Others have tried, but no one may be in better position to blaze a new trail for NFL players than Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. And the time has come for someone to sign a contract that ties his future pay not to specific dollars but to a percentage of the ever-growing cap.
It’s arguably overdue for a high-end player to achieve protection against the inevitable contract-hopping that happens as the salary cap climbs and, in turn, the market increases. With, as of 2013, the cap embarking on a $10 million-or-more annual jump, long-term deals quickly became obsolete.
That’s precisely why Wilson currently is so underpaid. When signing his latest contract, with a new-money average of $21.9 million per year, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had the top spot at $22 million. Eventually, along came Andrew Luck ($24.5 million) and Derek Carr ($25 million) and Matthew Stafford ($27 million) and Jimmy Garoppolo ($27.5 million) and Kirk Cousins ($28 million) and Matt Ryan ($30 million) before Rodgers pushed the bar to $33.5 million.
Wilson, entering the final year of a four-year extension, must now worry about the same dynamic playing out, in the event he puts his hand one spot higher on an upside-down baseball bat that never quite allows anyone to curl his thumb over the knob. Complicating matters for Wilson is the uncertainty over the multiple sources of potential cap spikes, from a new labor deal to new TV deals to new states embracing gambling — and the NFL turning those expanded gambling pools into new revenue streams.
If the Seahawks want to avoid embarking on a year-to-year franchise-tag dance with Wilson, which would culminate in a one-year tender of $52.43 million in 2022, they likely will need to be willing to give Wilson insurance against spikes in the cap and, in turn, growth in the market that could result in players like Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, and Baker Mayfield leapfrogging Wilson while he works through the years of his third NFL deal.
With the deadline for doing a long-term deal one day away, that’s the wrinkle to watch. Unless the Seahawks are willing to dramatically exceed the current market maximum in hard dollars, it’s going to take a percentage of the cap to get this done.