Russell Wilson's extension will be steep -- if it happens at all

Russell Wilson is signed with the Seahawks through the 2019 season. He figures to make some serious bank in the form of an extension or by getting the franchise tag in 2020. Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire

Russell Wilson is in line for an extension and a massive raise from the Seattle Seahawks now that his current contract has only one year left.

Coach Pete Carroll said at his end-of-season news conference that signing Wilson to a new deal is "very much in our plans." But contracts of this magnitude don't come together easily. Just look back at what happened with Wilson's previous negotiation, when his current extension wasn't agreed to until the eve of the deadline that his side had imposed.

And given the particulars of the situation, there's hardly any guarantee that a deal gets done this time around.

Here's what you need to know about what figures to be the most significant storyline of the Seahawks' 2019 offseason.


Who's the best running QB?

The NFL Live crew debates which franchise QB is a better runner: Russell Wilson or Cam Newton.

How it got to this point

The fact that the Seahawks and Wilson's side had yet to begin any known negotiations on an extension as of the end of the season doesn't mean much at all.

For one thing, it's been the Seahawks' M.O. under general manager John Schneider to extend only players whose contracts have no more than one season remaining. Wilson, signed through 2019, is only now eligible for an extension under that approach.

One of the sticking points last time around was the length of the deal. After Wilson signed his current deal before the 2015 season, his agent, Mark Rodgers, told reporters that the Seahawks agreeing to an extension covering four years instead of five was a breakthrough in negotiations that had dragged well into the summer. The team wanted the extra year of club control knowing Wilson's contract would become a relative bargain in its later seasons given the league's rising salary cap and quarterback market. For the same reason, Wilson wanted to get back to the negotiating table a year earlier, which he got.

If the Seahawks made that concession, why would they be in any hurry to break from team precedent and extend Wilson with more than a year left? Even if they were interested in getting ahead of some of the other quarterback mega-deals, it would only stand to reason that Wilson would want to wait for Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan to reshape the top of the market first, which they did.

So here we are.

What kind of money is Wilson looking at?

The short answer: easily north of $30 million in new-money average, assuming a deal gets done.

When Wilson signed his current extension, his $21.9 million average ranked second among quarterbacks behind Rodgers' $22 million. Wilson has since fallen to 11th (see chart). Of the 10 quarterbacks ahead of him, only Rodgers has a higher career passer rating. Rodgers and Joe Flacco are the only two ahead of Wilson with more playoff victories, while none of the quarterbacks ranked third through sixth in annual average have won a playoff game. Wilson has won eight postseason games, including a Super Bowl.

ESPN's Mike Sando anonymously polled NFL agents and executives for a recent column about Wilson's next contract.

A hypothetical extension proposed by one agent was worth a fully guaranteed $140 million over four years. The $35 million average would put Wilson ahead of Rodgers as the NFL's highest-paid quarterback. The agent noted Jimmy Garoppolo getting $27.5 million per season from the 49ers despite only seven career starts as a reason why Wilson should come in well ahead of that average.

An executive suggested to Sando that Wilson should seek a three-year extension worth $100 million. The $33.33 million average would rank just behind Rodgers. The executive arrived at that number by factoring in what it would cost to place the franchise tag on Wilson in 2020 and 2021 (more on that in a bit).

Wouldn't a large extension hamstring the Seahawks?

Any team that devotes such a large percentage of its available cap space to one player is going to have a harder time retaining and adding other expensive pieces. But the simple counterpoint is that a team isn't going to go very far without an elite quarterback no matter who else is on the roster.

The more nuanced response requires some math.

When Wilson signed his current extension in 2015, the $21.9 million average represented 15.3 percent of the $143.28 million salary cap for that season.

The NFL announced in December that the 2019 salary cap is projected to be between $187 million and $191.1 million. Let's split the difference and assume a $189 million cap for next season.

An extension averaging $33.33 million would represent 17.6 percent of that amount. It would be 18.5 percent with an extension averaging $35 million.

The Seahawks have managed to continue fielding playoff-caliber rosters while paying Wilson at his current rate. There's no reason to think they wouldn't still be able to do that if his next contract takes up a slightly higher percentage of the salary cap, though it would make it even more important to hit on draft picks.

Wilson's value in a run-heavy offense

Wilson reaches eligibility for an extension coming off one of the best of his seven NFL seasons. His 35 touchdowns (tied for third in the NFL) and 110.9 passer rating (third) edged his previous bests, while his seven interceptions tied his career low. His yards-per-attempt average of 8.08 (ninth) was a hair behind his career high.

All of that came on 427 attempts. That was Wilson's fewest since 2013, his second season, and it ranked last among all 32 teams.

That Wilson did all that damage on so few attempts speaks to how efficiently he threw the ball last season, but it has led some to wonder whether the Seahawks should make him the NFL's highest-paid quarterback or put him near the top to operate a run-heavy offense that asks him to hand off more than throw.

When the question came up on Carroll's weekly radio show, he shot down the idea that Wilson is any less important to the Seahawks because of their style of offense.

"To say that to run the football means that you don't have to have a good quarterback or that you're just running the ball, we are so enamored with these other numbers that everybody wants to cheerlead about," Carroll told KIRO-AM 710 ESPN Seattle after the Seahawks' playoff loss to Dallas. "Let's win football games, let's play good, winning style and show the consistency and show the ability to play great ball all the way across the board -- offense, defense, special teams, the whole thing that it takes to play a great season and get a great championship run going. That management of that, that instrumental part of the quarterback position is just as important on our team as it is on any other team. I don't think it should be diminished because of the rushing numbers."

To Carroll's point, only Tom Brady (83) has more regular-season victories than Wilson (75) since Wilson entered the league in 2012. They're also first and second, respectively, when including playoff wins into the total.

The line of thinking that the Seahawks might be better off not giving Wilson a mega-deal because of their offensive style would make more sense if he were a quarterback Seattle was winning in spite of, not because of. And it ignores one important reality: that even the massive savings that would come with a cheaper quarterback might not outweigh the drop-off in efficiency Seattle could suffer by going from Wilson, 30, to someone else.

Why a deal might not get done

The extension the Seahawks gave Carroll in December could be seen as a sign that business is running as usual now that Jody Allen has assumed control of the team following the death of her brother, Paul Allen. The Seahawks are not expected to be sold anytime soon, which eliminates what could have been a roadblock to a deal for Wilson.

But there are other factors that could work against it. This is where the franchise tag comes into play.

Based on the 120 percent rule used to calculate franchise-tag values, the cost to tag Wilson would be $30.34 million (120 percent of Wilson's scheduled 2019 cap number) in 2020 and then $36.41 million (120 percent of $30.34 million) in 2021.

Let's get hypothetical. Say negotiations reach an impasse because Wilson insists on being the highest-paid quarterback but the Seahawks refuse to go that high and/or the two sides can't come anywhere close on the amount of guaranteed money. That would open the door to Wilson playing out the final year of his current deal, which calls for a $17 million salary, then getting consecutive franchise tags in 2020 and 2021.

On one hand, the $30.34 million and $36.41 million would be unwieldy figures without the benefit of spreading out the cap charges over multiple seasons. On the other hand, though, the Seahawks could view it as having Wilson under control for the next three seasons at a palatable average of $27.9 million.

From Wilson's standpoint, the two franchise tags would represent a significant raise and would average out to only a hair below what Rodgers makes. Since a third tag would be out of the question, that route would set Wilson up to be a true free agent at 33, younger than Rodgers was when he signed his extension last summer. Wilson just saw Kirk Cousins leverage two franchise tags into a fully guaranteed deal that briefly put him atop the quarterback salary list at $28 million per season. Imagine what Wilson could get if he plays the year-by-year game then hits the market in 2022 with a much better résumé.

As Sando pointed out, Wilson had made only $2.2 million in salary and bonuses when he was negotiating his current deal. This time, he has less financial incentive to take a deal and all the guaranteed money it comes with now that he's banked more than $72 million in NFL money since then.

The bottom line: Each side could view the franchise-tag route as a viable.