Russell Wilson, will you move some money around so we can get you a three-time Pro Bowl left tackle to more safely protect your $88 million blind side?
Not yes but “Oh, hell yes!”
That is a fair estimation of how the Seahawks’ conversation may have gone with their franchise quarterback, to request he help fit about-to-be-acquired Duane Brown under the team’s salary cap.
A league source with knowledge of the deal told The News Tribune Tuesday morning Wilson has agreed to turn $6.26 million of base salary into a bonus prorated over the final three years of the four-year, $87.6 million extension he signed before the 2015 season.
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Andrew Brandt of Sports Illustrated’s themmqb.com first reported Wilson’s accomodation early Tuesday morning.
Wilson created $4.1 million of salary-cap space for the Seahawks to add Brown, the veteran left tackle for whom Seattle has agreed to trade cornerback Jeremy Lane and draft picks to Houston.
The trade is done in principle but as of Tuesday morning was not yet official and had yet to be approved by the league. That is expected to happen by the league’s trading deadline of 1 p.m. Tuesday for an official announcement after that.
Wilson has the most renegotiable contract on the Seahawks. He was earning $12.6 million guaranteed in base salary this season. He had been scheduled to earn $6.67 million over the remainder of this regular season: his base pay divided by 17, the number of pay weeks in the season, times the number of games remaining (nine). Now he gets that $6 million-plus upfront in the cash bonus.
The Seahawks did that to spread his $6.26 million across the next three years, instead of it all counting in 2017 in base-salary form. NFL salary-cap rules prohibit proration of base salaries but allow it for bonuses, across the life of the contract up to a maximum of five years.
The team and general manager John Schneider did this with top wide receiver Doug Baldwin last month, hours before they acquired Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in a trade with the New York Jets. Baldwin moved $6.975 million of his $7.75 million in base pay into a signing bonus that the Seahawks are now prorating over the final three years of the $46 million extension he signed before last season. That freed $5.2 million in cap space.
These cap-proration moves are essentially kicking the can down the road in that the cost comes later rather than now. It’s an example of a more win-now approach than Schneider and the Seahawks have had before this. That was when their core players were still in their mid-20s and still in rookie contracts that were much more cap-friendly, or were ending those first deals.
These Seahawks (5-2) realize the NFC is wide open to win. Green Bay is without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers, likely for the entire season because of a broken collarbone. The only team in the conference with fewer losses, Philadelphia (7-1), is heading to Seattle for a game to begin December.
Now Wilson, Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and others in that home-grown core are at or nearing 30 and in their bigger-bucks second contracts. That makes their cap numbers bigger and the cap space tighter to add expensive veterans. These Seahawks have more immediate, critical holes than their previous, Super Bowl teams. The offensive line Brown is helping is the team’s weakest position group. Richardson arrived after Seattle lost their top rookie draft choice from the defensive line, Malik McDowell, to a serious ATV accident this summer.
Wilson’s move does not mean the Seahawks aren’t also getting an extension done with the 32-year-old Brown.
That’s what I read into Schneider’s comment Monday when confirming the trade was pending: “We want him to finish his career here.”
That suggests a team-friendly extension beyond 2018, back-loaded with later cap charges and front-loaded with bonus cash for this year and next.
If an extension for Brown were to be through, say, 2020, it would not necessarily be a new, three-year contract the Seahawks and Brown intend to fully honor past his 35th birthday. It would be three more years beyond this one solely for cap purposes, to prorate any up-front, cap-friendly bonuses over those three years and would involve hefty base salaries in the additional years that the team doesn’t truly expect to pay.
Under the contract the Seahawks inherited from Houston, Brown is owed $4,976,470 for the final nine games of this regular season, from the $9.4 million salary he had for 2017. That deal has one season and a non-guaranteeed $9.75 million remaining on it for 2018--and is the reason he held out for the Texans’ first six games until reporting last week and making his season debut on Sunday against the Seahawks. Heck, Brown’s salary is just below the $8 million Seattle is paying left guard Luke Joeckel for this season, after he failed at left tackle with Jacksonville last year. Joeckel is now out at least another month following knee surgery. No wonder Brown wants more comparable pay, given the market for--and dearth of--quality offensive linemen around the league.
But the Seahawks had just an estimated $1.4 million in available salary-cap room entering Monday. No team wants to go to zero or near it on its salary cap during the year, because it has to guard against contingencies such as injuries and signings from practice squads, etc. So Seattle had to create room.
Wilson’s restructuring puts more cash in his sizable wallet now. And you can be assured he was not only happy but giddy to do it, to get a 2012 All-Pro left tackle protecting him.