The deadline arrives in three days. If, as of April 15, the Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson haven’t worked out a new contract, what happens next?
One possibility, as casually tossed into the fray by Jack Del Rio on Monday, is that the Seahawks will decide against doing the year-to-year franchise-tag and trade Wilson, before the start of the 2019 regular season. Whether it would happen this year or next year (when holding his rights would entail a $30.34 million franchise tag), the philosophical question becomes whether the Seahawks would choose to give up a franchise quarterback in order to avoid devoting so much cap and cash space to a franchise quarterback.
Ever since the 2011 labor deal made it dramatically cheaper to pay high-end rookies quarterbacks than top-tier veterans, the possibility has been percolating of a team consciously saying “no thanks” when faced with the prospect of paying a healthy franchise quarterback. The Ravens became the first team to blink after the 2012 season, opting to making Joe Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in league history in lieu of applying the franchise tag and risking that someone would sign him in exchange for a pair of first-round draft picks. (Someone would have.)
That process continued, with teams finding ways to keep a quarterback they had drafted and developed in lieu of drafting and developing another one. It ended (sort of) when Washington paid franchise-tag money twice to Kirk Cousins and couldn’t/wouldn’t do it a third time, when his $24 million payday from 2017 would have spiked to more than $34 million for 2018. But Cousins isn’t really a franchise quarterback, which is why Washington wasn’t really interested in paying him big money on a long-term deal.
With Wilson entering the final year of his second contract and the Seahawks staring at an or-else proposition of $30.34 million in 2020, $36.4 million in 2021, and $52.43 million in 2022 under the franchise tag, the question becomes whether the Seahawks would simply do what the Raiders did with linebacker Khalil Mack, punting on the future Hall of Famer, picking up multiple high-round picks, and rolling the dice on a rookie quarterback, whose overall cap burden would give the team the kind of maximum flexibility it enjoyed when Wilson was operating under his rookie deal in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Big Cat and I discussed these dynamics on Friday’s PFT Live. For me, the final answer remains simple: The Seahawks gave Russell Wilson a market-value deal in 2015, with a new-money average only $100,000 per year below the $22 million in annual compensation that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was earning at the time. If the Seahawks did it before with Wilson, they’ll likely do it again — especially since they surely knew where things where heading financially with Wilson when reconfiguring the team with the quarterback becoming the nucleus of the roster in 2018.
Still, at some point, someone will do with a healthy quarterback what the Colts did with an injury-riddled Peyton Manning seven years ago. Someone will quit paying huge money to the current quarterback and pay peanuts in comparison to an unproven rookie. For Indy, having the right to Andrew Luck made that easy. For the Seahawks now and for other teams in the future, the analysis may not be as clean, especially if the quarterback hasn’t had four neck surgeries and if the team doesn’t hold the first pick in a draft that features a can’t-miss quarterback prospect.
Under any other scenario, the risks will be extremely high. The coach and G.M. who give up on a franchise quarterback will be pushing the chips of their careers into the middle of the table, riding all future employment on a rookie who will be under immense pressure to perform immediately. It will make for an interesting situation for fans and media to monitor, but it also could derail a franchise that would otherwise be in playoff contention every year, if only it found a way to keep paying its franchise quarterback.