Seattle Seahawks

Why Russell Wilson’s new deal could still allow Seahawks to keep Frank Clark, Bobby Wagner, too

Russell Wilson got his, Brinks-truck style.

More accurately, entire-fleet-of-Brinks-trucks style.

The Seahawks have secured their franchise quarterback to the team through the 2023 season with the richest deal in NFL history: an extension worth $140 million with $107 million of it guaranteed over four years, with a record $65 million signing bonus and $70 million guaranteed within 12 months of signing. Agent Mark Rodgers confirmed contract figures to The News Tribune early Tuesday.

That deal, if you live under a rock--or simply sleep at normal hours--got done when Wilson announced it during pillow talk with his wife Ciara at 12:44 a.m. Tuesday.

Yes, that’s how it actually happened. Welcome to 2019.

So now what?

One of the big fears of the (so) many squealing Chicken Littles through the complicated process of Wilson getting his contract done right up to his midnight Monday deadline was that it wouldn’t leave money for Seattle to re-sign top pass rusher Frank Clark and All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner to extensions due to them, as well.

Wilson getting the most expensive deal in league history (for now) at $35 million per year, more than double previously scheduled 2019 salary of $17 million, would suggest at first glance the team won’t have future salary-cap space to give Clark and Wagner what they want for 2020 and beyond.

But all signs in the first hours after Wilson got his is that the Seahawks have retained the ability to re-sign all three as their foundational players into the next decade.

There was well-founded belief that proved true: Wilson and his baseball-based agent sought to complete a transcendent third contract with Seattle that redefined elite deals in the non-guaranteed NFL. That they wanted to tie Wilson’s newest contract to the ever-rising league salary cap through annual escalators giving him a certain percentage of the cap each year.

That still has yet to happen in the NFL. Rodgers backed off that escalator-clause demand Monday night, and the deal got done right at the quarterback’s midnight deadline.

Noticeable in the contract figures Rodgers confirmed to The News Tribune at 1:44 a.m. Tuesday: they follow a traditional structure. More to the point, they follow what Seattle has done with all other extensions for foundational players back to Richard Sherman in 2014.

Wilson got $61.5 million guaranteed in his second Seahawks contract four years ago. About half of that was up-front guarantees at signing. The rest were Seattle’s typical guarantees-as-you-go, future guarantees for injury. Those clauses did not become fully guaranteed for Wilson until each March of the last three years of his current four-year deal, which ends after the 2019 season.

That appears to be how this new deal is structured. Seattle-style.

Last year Matt Ryan got a record $94.5 million guaranteed at signing, including a $46.5 million signing bonus in an extension with Atlanta.

Then Aaron Rodgers, 35, re-set the market with his four-year deal last summer to remain with Green Bay. It averages $33.5 million per year, with $98.2 million guaranteed. Of that, $57.5 million was his signing bonus and $78.7 million of Rodgers’ money was guaranteed at signing, according details former agent Joel Corry obtained for CBS Sports. Rodgers’ other $19.5 million became guaranteed this spring, applied to his 2020 pay. So that’s $98.2 million guaranteed within the first year for Rodgers.

Wilson is five years younger than Rodgers, with as many Super Bowl rings.

Ryan, 33, got another $5.5 million guaranteed from the Falcons last month, from a contract clause adding to his pay for 2021. So that’s $100 million guaranteed within the first year of signing for Ryan in Atlanta.

Wilson is three years younger than Ryan, who has yet to win a Super Bowl.

Ryan’s $100 million guaranteed within one year of signing was thought to be the baseline for what Wilson was seeking from Seattle in guaranteed cash.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have not guaranteed second years of Seahawks extensions at the time of signing.

Corry said later Tuesday morning, at a more humane hour, on Seattle’s KJR-AM radio: “I think it’s the standard, more or less standard, Seattle model.”

The $65 million signing bonus is the bulk of Wilson’s $70 million guaranteed within the first year. The other $5 million guaranteed is in Wilson’s restructured salary for 2019.

Wilson doesn’t have his second and third seasons guaranteed up front. That means, per Seahawks usual, per Wilson’s current ending deal and the rest of its $107 guarantees are against injury in the future that vest in spring of that future year.

The idea of an escalator--of tying Wilson’s deal to annual increases in a salary cap the league must still re-imagine in its new collective bargaining agreement after the current one expires with the 2020 season--was “a non-starter,” Corry said. The former agent said Aaron Rodgers tried to get one from Green Bay last year and got nowhere.

That may be the “compromise” agent Mark Rodgers mentioned it took to get Wilson’s new deal done, backing off the escalator idea and agreeing to a more traditional NFL contract structure of signing bonus and future guarantees.

That sets up the Seahawks to get Clark an extension beyond 2019 and the $17 million they’ve committed to him with their franchise tag, and Wagner a multiyear deal at the top of the market for middle linebackers when his current deal ends following the ‘19 season--without using any more salary-cap space for this year.

Of course, that is dependent on what Clark and Wagner will ask for in their new deals.

With Wilson’s deal done, Seattle’s immediate priority is now Clark. The Seahawks have a real, NFL deadline of July 15 to get an extension done with him. After that date, he can only play in 2019 for Seattle on the one-year franchise tag and can’t sign a multiyear deal until after this year ends, per the league’s CBA.

The market for Clark has re-set since the Seahawks gave him his franchise tag last month. It’s likely between the $17 million per year the San Francisco 49ers gave pass-rushing defensive end Dee Ford and the average of $21 million per season DeMarcus Lawrence got from Dallas this month.

Clarence Hill Jr. of McClatchy’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram confirmed Lawrence, the top pass rusher who played under a franchise tag last season for Dallas, received a benchmark $105 million over five years from the Cowboys, with $65 million guaranteed. Those are unprecedented numbers for a position other than quarterback in the passer-and-sack-the-passer NFL.

Lawrence is reportedly receiving $31.1 million in the first year of his new deal. That’s the most cash in hand in year one for a non-quarterback in league history. Lawrence’s cash is $48 million over the first two years, $65 million over three years.

His average of $13 million guaranteed over the five years of his whopping new deal is the highest such figure for a non-quarterback in NFL history.

Yes, Clark absolutely noticed.

And Clark noticed Wilson’s windfall, too.

Wagner has known he must wait until after Wilson got his contract before he could begin serious negotiations with the Seahawks on his new deal.

Wagner said in early January two days after Seattle’s season-ending playoff loss at Dallas he had decided to represent himself in negotiations on what would be his third contract with the team. Seattle drafted him in the second round in 2012 out of Utah State.

So the Seahawks already had a close relationship with Wagner’s side in these talks on what, like Wilson’s, is likely to be the richest deal at his position in the NFL.

Then, last month, the team got even closer with Wagner. Seattle brought back his best friend on the team. Veteran linebacker K.J. Wright signed a two-year contract extension with the Seahawks, after he shopped in free agency. Wright’s deal to return for an eighth consecutive season of playing next to Wagner could be worth up to $15 million with $7 million guaranteed for this year.

Wagner publicly lobbied throughout 2018 for the Seahawks to re-sign Wright. He said last year the Seahawks should reward Wright for always doing things the right way. Things such as not holding out last spring and summer, while now-gone teammate Earl Thomas did and both were wanting extensions on expiring contracts.

When media Carroll was asked late last month at the league meetings in Phoenix about Wagner’s contract ending after the 2019 season, the coach said this about the All-Pro middle linebacker: “Bobby’s going to be a Seahawk.”

The Seahawks let Thomas leave for a new deal with Baltimore this month.

Hours after Thomas signed with the Ravens, the Seahawks re-signed Wright.

“That might have been the best thing we did to negotiate with Bobby,” Carroll told reporters at the league meetings.

“Those guys are great friends, and they’re just warriors. They’ve been through it all together. Bobby was instrumental in the whole process.”

He and Clark remain instrumental to the Seahawks’ plans into the 2020s.

Even with Wilson’s record money.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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