Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson continues to say nothing publicly about his negotiations with the team on a new deal. Privately, the big question in the aftermath of Cam Newton’s five-year, $103.8 million extension becomes whether the Newton package will set the floor or the ceiling for Wilson’s contract.
Although Wilson is due to make roughly 10 percent of what Newton was scheduled to earn in 2015, they had identical leverage prior to Tuesday; both were one season away from free agency, and both of their teams were facing the question of whether to sign the quarterback to a long-term deal now, whether to wait, and ultimately whether to use the non-exclusive or exclusive franchise tag to keep the quarterback in place for another year.
It doesn’t matter that Wilson was a third-round pick and the Panthers plucked Newton at No. 1 overal. It doesn’t matter that Newton has played four years and Wilson has played only three. Both were 16 regular-season games away from activating the franchise-tag launch code, which becomes the ultimate barometer for leveraging a huge deal.
Two years ago, the Ravens faced that dilemma with quarterback Joe Flacco. Instead of risking a team like the Browns signing Flacco to an offer sheet and gladly giving up a pair of first-round pick under the non-exclusive version of the franchise tag or starting down a path that gets very expensive in a three-year window under the exclusive version of the tag, the Ravens opted to give Flacco $100,000 more annually than the $20 million per year deal quarterback Drew Brees squeezed from the Saints the prior summer.
The Seahawks will nevertheless call the Newton deal the ceiling for Wilson. But Wilson will regard it as the floor. Especially since Wilson’s goal will be to set the bar not only higher than Newton but also higher than Aaron Rodgers, the current leader in “new money” average with $22 million annually.
If, as agent Mark Rodgers recently explained, Wilson is ready to play out the final year of his rookie contract, that necessarily will position Wilson to do better than Newton, if Wilson gets through the coming season physically unscathed. Newton traded a final season of injury risk for a new deal now; if Wilson carries that burden until his current contract expires, he’ll have more leverage than Newton — and thus Wilson will be in position to get more money.
The challenge for the Seahawks becomes persuading Wilson to manifest his “Go Hawks!” tendency by taking less money in order to allow the franchise to put better players around its franchise quarterback. Newton’s deal makes that even more challenging, especially since the contract was negotiated by Bus Cook, who previously represented Russell Wilson.
With Newton and his two straight playoff appearances going first, Wilson and his two straight Super Bowl appearances will surely be motivated to eclipse Newton. And if the Seahawks won’t do it, Wilson will wait another year to get the compensation he believes he deserves.
Especially since he’s already been waiting for three years to get paid.