Just pay the man. It is easier to build a team around a franchise quarterback than it is to replace one. This is a quarterback-driven league. Those are the sentiments I often hear when talking about the Russell Wilson contract with other Seahawks fans on Twitter. One of my favorite Twitter people suggested I take a look at Aaron Rodgers and how the Packers have been able to amass talent around him even with his fat contract. Okay. Let’s take a look.
Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the game. He won a Super Bowl in his third year as a starter after developing behind Brett Favre for three seasons. That was 2010. Rodgers was 27 at the time, and it appeared certain more championships were on the way when he led the Packers to a 15-1 record the following year. A funny thing happened in the playoffs, though, that year. Rodgers and the Packers lost in the first round to the eventual champion New York Giants.
Some of the flaws in the team that had been obscured by Rodgers exemplary play, like a defense and running game that were shadows of their 2010 selves, were exposed in the playoffs.
The Packers loaded up again in 2012 and won their division. This time, they managed to win a home playoff game against Joe Webb and the Minnesota Vikings before getting soundly beaten by Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.
History repeated itself in 2013 as the Packers won another division crown, but lost to the 49ers again. This time, in the first round. Green Bay beat the Cowboys last year in the playoffs before falling in heartbreaking fashion to the Seahawks.
That makes Rodgers combine record in the playoffs since he won the Super Bowl in 2010 to be 2-3, with just one trip to the NFC Conference Championship, and no return trips to the Super Bowl.
Rodgers is not alone
Many Seahawks fans believe the Seahawks stand a better chance of winning more rings by paying Wilson top dollar and trying to surround him with the best talent they can with the remaining cap space. On the surface, that makes sense. Dig a little deeper and opinions may change.
Tom Brady won three Super Bowls on his rookie contract. After signing his first big extension in 2005, he and the Patriots made the Super Bowl three times in ten years, losing twice to teams with quarterbacks playing on their rookie deals. His one win came against another rookie deal quarterback, Wilson, when that team failed to score from the one-yard line in the closing seconds. Brady is easily the most successful of the big-name quarterbacks when it comes to championship-level opportunities after signing a big extension. Hold that thought, though, while we go through some other examples as there is an asterisk to consider.
Peyton Manning is another guy who has often been called the best quarterback in the league. He has been to three Super Bowls and won once, when he was fortunate enough to face a Rex Grossman-led Bears team. His losses after signing his large second contract were to teams quarterbacked by: Brady (rookie contract), Ben Roethlisberger (rookie contract), Philip Rivers (rookie contract), Rivers again (still rookie deal), Brees, Mark Sanchez (rookie contract), Joe Flacco (rookie contract), Wilson (rookie contract), and Andrew Luck (rookie contract).
Drew Brees signed a sizeable deal with the Saints in 2006 and won one Super Bowl on that contract. He signed a much larger deal in 2012, and his team has made the playoffs just once since then and has not made it even as far as the conference championship. His playoff losses came at the hands of teams quarterbacked by: Matt Hasselbeck, Alex Smith (rookie contract), and Wilson (rookie contract).
Ben Roethlisberger signed his big second contract in 2008, and went on to win a Super Bowl that year. Since then, his team has made the playoffs three times in six seasons, winning just two playoff games. His three losses came against Rodgers (second contract), Tim Tebow (rookie contract), and Flacco (second contract).
Tony Romo is getting mentioned more often in the conversation for best quarterbacks in football. He signed his first major contract extension during the 2007 season. Since that deal took effect, the Cowboys have made the playoffs twice in seven years and never made it to the conference championship. Romo lost against the aged Brett Favre and the Vikings in 2009, and Rodgers last year.
I could go on, but there are two things I takeaway when combing through this information:
Teams built around franchise quarterbacks on their second or third deals have a tough time winning championships
Teams built around a quarterback on his rookie contract often take down teams built around franchise quarterbacks on their second or third contract
Now let’s get back to that asterisk I mentioned with Brady. He did not win another Super Bowl until he restructured his deal to push our money and take less. He was technically the 11th most expensive quarterback in the NFL last year, by cap number, despite being one of the best at his position. Lowering the percent of cap space taken up by your quarterback is crucial to winning championships.
Do not overspend on any one player
Jason Fitzgerald, who owns and writes for OverTheCap.com, penned a terrific piece a few months ago on the percent of salary cap Super Bowl winners spend on quarterbacks. The most a team has ever spent on a QB and won a ring was 13.1% back in 1994. That was the first year of the cap, and Steve Young was the lucky recipient of both a ton of money and a ring.
Since then, only four of nineteen champions have spent even 10% of their cap space on the quarterback position. The average spend is 6.7%. Seattle spent 0.56% on Wilson the year they won, and would have spent even less (0.47%) if they won last year.
Opinions of what the Seahawks should pay Wilson vary, but let’s test a range between $18-25M/year. If the Seahawks use the franchise tag on Wilson next year, it would be around $25M and the salary cap has been projected to be as high as $160M. If that is where things landed, Seattle would be spending 15.6% of their cap space on their quarterback. If they signed him to an extension and were able to push out some of that cap hit so his 2016 cap number was around $18M, they would still be spending 11.3% of the cap room on Wilson.
Careful what you wish for
Seahawks fans want to win like every other fan base. They have seen how hard it is to find a good quarterback who can be part of a championship team. The knee-jerk reaction is predictably going to be that Seattle should pay Wilson whatever the market rate is for franchise quarterbacks and move on.
There is no going back from guaranteed money. It can be a chinese finger trap for teams who want to win it all. Keeping Wilson around at top dollar probably guarantees the Seahawks will at least be an above average team that can win a few playoff games. There is not a lot of evidence to suggest that paying him that rate will result in more trophies coming to the Northwest.
Layer on top of that the fact that Wilson has not proven to be the passer that Brady, Manning, Rodgers or Brees is. He has not yet proven he can be an elite quarterback without relying on his legs for scrambling and rushing yards. Wilson will be 27 years-old when this season ends, and would be 31 at the end of a four-year contract extension. His legs will not be the same, so his ability to pass from the pocket and within the rhythm of the offense will become increasingly important.
John Schneider and Pete Carroll are certainly thinking about all of these factors when they are arriving at a contract value they feel comfortable spending on Wilson. The assumption is that they would be foolish to let a franchise quarterback go because they are the key to winning a Super Bowl. Seeing that 9 of the 20 Super Bowl-winning teams during the salary cap era featured a quarterback on his rookie deal should give folks at least a little pause.
There is a number where the Seahawks would be better to move on from Wilson and take the 2+ first round picks plus cap space. Schneider and Carroll have that number. Seahawks fans should be thankful that they do.