we are going to see a decrease in the percentage of the cap that we’ll see with veteran contracts. I think that a huge part of the wide receiver market’s bubble bursting is that with the amount of inexpensive talent that teams can find on rookie deals, they see no need in giving out contracts where receivers are making over 7-8% of the cap. In fact, they should never earn more than 8.56% of the cap, in my opinion, because that’s how much Jerry Rice earned with the 1994 49ers. So in 2014, these teams were telling me that Vincent Jackson (9.35%), Dwayne Bowe (8.64%), Mike Wallace (12.97%), Calvin Johnson (9.82%), and Andre Johnson (11.76%) were more valuable to their teams than Rice was during the prime of his career? This isn’t an exact science and these are just opinions, but Rice had 112 catches for 1499 yards (13.4 ypc) and 13 touchdowns that season, combine that with the squirrely way the 49ers managed their cap that season and I find it hard to believe that anyone should ever make more than that percentage of the cap as a receiver. (Sorry fellow receivers, it hurts me to say that, but it has to be done.)

With these ideas in mind let’s take this kind of logic back to Wilson. Simply put, Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, especially in the Seahawks system, but we can not underestimate the value of Wilson to the Seahawks system or the Seahawks system to Wilson. Do I think that Wilson could perform in an offense like what Brees runs in New Orleans? I think he could, but even then, when you look at the 2009 Saints and every Brees-led Saints team that has had any success, it’s always been built with a strong running game as well. The 2009 Saints did have one of the three worst Super Bowl defenses in the cap era, so that was something that Brees had to overcome that season, but it helped that he had Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush powering the sixth best rushing offense in the NFL.

An important point to remember is that the Saints were able to construct that 2009 team with Brees only taking up 8.67% of the cap. I would argue that a big issue for the Saints in 2014 was Brees at 13.83% of the cap. Is he worth it? He is one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, but are you going to be able to build a team around him that can win a Super Bowl? Of course, Reggie Bush was at 8.61% of the cap, which is too much for a running back, so that team did have it’s own cap issues.

The 2014 Saints had some of their own issues as well past Brees with wide receiver Marques Colston taking up 6.24%, which is 0.03% less than what Marvin Harrison was worth in 2006 for the Colts during a much more productive season for him. Guard Jahri Evans at 8.27% of the cap was higher than Russell Okung’s pace setter at 7.76% in 2013 with the Seahawks and Evans was given a -6.5 rating by Pro Football Focus that made him the 46th guard.

That 2009 Saints team used about 114% of the cap due to the adjusted cap limit that year for them. As Jason explained it to me, the NFL adjusts on a team-by-team basis up or down based on a number of items such as incentives earned or unearned in a prior year, signing bonus refunds from suspensions, cap penalties levied by the league, and under the new CBA, salary cap carryover.

Here is the vision I have to teams for the ideal growth path of a quarterback in the NFL. He starts off on his rookie contract that’s now very manageable and the team constructs a team in the run-first, defensive model that the 2000 Ravens and the 2013 Seahawks used perfectly. This is also the model that teams without franchise quarterbacks should use as the 2000 Ravens did it perfectly with Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer on smaller contracts.

When the player gets to that second contract, ideally, it would be in the 8-10% of the cap range for the next three of four years. Towards the end of that contract is when the figures should go above 10% as the player transitions into that third contract, when he’s the face of the franchise, a seasoned veteran with almost a decade of experience and still in his athletic prime. That third contract should have the top quarterbacks in the 10-12% range for their pay. This is when the team should be all in with the QB Centric model and should give that high paid quarterback what he needs to succeed.

If you want to win a Super Bowl, then I don’t think that a quarterback should ever make more than 12-12.5% of the salary cap.

You look at that 2014 list, those are of some of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, but, other than Tom Brady, none of them have been able to beat Russell Wilson these last two years. Why is that?
Our basic assumptions are that quarterback is the most important position in the NFL and it’s a position that takes time to become a master at in the NFL. Again, I’m taking nothing away from Wilson, I admire the guy, but we don’t seriously think that he’s better than Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady yet, right? After beating the Packers in Week 1 in 2014, Wilson was 6-0 in his career against that quartet of Hall of Famers and was 8-0 before that Super Bowl loss to Brady.

Why did Brady edge him out, while those other guys haven’t been able to? Football is a game of inches right? That’s an old cliché we’ve been using for years. It’s a sport that, no matter what level you’re at, you work 365 days a year and you get 20 or fewer opportunities to play every season. When I was in college, we could see in film how five or six plays in every single game determine the outcome of the game. At Rhode Island, we lost to #4 William & Mary 26-7 during my junior year, but still, that game would have had an entirely different outcome if Chris Edmonds just got a piece of that punt he went to block when we were down 13-7 late in the third quarter and had the Tribe back on their three-yard line. Instead, he got called for roughing the punter on what we would still content was a bad call and they marched down the field to make it 19-7 and eventually win going away.

Point is, if the margin between a win and a loss is so small that you don’t know what play or what bounce could determine the outcome of it, then wouldn’t the financial issues follow that same logic?

When Brady dropped down to that 11.13% of the cap with every veteran quarterback in the elite conversation well above that, it gave the Patriots a unique advantage.

What we learned from the 2013 Seahawks is how these low rookie contracts give teams room to make mistakes. The 2013 Seahawks were one of the most oddly constructed caps in Super Bowl history with a tight end as their top cap charge, which had never been done before and a wide receiver as their second cap charge, which had only been done by the 1994 49ers with Jerry Rice. They’re the only team without a quarterback in their Top 10 and the 61.31% of the cap invested in that Top 10 is the most of any Super Bowl team.

With that idea in mind, as well as Brady’s cap hit of 11.13%, you see that Peyton Manning was at 2.03% higher than Brady, Rodgers was 2.07% higher, and Brees was 2.70% higher.

Ben Roethlisberger certainly re-entered the conversation this season as an elite quarterback, but at 14.21% of the cap, he really restricts his team. The Steelers were able to contend this year because of their stellar drafting over the last few years with their wide receiver group costing only 6.60% of the cap and Le’Veon Bell at 0.70%. When Antonio Brown and Bell start getting paid the big money though, the Steelers are going to be in a lot of trouble, but that’s why teams should make that conscious decision to be a QB Centric modeled team. This is when the scouting and drafting on defense has to be on point because they’ll need a cheap, but solid defense that’s good enough to be in the top-third of the NFL to have a good chance at winning a Super Bowl. That’s part of the struggle that comes with going QB Centric and spending too high a percentage on your quarterback.

We look at the money saved by the Patriots on Brady, that extra 2.03-2.70% of the cap is a big deal. It’s the difference between signing key players or not being able to. The 2.07% that the Patriots save in comparison to Rodgers’ cap percentage is exactly what Julian Edelman cost the team in 2014, the 2.03% saved in comparison to Peyton Manning is just 0.01% less than what Nate Solder and Brandon Browner cost the team. They signed Brandon Lafell and Patrick Chung during the 2014 offseason and together they cost the 2014 Patriots 2.30% of the cap, that extra 2% (like Jonah Keri’s book with the same title, unrelated to this conversation, but certainly worth a read, really inspired me to pursue writing about this stuff) can make a huge difference in the players you can acquire.

One of the major values of Wilson these last few years are that the Seahawks have gotten an elite quarterback at a very low cap percentage. This has allowed them to build almost the perfect run-first, defensive modeled team with a much better quarterback than the 2000 Ravens had, the previous model for this.

Russell Wilson Rookie Deal

This is how the Seahawks created a dynasty and it’s not unlike how the Patriots of the early-2000s created their dynasty. One of the most remarkable statistics regarding Brady is that in 2001, he wasn’t just stepping in for a Pro Bowl level quarterback in Drew Bledsoe, he was also stepping in for the biggest contract in NFL history at that time, 10-years, $103 million. Bledsoe’s cap hit in 2001 was 10.29% of their cap and Brady stepped into that role and succeeded. At the time, Bledsoe’s cap hit was the second highest for a Super Bowl champion quarterback, so that sixth rounder from Michigan played at a very high level.

Just to give a visual for how much of a difference there is between Wilson’s cap hit against some of the top quarterbacks I put together that figure below in regards to the quarterbacks he played this year. I left out the Rams and Cardinals because of the injuries and chaos of their quarterback situations. They did lose to the Rams in October in a game where they almost had 200 more yards than the Rams, so it was a bit of a flukey game.

2014 QB Cap Comparison w:Wilson

The difference between Wilson’s cap hit against Rodgers, Rivers, Manning, Manning, and Brady is staggering. I would argue that when a quarterback like Wilson is at this low a cost and is producing for his team at the same level as the more expensive players, this kind of cap difference puts the team with the more expensive and theoretically better quarterback at a huge disadvantage. Other than the losses to Rivers and Brady, it seems that Wilson’s closest games have come against players with similar salary cap numbers.

Manning and the Broncos had gotten a bully beat down in the Super Bowl in February 2014, but made some positive changes on defense and gave the Seahawks a fit at home in September. Considering how strong that Broncos team was when Manning was healthy, how much of a difference did that 12.55% of the cap difference make? What if it was only like 8% of the cap? Would they have re-signed Knowshon Moreno and had more than 36 rushing yards in that game? Would they have just re-signed Eric Decker and had Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker? Maybe they would have kept Zane Beadles, Robert Ayers, Jeremy Mincey, Shaun Phillips, Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie, Mike Adams, Wesley Woodyard or a combination out of that group?

Who knows what difference maker the Broncos could have added that could have won this game and then potentially helped them make it to the Super Bowl. If Manning is healthy again in 2015, watch out though, he looked fantastic before that injury.

The loss to Tony Romo and the Cowboys was all about the running game that the Cowboys built with their offensive line and DeMarco Murray. Their defense also shut down Wilson and the offense and the extra 4% that they had available with Romo on the lower cap number was very valuable as they had a 20.59% of their salary cap invested in dead money. They restructure Romo’s contract seemingly every year just to sneak under the cap. With Romo at that reasonable cap number, the Cowboys were able to put together a 12-4 season.

With the Panthers, they have another young quarterback on an affordable rookie contract, which is why I think Cam Newton’s been the quarterback who has given the Seahawks the most trouble. In Week 1 of 2013, the Seahawks snuck by the Panthers 12-7 and had a similar, 13-9 win in 2014. Similarly, Andrew Luck beat Wilson and the Seahawks 34-28 in Week 5 of 2013.

Oakland only lost by six points in November, could they have won if they didn’t waste 6.02% of the cap on Matt Schaub? The Chiefs with Alex Smith and Chase Daniel combining to take up only 6.02% of their cap beat the Seahawks by four. The Chiefs didn’t outearn the Seahawks in yards and lost the turnover battle with two fumbles, but Jamaal Charles ran for 159 on 20 carries with two touchdowns, while Alex Smith had a mere 108 passing yards. Wilson had a nice day with 178 yards passing and 71 on the ground with two passing touchdowns, but couldn’t pull out the win. Another flukey kind of game like the Seahawks loss to the Rams, but I think a bit indicative of the way teams with low-cost quarterbacks can beat the Seahawks in other ways.

Colin Kaepernick has been a bit of a nemesis of Wilson’s these last few years as Kaepernick actually had a 2-3 record against Wilson before two losses in 2014 with his shorthanded and aging 49ers team. Even during the wild 2014 season for the 49ers, they only lost by 10 in Week 15 with all the issues, injuries and players who just weren’t performing.

Going back to 2013, the Seahawks were able to beat New Orleans 34-7 during the season, but in the playoffs earned a 23-15 victory during a game where the Seahawks had 132 fewer yards than the Saints. During that season, Brees had a cap hit of 14.15% and Wilson’s was 0.55%. If you combined Matt Flynn’s dead money hit, Tarvaris Jackson and Wilson’s cap hits together, they still only cost 4.48%. Wilson was 13.60% less than Brees’ cap hit and Wilson made 3.91% what Brees made, $681,085 to $17.4 million. Comparing Brees to the entire quarterback group, the Seahawks had $11,647,150 more to spend on other positions and got great production out of Wilson. That kind of value and the ability to then use that money elsewhere is a huge reason why the Seahawks have been so dominant.

Back in 2013, Wilson lost to Andrew Luck 34-28 in October. Luck only cost the Colts 4.08% of their salary cap and beat the Seahawks in a wild game. Jermaine Kearse blocked a punt out of the end zone that resulted in a safety and Delano Howell had a 61-yard blocked field goal return for the Colts. The Colts trailed for most of the game, but snuck it out in the end.

Wilson lost to Matt Stafford and the 4-12 Lions in October 2012 28-24 during a year where Stafford only took up 7.42% of the cap. They also lost to Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins in Miami 24-21 during a season where Tannehill was at 1.91% of the cap.

I don’t know what all of that means for sure, but I thought it was something worth discussing. Maybe Wilson beats the best quarterbacks because their teams are typically investing heavily in their quarterback and have holes on their defense that the Seahawks can exploit. While Brady’s cap number was lower, we can’t forget that the Patriots defense was very strong in 2014. Maybe the teams with lower cap hits have more strength across the lineup with the money saved at quarterback, who knows, but I think that it’s an interesting exercise just to wonder about if there is any correlation to the type of advantage that the Seahawks had with Wilson being so cheap and playing so well.

The question that has to be bothering the Seahawks is if Wilson is the same player at a higher salary because of just how massive an advantage that he presented with that unique imbalance of production and cost.

Wilson has obviously out earned every single one of the cap percentages from his rookie deal, but there are plenty of questions worth asking when discussing him. Some of them are:

  • What is his exact value?
  • How valuable is he to the Seahawks offense?
  • Is he replaceable? How replaceable?
  • Where is the most that the Seahawks can pay him and still construct a team that amplifies his strengths and helps him fulfill the value of the contract?
  • Where is the salary cap projected to go in the near future?
  • Is there anything that both sides can do creatively to save cap space and give Wilson more money?
  • At which positions can the Seahawks save money? For instance, the Seahawks learned in 2013 that they can save money at receiver by how well they played with Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin taking up 11.87% of the cap and being injured for most of the season. Receiver is a position where they should be able to save money by finding players who fit in their system moving forward.
  • Will the Seahawks be able to continue finding tremendous value through the draft?

These are just some questions that the team and Wilson’s agent should be considering. I know that in this negotiation, both sides have things they agree on and disagree on, they both have different goals in some areas, but they want the same goal overall, they want to keep winning. Both sides need to figure out how to mesh their needs together, so they can continue to build this dynasty.

One thing is for sure with any quarterback, we have no idea how much they are worth in another system, we only know how good they are in the one that they’re currently in. With Wilson, there isn’t a system in the NFL that suits his talents better than the Seahawks offense, he’s the perfect example of how important it is for a player to get drafted into the right situation.

Getting into the contract talk, King mentioned Aaron Rodgers contract, so if he is going to take that same contract, but then add on a sixth season that carries him through 2020 like Tannehill and Newton’s contracts do, this is what that contract would look like:

Wilson Contract w:Rodgers Figures

If Wilson were to get the same guaranteed money as Rodgers that would be $62.5 million in guarantees. The signing bonus should be a couple million more than Tannehill and Newton as well.

The next option to look at is if Wilson were to get a contract that averages over $22 million per year, that would edge out Rodgers’ and Big Ben’s contracts.

Wilson Over $22 M:yr

In that situation, I’m sure that he would have a smaller cap number in year one because of his signing bonus, but that would also mean a higher cap number later, which could end up being voided later when the team restructures his contract to avoid that monstrous fifth and/or sixth year of the deal.

Looking at this contract, with Russell Wilson at 13-14% of the salary cap, do we really think that they’ll be able to build a Super Bowl quality team around him with that much invested in a player who needs a strong running game to succeed? How do you construct the defenses that Seattle is now known for if it becomes completely imperative that you find insane value in the draft?

I just don’t think the Seahawks would be able to compete with that kind of contract and I think it would stunt his growth as a player because he’d have to do too much. At the same time, this could be the last contract that he’s going to be able to take full advantage of the scrambling ability and have the potential to flirt with the 1000-yard mark, so maybe this is the time for him to take full advantage of the value he creates there.

Last night after reading Peter King’s article, I thought of the idea that a player have a contract that’s tied to a percentage of the salary cap and I asked Jason and Joel Corry if teams could give contracts that were just tied to a percentage of the salary cap and my example was a five-year contract at 11.00% of the cap for Wilson. Their responses were:

Jason's Wilson Response

Joel Corry's Wilson Response

So apparently it is possible to work that out and I like that idea of tying the contract to a percentage of the cap. Here is what that contract would look like for Wilson:

Ryan Tannehill Contract

Cam Newton Contract

If we take into account all six years of the contracts and we sign Wilson through 2020, then this is what the contract would look like:

Wilson’s 6-year deal with 11% of the cap. (Sorry I couldn’t post this picture. I’m going to fix it in the morning)

That looks like a more reasonably deal, but what would they do about him making less than Newton’s total contract? One thing that I really sincerely believe with players like Wilson is that if he leaves like $10-15 million on the table in free agency from a team like the Redskins of Raiders have been historically, always overpaying and never creating a full roster, I feel that Wilson could make up that money over time in endorsements, but also just in brand equity if he were to stay in Seattle over the extra money out there because he’d likely be on a better team.

This contract is right in that same area as Colin Kaepernick’s contract:

Colin Kaepernick Contract

A very reasonably deal as before this season, most people thought the Kaepernick/Wilson comparisons were as close as you could be to the value of these two players. Kaepernick has had almost as much success in the playoffs as Wilson, but fell just short of one Super Bowl and falling just short in the 2012 Super Bowl and then the NFC Championship the next year.

This contract is spread out over seven years as well, so I think Wilson’s will have more packed into the six years, but reasonably cap numbers that make sense. I really like this Kaepernick deal if the cap goes up by $10 million per year or so. It’s a good job of not writing a contract that could have a season where there’s an unreasonable cap hit.

The contract was a six-year, $114 million extension that was signed June 4, 2014, he received $12,973,766 in full guarantees made up of a $645,000 base salary and a $12,328,766 signing bonus. He has other guarantees for injuries and roster bonuses as well that can bump this contract up.

Here’s what that contract would look like if Wilson made 12.00%:

Wilson’s 6-year deal with 12% of the cap. (Sorry I couldn’t post this picture. I’m going to fix it in the morning)

Now I’m pretty much against putting having a quarterback at 12.00% or over, so I don’t agree with this contract, but it would likely have him making more money than Newton as I believe that the salary cap will increase by at least $10 million per year moving forward because of the major growth opportunities on the horizon for the NFL. Roger Goodell expects the league to be at $25 billion in revenues by 2027 and I believe that could happen. If it does happen, the salary cap could be over $200 million by 2020, so Wilson could profit off the rapid growth of the league. Could be an educated gamble that pays off big time if the salary cap gets up around like $210 and $220 million.

What I think the Seahawks should do is lock Wilson into a contract with as much guaranteed money as possible that has more reasonable salary cap figures. John Schneider was quoted in a Pro Football Talk article with Mike Florio hinting at an “outside-the-box” approach to Wilson’s contract. As Florio says, NFL teams rarely make salaries beyond year one or two fully guaranteed as it gives teams as much flexibility as possible when they decide whether to keep a player at his contract value, release him, trade him, or ask him to take a pay cut. Wilson wouldn’t be a bad player to exercise a fully guaranteed contract strategy on though because outside of injuries, it’s very likely that he will be worth the contract.

Since that idea I have is an unlikely scenario, it’s very unlikely that the Seahawks will resort to giving Wilson a contract that lines up perfectly that’s liked up with exact percentages of the salary cap, I hope teams consider that strategy in the future as I think it’s a great way to construct your salary cap and stick to the Super Bowl averages that I find so important.

I think that Washington’s lack of a state income tax is a huge advantage and that Wilson is mature enough to understand that he doesn’t need to have the biggest contract, he needs to make the most money. If the Seahawks put together the contract I put below, fully guaranteed with a signing bonus of $30-40 million, then it would be a huge win for everyone involved. Wilson is essentially guaranteed $120-130 million, which is a great, high value contract for him.

For instance, since Kaepernick is in California, that contract is spread out over seven years, he didn’t get a big signing bonus, and that contract has very little dead money in the latter years, Wilson is going to earn much more money than Kaepernick will and they’re very close comparisons. This would also be a huge win for the Seahawks because they get him at a very reasonable figure in terms of the salary cap.

When you take away Tannehill’s 2020 season, a season that has zero dead money for him, so a year of his contract that he will probably never see, it’s just there to get the contract’s value near $100 million, then the contract will only be worth $77,663,364 through 2019. When you take away Kaepernick’s last two season which are both years with no dead money in them, his contract is worth $75,030,457 from 2014 through 2018. When you take out Newton’s 2020 season, it becomes a contract worth $97,366,000 through 2019 and you add his $22.5 million signing bonus, then the likely worth of it is $119,866,000.

Giving Wilson a contract through 2020 gives him security, it realistically gives him more money than each of these other players and it gives the Seahawks a contract that he will perform well with. It puts him smack in the middle of where the top Super Bowl quarterback contracts are and can help the Seahawks execute the kind of team the 2002 Bucs had with a historic defense, yet a quarterback who was making the kind of money that a quarterback of a QB Centric modeled team makes with Brad Johnson at 9.57%. If this is the case, I think everyone wins.

Russell Wilson Fully Guaranteed Contract

This is a six-year, $92 million fully guaranteed contract with a signing bonus between $30 and 40 million. If Wilson continues to do what he has done so far in the NFL, the Seahawks are going to be good for a long, long time.

Tweet me: @ZackMooreNFL

If you liked the kind of cap analysis that went into this article, please e-mail me at Caponomics@gmail.com, so that you are added to our e-mail list and get some bonus finished chapters as they become available. A couple weeks ago, I sent out our chapter analyzing the 2000 Ravens. Coming soon will be the 2014 Patriots and 2014 Lions.

Caponomics is a book that analyzes the Super Bowl champions from the last 21 seasons, creates theories based on this analysis and then uses those theories to discuss why 2014 teams were or were not successful.

  • RegisHawk

    As luck (no pun intended) would have it, Joel Corry has an item on CBS Sports/NFL regarding his estimate of what RW’s contract might look like that takes into consideration some other factors. I don’t think we can post links, so you’ll have to go there to find it, but it’s front page as of this writing.

  • McGeorge

    Zack,

    First of all, great article. Lots of material here.

    2 – I don’t think Russel Wilson is a great QB. He’s good. But he’s not a stud like Aaron Rodgers.

    3 – I think I came to the opposite conclusion that you did about Russel Wilsons agent (Rodgers). Precisely because he is from an uncapped sport (baseball) he has a fresh perspective. Why not think in terms of cap %, since the cap is rising? And why not seek a max contract? Rodgers may take a tougher line than a football agent, because he doesn’t care about the teams cap structure. My guy is worth X, so pay him or he leaves, no discounts. If Rodgers gets the money for Wilson, then he establishes himself as a big name agent. As a player I’d want him rather than a more team friendly agent.

    4 – Wilson has his ring. Does he want the extra money, or does he want another ring? Everyone is different, and not every QB has a higher earning wife. If Wilson wants to be paid more than any other QB, then he can do it. Play out this year, next year force a tag. Then see what happens. He doesn’t have to go to a terrible team either. There are so-so teams without QBs that would pay him. Then he would go to the playoffs every year, but never win a super bowl because he’s soaking up too much of the cap.

    5 – Maybe good QBs are not making enough. This is opposite to your philosophy, but I think the position is much more important than 20 years ago. The Tier 2 QBs make 16-19, so the Tier 1’s should make 25+. The cap has gone up a lot. Tier 1 QBs add 2-5 wins to their team, so should be paid accordingly.

    6 – at some point a Tier 2 QB will want so much that its worth putting the non exclusive franchise tag on them for a year or two (if that’s allowed). Let another team take them, an get two #1 picks, (or a #1 and a #3)

  • theowl

    Real Nice…

  • nwestr

    Agreed with your result. Given the talk of “outside the box” and “fully guaranteed”, I had come up with roughly the same numbers based on comparison to other QB pay and the reduction of risk to R. Wilson that comes from guaranteed contract. Also, using bonuses has huge cap advantages, and I could see that structured as not just a $30M signing bonus, but perhaps more like a $20+M signing bonus with roster bonuses, playoff bonuses, etc. Either way, helps both player and team get to a good solution and leaves the team some room to remain competitive. A HUGE ISSUE as R. Wilson gets older is that we will need higher quality O-line as he ages, slows down and takes some hits, and that will cost $. So far, so good, but the hits will add up. Look at Philip Rivers, another former NC State player and someone Russell knows and looks up to. Great QB but not surrounded by good talent, and the hits on his body are literally making his life painful. Long term, the key for Seattle (and others) will need to be finding good rookie or cheap talent, and they’ve excelled at finding that or using players in new successful roles. Some discussion I’ve been in has centered around a topic in general: how will P.Carroll, John Schneider and company deal with veterans? They made the most roster changes in history in a single season, essentially cutting their costs while finding cheaper talent. Don’t be surprised if it happens again within 3 seasons. Some of us believe that Pete does not value veterans, applying that college approach of new blood coming in and the old players leaving every 4 years like clockwork. Of course, how long until Pete retires? Could change some things when that happens. He likely just wants Russell guaranteed to be around for a few years to get a 2nd ring, and then they all go in the hall of fame together. Rebuilding will then be left to the next regime – typical.