Only because I care (and had two hours to burn transcribing, I guess). The comments in bold are what I see as highlights:
Mark Rodgers, agent for Russell Wilson, on Seattle’s 710 ESPN Radio May 28, 2015
How’s Russell doing? We know he hasn’t been at the first couple days of OTAs.
“You know what, he’s doing fine. It’s been an emotionally rough week for Russell. Obviously, he was in Miami along with (Seahawks VP of player relations) Mo Kelly for the funeral of Jimmy Graham’s best friend, close adviser, really the mother figure of his life. And Russell got to spend some quality time with Jimmy. And then today there in Jacksonville in fact just sitting down as we speak at the funeral for Cliff Avril’s father.
“You know guys, the death of a family member is obviously hard on anyone. And it resonates a little more profoundly at times with Russell, who obviously lost his father too young. When somebody loses a close family member Russell takes it personally, I think, and feels he has to be there.
“It says a lot about him. But I think it also says a lot about the culture of the Seattle Seahawks. They encourage it and, frankly, promote it.
“Outside of that, he’s doing fine.”
How do you characterize your relationship with Wilson?
“Russell would probably be better to answer how he views his relationship with me. The way I view it is, I have five children of my own. Russell and I have been through a lot of interesting, challenging moments of his life – not the least of which was the day after the baseball draft when his father passed away. In some respects – it’s not something I intentionally did or I walk around saying I’m that guy – but to some extent I think I’ve become something of a father figure, a bit of a role model. From a fatherly standpoint I find myself talking to Russell somewhat like I do to my own children. I have two that have graduated from college, and one is actually the same age as Russell. So I think I get a sense at some point of the things that he’s dealing with.
“But, you know, we together we’ve made a lot of major, major decisions. Obviously, the transfer to Wisconsin is one. Sitting out a year of professional baseball to pursue the NFL draft. Major, life-changing decisions that obviously have impacted him in a positive way. But we’ve grown through those hard times and good times as well together. So I feel very, very close to him. I don’t have a large, large practice, but I try to be as close to my clients as I possibly can. I think at the end of the day in situations like we are in now, he really needs to know you and needs to know, can there be not only a loyalty factor but a huge trust factor. I think that more than anything I would characterize the relationship as being trustful.”
How often have you been talking to the Seahawks?
“You know what? I think the general public at large, the fans, would be surprised at how these negotiations go. Sometimes television and movies glorify negotiations and trials and so forth. We’ve had ongoing dialogue, some of it not being negotiations, some of it being just philosophical and really trying to understand each other’s positions and viewpoints.
“I would characterize our talks as ongoing, fluid, robust at times. Thoughtful. We make progress. I don’t want to mislead people; I love to read and listen to all the conjecture and all the speculation about where these negotiations are. But frankly I think about 95 percent of that speculation has probably been off-point. But I would characterize them as positive and encouraging.”
OK, if it’s been off-point at times let’s set the record straight: What is Russell looking for?
“What is he what?”What is he looking for ultimately? What is the end result of these negotiations?
“You know, I think what he is looking for is what everyone is looking for, and that’s a deal that feels fair and feels reasonable, and at the end of the day makes him feel comfortable with the compensation he’s receiving for the skill and the performance that he’s delivered.”
What’s most important to him? Is it the respect of being among the highest-paid players? Is it winning and perhaps giving some money back to help the team’s salary-cap situation? Is it trying to change the landscape of how football contracts are negotiated?
“I don’t think any of those things are most important. I don’t there is a ‘most-important’ issue. There are a plethora of issues that you have to deal with. The danger in negotiations like this is to get caught up in those kinds of labels: ‘highest-paid player, setting the benchmark for quarterbacks.’ Those kinds of things, you know, they are fine to write about, talk about, have fans speculate about that. But from my perspective you don’t go into it with that as a goal. I work for Russell. At the end of the day… my goal is at the end of the day that he is satisfied with the result, whatever that result is.”
You’ve been labeled a “baseball agent.” How has that affected this process?
“Listen, I’m an attorney first. I went to law school and learned how to practice law and I practiced law in a large firm for seven years. So I like to think of myself as an attorney. So when I was practicing law full time and doing sports part time, a long time ago, I felt like I represented every client on every issue with the same vigor and enthusiasm. And so I think to label me as a ‘baseball agent’ as if thought that might be some kind of defect or a negative, I think that might be inappropriate in this case. I think I understand, I certainly understand the collective bargaining agreement and the salary cap and the issues that are going to be relevant to us moving forward in our conversations with the Seahawks.
“I think the one positive thing – and I don’t know if anyone senses this – but the positive thing at least for the Seahawks is it brings maybe a little bit different perspective to the negotiations. Maybe there are some ideas and thoughts that we implement in baseball, or we use in baseball, that isn’t necessarily used in football. So, again, I don’t know what being ‘a baseball agent’ means, other than I represent a lot of good baseball players; I’ve been blessed in that regard. But again, I don’t think it’s necessarily a fair characterization in a negative way.”
But one issue that may come up here: A big issue in baseball is, do you sign players early or not. Three years of club control, three years of arbitration. Big deals early vs. letting contract play out and go to free agency. What has been your history and what is your philosophy on signing early deals in baseball?
“It’s a great question. I think my history – regardless of what I say and how I answer this question – my history proves that I am a huge proponent of a free-agent, open-market sports economy. In baseball, I think our history has been that the players we have taken to free agency have done very, very well. And the deals we have turned down along the way were not as robust in compensation they were getting. You have to have a special client to do that. I don’t know if it’s necessarily easier in baseball, but I think there’s a history, a larger historical platform in baseball to prove that’s the way to go.
“It’s interesting in your community and you look at Felix Hernandez (Mariners’ pitching ace) and the deal that he consummated back in 2013. It’s a $176 million deal. Again, a sport without a salary cap. A sport that can basically pay whatever it want to keep its players and sign new players. Football doesn’t enjoy that same system. But it does have a system that does reward a free agent; look at Ndamaukong Suh this year and the deal that he did. So there is some positiveness that comes out of that.
“However, at the same you have to weigh all the inequities. At the same time, this is not Felix Hernandez. This is not Ndamukong Suh that we are talking about. It’s Russell Wilson, who is very, very happy to be in Seattle. Loves playing for the Seahawks. Loves playing for Pete Carroll, and understands there is something very special going on in this town re: football and would love to stay with that a very, very long time.”
Where is the leverage for Russell Wilson today?
“Again, if you just do the strictest reading of the collective bargaining agreement the Seahawks have the option of keeping Russell under their own control for four more years (through three franchise tags from 2016-18). You almost forget he’s only played three years, so that would be one year longer than he’s currently played. That’s a system that allows them to do what they need to do to keep their starting quarterback.
“But, again, leverage is a funny word. I think ‘leverage’ is what you think it is. Is it real leverage or perceived leverage? Is it real leverage because the Seahawks control him for four more years? Or is it real leverage because they control him for four more years but Russell could have a franchise tag which is not club friendly. I mean, let’s be honest, the franchise numbers for starting quarterbacks in the league is very, very, very, very high and really is problematic for any team to use.
“So, I’m not looking for leverage. I’m not looking for how I can beat these guys down, nor do I think they are looking for that. I think that (Seahawks vice president for football administration) Matt Thomas and (general manager) John Schneider have done a very, very good job of laying out there system and laying out their approach in these negotiations, to understand completely. I think they understand how I view my client, how I view Russell. As we go through this process I don’t think one side is particularly looking for leverage. And I have to tell you, a lot of times leverage can turn into a threat, and I can tell you that none of our conversations have been threatening, at all.”
John Schneider said Russell Wilson wants to do whatever it takes to keep the Seahawks’ core together and winning and that these talks may therefore be “outside the box.” Is that different now?
“No. I think everything he said there is what John believes absolutely to be true. That’s his story. That’s his mantra. That’s what he’s doing there. I have great respect for John. I understand that’s what he’s trying to do with his club. The idea that he would hope that we would work ‘outside the box’ to keep Russell in Seattle because he wants to have a certain salary structure, I don’t begrudge John for wanting to do that.
“John and I have what I’d say (is) a very professional relationship, and I understand what he is trying to do. I think he is doing a darn good job at what he’s doing. Again, I appreciate John having said those things publically because it gave me a sense what he was thinking long before I had heard it personally.”
Do you feel the same way?
“Oh, I don’t know. Number one, I’m not going to speak for Russell. And what I think doesn’t matter. What really matters are the facts and how this thing as we move on how this plays out so we can get to a resolution that both sides basically get what they want.
“I think that it’s really, really important here – and I don’t think anyone has stressed this: We really don’t have, neither side has any real deadlines. There’s no sense of … I know the public and the fans and some of the media have put a sense of urgency on this. But there really are no deadlines. Russell Wilson is under contract with the Seahawks, and really if he has to would certainly be fine with playing his fourth year with the four-year contract that he signed coming out, and then moving on from there. Again, I don’t feel any particular crunch or any kind of deadlines. Again, from a leverage standpoint, from a threatening standpoint, it just doesn’t feel that way.”
Is Russell Wilson an elite-level quarterback in the NFL?
“Well, you know what, there are a lot of people a lot smarter than I am that have been doing this a long time and are ex-general managers and ex-personnel people – I think you are going to have Mark Dominick on; you can ask him that question. I’m not smart enough to answer that question.”
I ask because how to judge him to assign an appropriate value to a contract? He doesn’t have the huge passing stats but he has a huge number of wins. He does it differently.
“I’m not going to negotiate on the radio on how I would categorize him statistically. But to me, the most important thing about any quarterback – and same thing with the starting pitcher – it’s all about winning. At the end of the day, you could be the greatest quarterback in the National Football League but if your team’s not winning …. There’s value in winning, and I think that’s the key element. I think, for me, I look at how he operates in an offense that in some ways caters to his skills. He is obviously skilled at improvisation, on throwing out of the pocket. His rushing yards speak for themselves. His team’s ability to run the read option. I think that he does exactly what he is expected to do to keep the team to play at the highest level. He takes care of the football. He puts it in the end zone when he needs to. They’ve won an awful lot of games here with him as the starting quarterback. I will tell you this: I am not of the mindset, as some are, that you can put any quarterback in the league and start him for the Seattle Seahawks and they go to two Super Bowls the last two seasons. So be that as it may, I think it still comes down to winning football games, getting to the Super Bowl and ultimately winning championships. I think the fact that he’s won more games than any quarterback in the history of the league in his first three years I think speaks for itself. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact.”
No deadlines? Is he really prepared to play this 2015 season at $1.5 million? The perception is there is so much more on the table.
“Well, this didn’t sneak up on us. Financially we have planned for him to play this year for $1.5 million. So there isn’t any expectation of additional money coming in from the Seattle Seahawks this coming year. Russell doesn’t have a mortgage. He doesn’t have a car payment. We kept those things out of the realm for him because at this point in his life he can’t have those financial obligations because it just doesn’t make financial good sense from a planning standpoint.
“Can he play through it? I will tell you this: The fans and the media are much more concerned with how he’ll handle it than he is. Again, I know you guys probably think I am negotiating here; this isn’t what Russell and I talk about every day. This isn’t something that is foremost on his mind. As you know, he went to San Diego and hired a new trainer, a guy who’s been phenomenal. He’s working on his foot speed. He’s working on his flat-out speed. He doesn’t want to be caught be cornerbacks any more from behind. He’s really worked on strengthening his body for certain skills. His mindset is on getting back to the Super Bowl and win. And really that’s been the predominant mindset. And these negotiations and where they ultimately end up settling is not going to determine how he’s going to approach his day-to-day job, which is being the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. I think you are going to find the same person no matter how much money he is making or whether we do an extension or not. I really don’t. You guys may think, ‘Ah, he’s just saying that.’ I’m not just saying that. I speak to Russell often times several times a day. One of the things is, this is not something he and I talk about on a daily basis.”
How do you think he’s dealing with the public scrutiny, such as analyzing potential “subtweets”?
“Well, you are always going to have public scrutiny, right? Coming from what he’s done and having the success he’s had, coming on the brightest stage, you are going to have public scrutiny. And I think that’s fair. I don’t begrudge fans and the media for speculating on Russell. I don’t begrudge fans for thinking that Russell should do a deal and be here forever. I get that. I was a 12-year-old season-ticket holder for the Miami Dolphins when Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield left for the World Football League and I wrote their agent a letter how he ruined my life, some time ago. So I understand their passion. It’s kind of an offbeat story but it begs the question. I get it. I mean, Seattle Seahawks fans are arguably the greatest fans in the world. They are right up there with Red Sox fans and Cubs fans and Celtics fans; they are just passionate about their team. I get that passion. I understand it. I have empathy for it. At the end of the day, this is the business of football. I understand that too. You have to try to balance all those interests in trying to do what’s right for everybody.”
“New money” vs. total value. Do you see this year’s $1.5 million as part of a new Wilson deal’s total value or do you start it from next year’s “new money”?
“Well, you characterized that question as annoying. I am going to ditto that. I’ll tell you this: I don’t have any idea. Look, if I find a dollar in an old pair of shoes that dollar spends the same way as a dollar I just got at the bank today. So, again, I’m not sure about ‘old money’ and ‘new money.’ I get what they are trying to get at when they talk about it. Money is money. It spends the same way.
“I think – and this is where I think it gets technical and tedious, at times: NFL contracts are complicated, right? There are a lot of details in a contract. Obviously there are signing bonuses and there’s guaranteed money – in football, obviously, guaranteed money. Total value, with quarterbacks’ deals it’s somewhat of a misnomer because total value presumes players are going to make every penny of that deal. You guys know, you go down the history … look at Tony Romo’s deal. Tony Romo has renegotiated his contract almost every, single year. Ben Roethlisberger just did a renegotiation. Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Drew Brees is probably getting ready to do one at some point. And so the truth of the matter is that these contracts for these quarterbacks never get to the end. And there’s a reason for that. Obviously franchise quarterbacks are hard to find, are hard to come by. Look at what happened in the draft this year, you speculate on talent and potential but at the end of the day you feel a lot better having that talent on your team than not having that talent on your team. At the end of the day – it’s a complicated question. People do classes on the salary cap and how money is defined with option bonuses and workout bonuses. It gets very complicated. I think at the end of the day all of that is relevant, all of that is in play. And the key for us is figure out which variety of those and what amounts do we place on each to get a deal done that is reasonable.”
“You know what? I think there really is no particular one next step. Certainly, the next thing that will happen in these negotiations is that Matt Thomas and I will have a conversation --, soon, again -- and we’ll continue to talk about where we’re at, where we might be going and how we might get there. I think that step is taken regularly. Ideally we are introducing new information, at times. Sometimes it’s a new contract. Sometimes it’s a new idea. Sometimes it’s a new proposal. But that’s what’s next.
“Listen, for Russell Wilson’s what’s next is he’s going to get on an airplane today, he’s going to be in Seattle tonight and he’ll be at OTAs tomorrow. And he’s going to continue to work hard at getting himself prepared to be the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks and getting them back to the Super Bowl. That is not going to change, no matter what Mark Rodgers and Matt Thomas and John Schneider do. That’s going to stay the same every day. That’s the best news I can give anybody. I can’t promise anything else. I promise everybody – and I promise my client this – I am going to do everything I possibly can do see this through and get this to a point where he can make a decision whether something is good or bad or they are going to do something or not do something.”
Should Seahawks fans be optimistic a Russell Wilson deal will get done?
“Well, you know, that’s a great question. Number one, I am a Seahawks fan because I love the way the organization is run. As a Seahawks fan, it’s a no-brainer to think that Russell Wilson will be a Seahawk for life. And I tend to be very, very optimistic. I think in our business you have to be. And so as long as I’m talking to the Seahawks it’s with a tone of optimism. So as I long as I am talking to the Seahawks it is with a tone of optimism, it’s with the idea of optimism. If I was pessimistic, or just frankly (it was) where I had no feelings at all on it either way, that would be disappointing because I don’t know how you can bring passion to work if you are pessimistic. So I bring passion to it. You think you can win every game – and I really do.
“The goal here is at the end of the end of the day we have a successful negotiation with the Seahawks.”