For the second time this year, Russell Wilson is on the 1-yard line with time running out and the chance to reach paydirt. In the Super Bowl, Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called a pass instead of a run. This week, it's Wilson's call.
If Wilson doesn't reach a contract extension by the opening of training camp later this week, he is likely to play out the season for $1.542 million and await the likelihood of getting a franchise tag next February. It's not that the Seahawks want to shut down negotiations on a long-term extension -- Wilson is their most important signing. But talks won't extend into camp.
Logic says Wilson and the Seahawks will agree to a deal. He's arguably the seventh- or eighth-best quarterback in the league. And while the team behind him has played a huge role, the results are there. He's 36-12 during the regular season, 6-2 in the playoffs and has been to two Super Bowls. He has made less than $3 million since coming into the league as a third-round pick. He deserves to get paid, and the Seahawks aren't low-balling him.
But if they don't reach a deal, the decision is his. Wilson hinted publicly he wants something in the range of $25 million a year. Aaron Rodgers is the league's highest-paid player, with an average annual salary of $22 million. While the Seahawks might be able to finesse some kind of deal that might get the average slightly over $22 million, Wilson could still have to accept a deal much less than he believes is his market value.
According to sources, the Seahawks would be willing to give him a contract worth a little less than that of Ben Roethlisberger, who is the league's second-highest-paid player at $21.85 million a year. That deal established this year's top quarterback market. Roethlisberger has three Super Bowl appearances and two rings, and he's coming off a season in which he threw for 4,952 yards and carried a team with a defense in decline.
The market for $24-25 million quarterbacks is next year, when the cap is expected to increase by as much as $10 million. Timing is everything when the cap is involved. And that's the crux of Wilson's dilemma: waiting could be costly. First, he would lose the $18-20 million he might be able to bank this season. Second, his bargaining leverage could be neutered by a nonexclusive franchise tag that could be around $20.3 million or less, depending on the 2016 cap number.
The nonexclusive tag does give his agent the ability to find a team willing to give him a tender worth signing. That team would have to be willing to part with two first-round picks. While Wilson might be worth two first-rounders to a number of teams, interested teams might not be willing to go that route knowing the Seahawks would probably match.
We can play out a hypothetical: Let's say another team is willing to give Wilson a four-year deal for $100 million in 2016. With Wilson making only $1.542 million this year, that deal will still allow him to make only $101.5 million over the next five years (including 2015), an average of $20.3 million. That's less than what the Seahawks are reportedly offering now.
To match what the Seahawks are offering now, Wilson would need a four-year deal (starting in 2016) averaging $26 million per year. Andrew Luck, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers probably don't even have the clout to take the numbers that high.
One thing that has to be annoying to Wilson, though, is what the Seahawks can give him in 2015. Roethlisberger received a $31 million signing bonus. Cam Newton was paid $31 million this year. The Seahawks probably can't go to more than $20 million in cash this year because of the salary cap (they have $9.27 million in cap room). Suffice it to say, things are tight.
If it's important for Wilson to get $25 million this year, the team might be able to work out something in a five-year deal to stretch out the signing bonus pro-ration.
The clock is ticking. Wilson is always looking for the big play. Not getting $25 million a year would be disappointing to him, but we will find out this week whether he is willing to take a "checkdown'' instead of gambling too much downfield.
From the Inbox
Q: It seems every year every teams begin the year with players suspended. Is there any concern that the games will be watered down? Maybe the league should implement a random draw to the start week of suspensions rather than have all of them start in Week 1.
From Rick in Springfield, Missouri
A: The commissioner's office might not have a concern, but the league will suffer if the suspension list fills up too much. Week 1 isn't the problem, though. The problems are created more in Weeks 3 or 4. Last year started with 15 starters on the injured reserve list league-wide and 24 more players who came out of the preseason with injuries that kept them out for openers. Because training camps are so light on contact, injuries start mounting by the third and fourth weeks of the regular season, and injuries and suspensions could push teams to the breaking point. With suspensions getting longer, the loss of any good starter has an impact. Teams that draft well find it hard to get more than two or three starters out of any year. The combination of injuries and suspensions to starters definitely pulls down a team's chances.
Q: In the past when a player received a penalty for excessive celebration after a touchdown it seems like that's always been enforced on the kickoff; but do teams have the option to have it enforced on the extra point based on the new line of scrimmage?
From John in Spokane, Washington
A: Teams don't have that choice. It's the decision of the referee. If given the choice, the coach of the other team still might elect to take the kickoff option more often. You are talking about one point on a kicking conversion. Moving the kickoff back 15 yards gives the receiving team great field position. Great field positioning could lead to a touchdown drive or a field goal drive. It would be interesting to poll some coaches to see which would be their preference. Gaining a better chance to score three or seven points seems to make more sense than trying to take away one point from the opposition, unless that conversion was at the end of a close game.
Q: Has anyone ever thought about having a "JV" league where the players from the practice squads have a Friday night game? They can travel with the team be available if needed on Sunday and play in the same city. Shorten the games and have 7-on-7 so that you don't have to have too many players.
From Kevin in South Windsor, Connecticut
A: There are plenty of problems with that idea. It would be a safety risk to have practice squad players practice all week, travel and then play a game. The practice squad players are part of a union and are being paid by the week. A developmental league would have to be a separate entity with additional pay. Using a 7-on-7 format wouldn't develop players for the 11-on-11 game they are hoping to play. Good thought, but that would a little too risky.
Q: With safety a paramount issue, why doesn't the NFL extend the season but keep the same number of games? The season can start earlier and the Super Bowl can be pushed back to March. This way, teams will get more byes in the season, allowing players to recuperate more while fans will have football for more weeks. What do you think?
From Gerald in Singapore
A: Such an extension would water down the Sunday schedule. Take a look at those weeks in which there are six teams on byes. There aren't enough good games to draw ratings on Sunday afternoons. Plus, extending the season into March would also have a wearing effect on the game. Safety is a big concern, but the NFL needs to keep a good product on the field for its fans. Owners now realize they can't get an 18-game schedule from the players. Because of that, the 16-game schedule will remain in a 17-week window.
Q: Clearly the Seahawks are not too interested in giving Russell Wilson the money he deserves. What do you think of a trade with Atlanta where Matt Ryan goes to Seattle and Wilson goes to Atlanta? Both get a fresh start, which Ryan clearly needs, and Wilson may need after this season if he doesn't sign a long term deal. As a long time Falcon fan, I love Ryan but not sure he will/can get the job done and Wilson may be just what the Falcons need to kick start their offense.
From D in Augusta, Florida
A: The Falcons have full faith Matt Ryan is the right quarterback for the franchise. Think about this for a second: If Ryan couldn't pull out a winning season in the past two years, how can Wilson make them better? Both quarterbacks are among the 10 best in football. As I stated earlier, Wilson might be tempted by a contract that is richer than Ryan's and all other quarterbacks not named Rodgers or Roethlisberger. Wilson works well with a great running back and a great defense. The Falcons don't have those assets at the moment. Such a trade just doesn't make football sense.
From Sterling in Fort Worth, Texas
A: I don't see that happening if they keep a fullback on the roster. They seem to be content with Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar. Ryan Williams has shown some flashes in practice, but I'm not sure he can make the team. If they keep only two quarterbacks -- which is likely -- they might have the wiggle room to keep a fourth RB, but that player would have to have value on special teams. If they can find that type of player, they could keep four runners.