Nobody is covering the Russell Wilson contract discussion better than Danny O’Neil. He made a terrific point a few days ago that was so insightful, it was begging for further discussion. O’Neil brought up the parallels between Wilson and another megastar Seahawk who completely outplayed his rookie contract. Richard Sherman was an even lower pick than Wilson, and is arguably ranked higher at his position in the NFL than Wilson is. Even the most ardent Wilson backers would have trouble arguing he is the best quarterback in the NFL. Sherman has plenty of ammunition to make the case that he is the best corner in the game. There was plenty of reason to think Sherman’s contract negotiations could have gotten ugly. Yet, Sherman signed his extension by early May last year. Poking at why Wilson’s negotiations are different may help us learn a bit more about the principles of all the various players.
Before you throw out the comparison to Sherman altogether, let me try to explain why that would be misguided.
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Sherman was drafted later and paid less than Wilson, but has been considered among the top two players at his position since his second year in the league. Quarterbacks are considerably more valuable than any other position on the field, but cornerbacks are essentially tied for second in value with linebackers (skewed by pass-rushing 3-4 LBs like Aldon Smith and Von Miller), so it is not like Sherman plays fullback. The 2015 franchise number for quarterbacks was $18.5M. It was $13.1M for corners. What does all this mean? Sherman had an even better case than Wilson to ask for top dollar at highly valued position.
O’Neil is operating under the premise that part of what is delaying the negotiations is that Wilson and his agent are asking to tear up the fourth year of his rookie contract and pay him like an elite quarterback this season. It is not as greedy as it might sound. Wilson would say that he should be paid more over the next five years than Cam Newton or Ryan Tannehill. He is right.
But nobody tears up a rookie contract. Schneider drafted Wilson cleverly and the team was rewarded with both wins and cap space to spend on other positions for four years. Schneider and the Seahawks are not going to feel guilty that they drafted Wilson and gave him a shot to become the player he is when no other team did. They want to reward Wilson by giving him a fat contract extension that would kick in after his rookie deal is done. That is a pretty justifiable position as well.
Sherman took a different road
Schneider and Sherman had what appears to be a far more aligned perspective. Sherman signed a 4-year contract extension on May 7th last year that temporarily made him the cornerback with the most guaranteed money in the NFL. He would soon be eclipsed by Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden, but he got the respect he was seeking from Seattle without asking the team to upset their 2014 salary cap by altering his rookie deal.
Had Sherman demanded (and received) a new contract instead of a contract extension, Seattle may not have made the Super Bowl last year. Players would have been cut. It is possible that extensions to Cliff Avril and K.J Wright that were signed last season may not have happened.
If Wilson does want to get his base salary renegotiated for this 2015 season, there will be similar fallout if Schneider capitulates. Maybe Brandon Mebane has to go, or Tony McDaniel, or Bobby Wagner cannot be signed.
Nobody can say for sure if Wilson is asking for that, but the way O’Neil explains it makes sense. If true, it certainly makes it hard to reconcile Wilson’s team-first public persona with his contract stance. Sherman chose to take the Seahawks offer as respectful and had a broad enough worldview to operate within the structure of the CBA instead of fighting to amend it just for him.
Sherman chose to take the Seahawks offer as respectful and had a broad enough worldview to operate within the structure of the CBA instead of fighting to amend it just for him.
Seahawks and Wilson are not alone
Wilson was part of the 2012 class that was the first brought in under the new CBA that structured rookie deals this way and eliminated any renegotiations until year four. He was not the only player drafted after the second round to stand out.
T.Y. Hilton has been among the best receivers in the game since he came into the league that year as a 3rd round pick. All signs point to him playing out his fourth season without signing a new contract.
Alfred Morris was drafted in the 6th round and has easily been the best player on a sorry Washington offense. There are no indications that he will be signing a new contract before his rookie deal ends.
Danny Trevathan had been a great starter for Denver before his injury last season. No new contract appears to be coming before the season.
J.R. Sweezy was a 7th round pick who has started since his rookie year, and we have yet to see him sign anything to this point.
This is the first draft class to go through this process. General managers and agents around the league are trying to set precedents that serve their interests. Tearing up the last year of a rookie contract is definitely a precedent Scheider would not want to set. The ball is in Wilson’s court to follow his teammates lead.