Russell Wilson went from being the most underpaid quarterback in football to being perhaps the second-most overpaid, with all due disrespect to Jay Cutler.
Good for Russell Wilson, not good for the Seattle Seahawks.
The undersized underdog, a lowly third-round draft pick, in three years has quarterbacked his team to three playoff berths, two Super Bowls, one world championship. So by any measure of team success, he’s worth his $87 million over four years – $31.7 mil guaranteed.
That puts him, by most assessments, second to reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers as the highest-paid player in the league.
Wilson is media-friendly, fan-friendly, and everybody loves a winner, especially one who has to overcome a size handicap. As Wilt Chamberlain famously said, “Nobody loves a giant.” Though he later claimed a couple thousand women loved him, if only for a night.
But with his sub-5-11 stature, Wilson has difficulty throwing over the pass rushers and into the middle of the field. He’s nowhere near the quarterback Rodgers is. He’s nowhere near the quarterback Tom Brady is, and Brady makes less than half what Wilson does.
So go figure. I’m not sure you or I or anyone can.
It’s not easy to evaluate quarterbacks, though perhaps easier than evaluating guards or tackles. It’s wonderful to have those ratings from Pro Football Focus, but I still doubt Evan Mathis is the second-best guard in the National Football League. I tend to believe Chip Kelly and the other coaches who aren’t eager to have him on their team.
Yet with Mathis, nobody is discussing his leadership skills. All you ask is that he block the guy in front of him and not bully his teammate at right tackle.
With quarterbacks, we demand Intangibles. By definition, intangibles are unseeable and unknowable. But they are the basis of Wilson’s contract.
Brady and Wilson speak almost identically about the measure of a quarterback being not yardage and TDs and QBR. It’s all about winning championships, they tell us. We can count those, but with all the analytics in the IT world we still can’t calculate exactly how much the quarterback had to do with them.
Last season the Seahawks’ defense gave up 4.5 yards per play – least of all NFL teams. Their defense has more swagger than Donald Trump, and I don’t see Wilson having much to do with that. But that defense sure makes his job easier. He rarely throws under all-out pressure.
Some of Wilson’s teammates say the key to their offese is Marshawn Lynch, who last year rushed for 1,306 yards, caught for 367, scored 17 touchdowns and kept 8 men in the box. How much credit does Wilson deserve for smooth handoffs to BeastMode and properly deceptive play-action?
Seems to me the quarterback’s job, besides facilitating and motivating, is making strong, accurate passes. Fortunately we get precise, if impossibly complex, passer ratings. Last season Rodgers ranked second in NFL passing efficiency (behind Tony Romo). Brady ranked fifth. Wilson was ninth.
Wilson even trailed Ryan Fitzpatrick. I know, that fact alone pretty much demolishes my argument about passer ratings being definitive.
We all know Wilson throws better than Fitz, backup to the maligned Geno Smith of the New York Jets until the latter suffered a broken jaw Tuesday when punched by teammate (now ex-teammate) Ikemeluna Enemkpali.
What I’m too slowly getting around to saying here is that with quarterbacks you can’t just look at the numbers. You have to watch the games.
One thing we saw in video of the Super Bowl, with accompanying audio: Wilson and Brady were in total command on the field. They were quick of mind. And inspirational. The teams all but levitated from their leadership.
How a quarterback behaves in the huddle counts for something. Frank Gore, one of football’s best running backs for the past decade, thinks it counts a lot. He created a stir by gushing over the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck: “a different breed. . . . He runs the huddle. I never had that.”
What a quarterback does away from the field also affects those elusive but all important intangibles ratings. There are rumors Wilson is not as well liked in the locker room as he was before doing $7 million a year in insurance and airline endorsements and dropping hints about wanting a massive contract.
Chucking four interceptions in the NFC Championship Game and one on the Super Bowl’s final play (granted, a play his coaches never should have called) did not enhance that loving feeling.
And there are the inevitable comparisons to Brady, who would rather earn $7 million a year, do very few commercials, and win multiple Super Bowls for the New England Patriots. Of course, it helps to have a wife, Gisele Bundgen, who’s worth $300 million as a world-class model.
But Brady, an even lower draftee than Wilson, understands the value not just of a spectacular, fabulously wealthy wife, but also of much less attractive, poorer teammates.
He’s seen Peyton Manning put up better stats but push so hard for mega contracts that there’s not enough payroll left to assemble a Super Bowl champion.
The Deflate-gated Brady, by taking much less than he could claim on the open market, leaves millions for other Patriots, which mastermind Bill Belichick so shrewdly distributes. The money, though enormous, is limited by salary cap rules. It must be spread around.
“Can’t keep everyone,” Seattle’s Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner tweeted the day before he signed a 4-year, $43 million extension.
Starting defensive tackle Tony McDaniel was one they couldn’t keep. He was cut to save $3 million against the salary cap.
All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor wants to restructure a deal that guarantees him $12 million over the next two years. He feels strongly enough to accrue more than $300,000 in fines (so far) for missing training camp as he holds out.
What the ’Hawks have going for them is coach Pete Carroll, who’s passionate and effervescent and can keep a team focused on team, if anyone can.
Carroll said the struggles over contracts “can be a problem.” But he added, hopefully, “I think we find a way to work through all the issues.”
Wilson could have made it easier by adopting the Brady way. Even All-About-The-Money Peyton volunteered for a $3 million cut this year to allow the Denver Broncos more cap space. A quarterback who truly wants a ring may need to undervalue himself a little. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think Wilson did that.