Bobby Wagner’s Contract Breakdown

Per information provided via Twitter by Joel Corry via Miguel of Patscap we have the full breakdown of Bobby Wagner’s new $43 million contract with the Seahawks. It’s an interesting contract with contract mechanisms that are a bit older in style with an option bonus backed up by a non-exercise fee that not only departs from the most other contracts but also departs from the Seahawks traditional style of contract. Many have made this contract out to the biggest at the position, which it is in terms of annual value, but a deeper look at the deal really points to a two year contract that does trail some of the biggest inside linebackers contracts in some key metrics .

Here is the salary cap breakown of the contract.

The way the option works in this case is the team has a five day window in 2016 to exercise the option. If they exercise the option the 2019 season remains on the books. If not the prorated money will accelerate from that season onto the contract. If they don’t cut Wagner by the day following the option window then they will pay him a non-exercise fee equal to the same amount as the option. Essentially its insurance for the player that he will either be paid or be a free agent.

These were common mechanisms in the older CBA rookie contracts and existed in many veteran contracts until the last few seasons. The last big one I can think of to have something like this was Peyton Manning’s monster contract in 2011 with the Colts. Manning was released when they did not exercise the option. I would guess that in 99% of the cases the options are exercised on the contract. If the player is released after the start of the League Year the option will accelerate in full as if it was paid and the team will receive a credit on the 2017 cap. If released prior to the start of the 2016 League Year then just his signing bonus proration would accelerate onto the cap.

The thing that stands out the most to me is that the contract doesnt follow the more typical pattern of Seahawks deals which have releatively steady salary cap numbers after the year in which the contract is signed. Instead this is a backloaded deal which averages about $6.9 million in the first two extension years and then $13.9 million in the last two years. That indicates to me a wait and see approach by Seattle in which they deem Wagner too important to lose now, but will re-evaluate in three seasons when his cap charge nearly doubles. If the cap rises significantly it won’t be a concern, but if not and/or his play tails off, clearly it is a deal designed to rework or terminate.

From a cash flow perspective this contract is the exact opposite of Russell Wilson’s recent deal. Wilson’s deal technically was a slight market setter over the initial terms of the contract but had a lower number final year to being the annual value down below Aaron Rodgers’. Wagner’s contract is by no means a market setter until you get to the final year. In other player contracts at the position, which had topped out at $10 million per year with Patrick Willis’ 2010 extension, teams paid highly up front but received some benefit down the line in terms of cash. Here are the relevant cash flows:

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4

Over the first two years of the contract Wagner will trail the three biggest most recent contracts at the inside linebacker position. That includes that of Brian Cushing. Even through three seasons he will trail Willis and Timmons. In year four, though, the high salary jumps his value significantly. That fourth year value will be a big benchmark for Luke Kuechly to fly pass when he gets a new deal with Carolina, but expect his front end cash to be closer to that of Willis and Timmons and not Wagner.

Wagner has $3.5 million of his contract tied to games active. I think this was smart by Seattle given the beating that the position sometimes can take which leads to injuries. Cushing  and Willis both missed time in their extension seasons and both had significant money tied up in gameday active roster bonuses. So this is likely becoming a norm for the position.

One other reason that the Seahawks may have pushed more money to the back of this contract, besides possible salary cap flexibility for next season, is to avoid the threat of the hold out from Wagner. Kam Chancellor is already unhappy with his contract and holding out while Michael Bennett is also unhappy. By dangling the backend money at the player in theory they would have less reason to hold out since the contract will eventually catch up with the market. It also gives the team more leeway to simply shuffle money from the back into the present to appease a disgruntled worker.

The Seahawks should have somewhere between $14 and $17 million in cap room next year, depending on how much the cap rises next offseason.