It’s one thing to try to impress the 12s with winning football. It’s another thing to impress an audience of one — Russell Wilson. The Seahawks need to show their quarterback that the recent tumult on the roster and the coaching staff will make him better off long-term in Seattle than anywhere else. Even if it would be far cheaper to start over with a rookie.
Two things happened independently in the last week that likely would put a (?!) in a thought bubble above Wilson’s head regarding his view of the future in Seattle.
None of the Seahawks’ nine draft picks was dedicated to a wide receiver, an obvious position of need, and the NFL quarterback market suddenly reached a level of madness that many supposed was in the middle distance — a $30 million average annual value.
When the Atlanta Falcons signed Matt Ryan, 32, to a six-year, $169.25 million extension, they made him the NFL’s highest paid player — including a $46.5 million signing bonus, part of $94.5 million that’s fully guaranteed.
According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, the new-money value of the deal reaches $30 million annually. Here’s his breakdown:
1. Signing bonus: $46.5 million.
2. 2018 salary: $6 million, fully guaranteed.
3. 2019 option bonus: $10 million, fully guaranteed.
4. 2019 salary: $11.5 million, fully guaranteed.
5. 2020 salary: $20.5 million, fully guaranteed.
6. 2021 salary: $23 million, $5.5 million of which is guaranteed for injury only at signing. The $5.5 million becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2019 league year.
7. 2022 roster bonus: $7.5 million, due third day of 2022 league year.
8. 2022 salary: $16.25 million.
9. 2023 roster bonus: $7.5 million, due third day of 2023 league year.
10. 2023 salary: $20.5 million.
11. All guarantees have no offset language.
There’s no point to drawing real-world analogies to these numbers; the absurdity has all been identified before. Nor is it much better to wonder if the Falcons bosses are nuts; clearly, they think they can can still get a bath out of the water remaining with Jabba the Hutt in the tub.
But with Wilson’s contract expiring after the 2019 season ahead of his 32nd year, he will be in position to get a larger deal than Ryan’s. How such a load will fit into the Seahawks’ priorities of defense-first, run-game-second isn’t clear, but I wouldn’t want to be handed the crowbar and asked to fit everything in.
The Seahawks this off-season had more holes to fill than draft choices to do it with. But with the offensive line relatively set from a year ago, adding only D.J. Fluker in free agency to fill at right guard, they helped fix the offense by using a first-round pick in a running back, Rashaad Penny, and and a fourth-round pick on a block-first tight end, Will Dissly.
The choices reflected coach Pete Carroll’s determination to get back to his religion of ground-pounding, a faith that helped the Seahawks reach back-to-back Super Bowls. As hard as it is to argue with the plan, it worked well not only because Wilson was an excellent QB almost from the start, he was very inexpensive with his rookie contract. His second contract, signed in 2016 that pays him $24 million in 2018, almost seems like a bargain now.
But the investment in a running game, which in theory helps Wilson by controlling the clock and reducing the pressure for weekly fourth-quarter miracles, also limits his chances. It appears that the passing game is going to be shorted.
Behind returnees Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks added free agent Jaron Brown, a tall (6-3), serviceable free agent who caught 86 passes in five seasons as a backup at Arizona. He signed for two years and up to $5.5 million. Beyond Baldwin, mystery remains.
The passive passing game was underscored this week with news that free agent Brandon Marshall, 34, was visiting the Seahawks, who also added to their 90-man roster for training camp Demore’ea Stringfellow, 23, former University of Washington bad boy whose poor judgment has compromised his large body (6-2, 220) and talent.
Marshall, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who played only five games for the Jets last season because of an ankle injury, and was in decline before that, seems an unlikely candidate. So too for Stringfellow, who transferred from UW to Mississippi after being found guilty of assault during campus parties in 2014 following the Seahawks win in the Super Bowl. He was with the Dolphins and Jets last season but never made the field for a game.
There’s nothing wrong with kicking tires, and even a signing of either guy would be cheap. But the Seahawks are back shopping at the remainders table. The salary cap leaves them little room for what the Seahawks have determined to be a luxury.
No team gets to fill all their needs in one off-season. But the Seahawks, for a variety of reasons, had a lot of needs immediately for a team insisting upon annual contention. Wilson will never betray publicly any unhappiness with the changes, because he’s Wilson. Still, an 8-8 or 7-9 record ahead of his contract season will not impress him or his agent.
There’s always the chance that the revamped running game will benefit Wilson more than it takes away from his game. But Wilson has re-upped once with the Seahawks, and he will never be more coveted than heading into his contract year as a fully developed, mature star who knows how to stay healthy.
The audience of one awaits.