Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks are a perfect fit. He’s the NFL’s best running quarterback, and they have an offensive line that would cripple most quarterbacks who can’t run.
In his rookie season Wilson led the ’Hawks to the playoffs. In his second year he led them to a world championship. In his third season he and they came within a half yard of a second championship.
But the fact that they were left that half-yard short, that Wilson threw an interception that ended the Super Bowl, could make all the difference in determining if they stay connected in the future.
The issue is, in a very low-keyed way, Wilson’s salary. Next to Tom Brady, Wilson is the greatest draft-and-cost bargain in pro football. The Seahawks plucked him in the third round and secured his services for four years at around $3 million total.
They still have him for the upcoming season, at $1.54 million.
So what’s the problem? None, really. Wilson understands that because of his 5-10 ½-inch height, he could not be more than a mid-range pick, with commensurate salary.
He’s not complaining about what fate has dealt him, and he modestly gives all glory to God and his teammates.
But every time he speaks with media, he’s asked about negotiations for a new contract for 2016. Wilson has hinted at wanting what the top – and even not so top — are making, $15 million to $20 million a year, give or take a few incentives, de-escalators and such.
I hate to broach the subject of football salaries because they’re impossible to evaluate precisely, with the signing bonus, the number of years, the guaranteed and the non-guaranteed, the dead-cap space and all. NFL teams hire a “capologist” to sort it all out.
But there’s more to a player’s net worth than his salary. What is a Super Bowl chance worth to the Russell Wilson brand?
Prior to his first Super Bowl, Wilson filmed an ad for American Family Insurance. The CEO of the company wanted Wilson because he had shown America how to “overcome obstacles and achieve your dreams.”
Wilson being a beaming, clean-living, role model, the endorsements go on. When you’re about to board an Alaska Airlines flight, you hear this announcement: “Anyone wearing a Russell Wilson jersey may board now.”
In 2010 Brady was the league’s highest-paid player, at just over $7 million a year, and he has not asked for major increases since. He will earn about $8 million this season. He so thoroughly buys into the team-first dictum of Bill Belichick that he barely taps his potential for endorsement income.
Chicago’s Jay Cutler, the face of overpriced mediocrity, will earn from $9 million to $15 million this year, will play on a bad team and will be seen in very few commercials.
The Hawks hope Russ will be like Tom and accept a discount so they can sign enough other talented players to win another Super Bowl or two or three.
Wilson doesn’t sound as committed to the Seahawks as Brady is to the Patriots. In his media appearances he’s talked about loving Seattle, but he’s also pointed out that he’s a man of the world and that he could be happy in other places besides Seattle.
“I’ve gone through the ups and downs and been moved around before,” he said. He doesn’t want anyone to forget that he left North Carolina State for Wisconsin when he saw an opportunity to play both football and baseball. “I loved NC State and loved playing there, and then having to go somewhere else and start new.”
Not that he will be going anywhere soon.
The Seahawks can slap the franchise tag on Wilson in 2016 and pay him perhaps $23 million, and they could command his rights through 2018.
In 2019 he would be a free agent, at age 30. Not old for a pocket passer, but old enough for a running quarterback to begin losing quickness and effectiveness.
But now we reach the subject of The Interception.
It happened because instead of handing off the ball to Marshawn Lynch, which for unfathomable reasons the coach did not want to do, Wilson tried to do what he does not do well: throw from the pocket into the middle of the field. Here his lack of height impairs his vision and recognition.
Wilson did not see Malcolm Butler jumping the route that Ricardo Lockette was not running very well. Butler intercepted with time about to expire, New England won the Super Bowl, and Wilson’s status as franchise quarterback suddenly seemed murky, following his four picks in the NFC Championship Game.
Truth is Wilson is a below-average pocket passer. He can be bottled up by a team with fast edge rushers and outside blitzers who won’t let him bail out.
As Wilson ages, he will begin to lose the quintessential element of his game, ability to escape the pocket and throw for a first down or run for one.
His skill set is much like Robert Griffin’s before the Washington Redskins quarterback wrecked his knee and his mobility. Wilson was wise to buy an insurance policy to cover himself for injury in the 2015 season.
But are the Seahawks wise to tie their future on an undersized running quarterback?
Seattle right now is the most powerful team in the NFL, assuming Lynch remains healthy and in beast mode. By trading for the rangy Jimmy Graham the Seahawks gave Wilson the ideal red-zone receiver. He won’t have to throw into the middle; he can lob an alley-oop to the corner.
Because they get Wilson at a bargain, the Hawks can maintain the strongest defense in the league. They keep their Pro Bowl nucleus of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Mike Bennett, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
And because Wilson scrambles so well, they don’t need to pay for an elite O-line.
Perhaps Wilson could be happy being paid like the future Hall of Famer Brady, MVP of three Super Bowls. Wilson reportedly earned $7 million last year for endorsements. He would not have made that playing for most other teams.