The Seahawks have a new core upon which they intend to build championships.
Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and now Earl Thomas aren’t in it anymore, of course.
Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson absolutely are.
Forget that Wagner’s and Wilson’s contracts end after the 2019 season. That the $43 million All-Pro middle linebacker and $88 million franchise quarterback don’t have new deals yet, and may not before next season begins in September.
They are undeniably the pillars upon which the entire franchise’s future rests. There are no Plan Bs for leaders of the defense and offense, no successors for coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to move on with into the 2020s.
Wagner and Wilson are the team’s foundation stars that aren’t going anywhere.
But about those contracts...
Wilson said the day after this season ended with the wild-card playoff loss at Dallas he would be willing to play the 2019 season as a final year in his contract, without a new deal, “if that’s what I’ve got to do.”
Does Wagner feel the same way?
“Yeah,” Wagner said this week. “I mean, that’s something that I let the business side play out.
“I’m heavily involved in the business side.”
Way more than most players.
In the last year Wagner has dropped his agent. He has decided to represent himself in talks with the Seahawks on a third contract, and on anything else off the field.
He has retained legal and accounting help, “my team,” he calls it. They are with him on a consultant basis, to confirm all the intricate details and legal aspects of his next contract.
There are former Seahawks precedents in doing this, representing himself in negotiations with an NFL team: Wagner’s ex-teammates Russell Okung and Sherman.
The perception is that self representation may not be the best way to go. But Wagner has studied the deals Okung and Sherman have negotiated for themselves with other teams the last three years. Wagner has been impressed. More than that, he likes the principle of a player taking the time to learn the business of the sport to better himself now financially, and for the decades of his life after football.
Going without an agent in the NFL remains rare, and it has had mixed results recently.
Okung negotiated his own deals with Denver and then the Chargers since he left the Seahawks following the 2015 season. He got widely criticized for the deal he signed with the Broncos. Okung had a base salary of $2 million for the 2016 season, with few guarantees and many option clauses. His deal had a team option for 2017 that would have triggered a four-year contract worth $48 million with $20.5 million guaranteed. After one season in which he played through injuries and had costly penalties, the Broncos decided not to pick up the option. He ended up earning a total of $8 million in cash for his one season in Denver, including the bonuses and incentives he negotiated for himself.
Players across the league see the contract Okung negotiated with the Chargers as the lone, shining success story of going the no-agent route, an enticing example of the money a guy can make, not to mention the secondary issue of agent commissions he can save by representing himself.
Okung got a $53 million deal for four seasons with $25 million guaranteed and a $10 million signing bonus he collected when he signed last year. He has earned $13.5 million and $12.5 million in cash the first two years of his Chargers deal. His base salaries of $12 million in 2018, $13 million in 2019 and $13 million in 2020 are the most in his career, by plenty. His previous high was $8.76 million, from the Seahawks in 2014.
Okung did that at age 29 last year. That’s how old Wagner will be in June.
Sherman was representing himself when the Seahawks waived him injured in March, when he was 29 and coming off a torn Achilles tendon. The next day Sherman struck a deal with San Francisco. It was a bet on himself, with big bonuses for making the Pro Bowl, being an All-Pro and for playing time.
In 2018, Sherman was not an All-Pro. That cost him a $2 million bonus. For the second time in six years he didn’t get named to the Pro Bowl. That cost him a $1 million bonus.
He didn’t have an interception for the first time in his career, as he played through injuries related to the Achilles injury and surgeries he had after he last game for the Seahawks in November 2017. He missed out on another $1 million because he failed to play 90 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps (he played 77.9, according to the San Francisco Chronicle).
So Sherman missed out on $4 million in performance bonuses. He earned $8.8 million for 2018. That was 21st among NFL cornerbacks, according to overthecap.com. It was his lowest-earning year since 2013, when he was still under his rookie contract as the Seahawks’ fifth-round draft choice from 2011.
Not exactly what Sherman had in mind when he bet on himself with his self-negotiated deal in March.
Yet the 49ers love Sherman. They have said they are going to pick up the option he negotiated with them for 2019. That will pay him $7 million in base salary with the chance for $2 million more in per-game roster bonuses, which he also had this past season.
Wagner stands to get perhaps $70 million or more in his new deal. Wagner last week was named All-Pro for the third consecutive season and fourth time in his seven-year career.
Carolina’s Luke Kuechley, the only other middle linebacker mentioned to be remotely in Wagner’s class, got $61.8 million in a five-year extension he signed with the Panthers a month after Wagner got his second deal in August 2015.
When will it be Wagner’s turn to see what he can get on his own, from the Seahawks?
“Would I like to be taken care of before the (2019) season? That’d be great,” Wagner said. “If I’m not, that wouldn’t be the end of the world. I understand this is a business, and I am prepared for anything that happens.
“So if they sign me before then, cool. If they don’t, cool, too.
“But, you know, I want to be here. This is where I want to be for my career. This is an amazing city, amazing fans, amazing organization. So I would love to be here.
“I’m going to make sure the business takes care of itself.”
Wagner knows the Seahawks have to re-sign leading sack man Frank Clark before free agency begins March 13. He knows the team then has a $30-plus-million-a-year issue in getting Wilson re-signed.
Wagner will, of course, have a sizable advantage representing himself over what Okung and Sherman had in getting their own deals the last few years. Wagner will be negotiating not with a new team but with the same general manager and coach that drafted him, with the team for whom he has starred and won a Super Bowl over the last seven years.
Make no mistake, this is absolutely Wagner’s team and defense now.
Not only are Sherman, Thomas, Chancellor, Bennett and Avril all gone, Wagner’s linebacking partner K.J. Wright is no sure thing to return in 2019; that’s perhaps a 50-50 proposition at this point.
Wagner could enter minicamps in May as the only remaining member of Seattle’s Super Bowl defenses of the 2013-14 seasons.
Then again, Wagner’s been feeling this has been his defense since, oh, the day he got here seven years ago.
“I think that’s more of an outside thing. I’ve always felt like as soon as you call me the middle linebacker of the team it’s my team,” he said. “So the perception of the outside didn’t get to that point until after everybody left, so it’s not something I pay attention to.
“I just want to do the best I can to run this defense and make sure it’s performing at a high level.”