Sweep your eyes across the Seattle spring sports landscape, and prepare to have them spinning spirals. Not long after the Washington Huskies won a game in the NCAA men’s basketball tourney for the first time since the Great Permian Die-Off, the Mariners and Sounders started seasons nearly spotlessly, while the Seahawks in their off-season are running scared.
Hey, U.S. politics are upside down. We should be used to disruption by now.
Regarding the Seahawks, lord and master of regional sports, the descriptor “running scared” might be a tad dramatic. But anytime the career course of the franchise quarterback reaches a narrow mountain switchback, looking over the cliff’s edge is as irresistible as it is scary.
As you likely know, QB Russell Wilson’s self-imposed deadline to complete negotiations for a contract extension is Monday. Speculation is intense, facts are few.
The chances of him remaining a Seahawk near-term seemed good no matter what, since he’s under contract for 2019, and then the Seahawks can afford to pay him under single-year franchise tags in 2020 (about $30 million) and 2021 (about $36 million).
But since news broke of Wilson’s deadline — the Seahawks have known since January that he didn’t want extension talks dangling over his head for months — a couple of developments have ratcheted up the tension, underscored by an incontrovertible and inconvenient (for Seahawks fans) truth.
At 31 in November, Wilson — right here, right now, ahead of the draft April 25 — is at the apex of his athletic value. Healthy, experienced, smart, successful, a proven leader and fourth-quarter master coming off the most efficient season of his career, Wilson as a talent would be coveted by 78 of the other 31 teams.
OK, he isn’t as fast as he was. Make it 3o of 31 (Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes is out). But any club would have to pay him eventually as the game’s most expensive player, at around $35 million a year. So that would knock out one or two more teams.
Besides the robust market for Wilson’s services, the Seahawks recently have had to entertain the notion of replacing two other star players, WR Doug Baldwin and DE Frank Clark.
Coach Pete Carroll told reporters last month that Baldwin was booked in April for surgery to repair a sports hernia, apparently his third or fourth surgery of the off-season, including shoulder and knee problems. Entering his ninth pro season, and 31 in September, Baldwin’s 192-pound body has had a battering.
“There’s never been anybody that’s tougher and more able to come back from whatever challenges have been,” Carroll said of Baldwin. “He’s been extraordinarily adept at figuring out how to return from, and understand the circumstance of, being banged up. So if he could, he will.
“But it’s a been a challenging off-season for him. He’s had a lot of stuff he’s been working on. This latest one is going to take some time again.”
Regarding pending free agent Clark, the Seahawks used the franchise tag in March to secure his services for 2019 at $17 million, hoping to work out a long-term extension before a July 15 deadline imposed by NFL rules. But after that, the Dallas Cowboys set afire the market for edge rushers by giving their own DeMarcus Lawrence a $105 million deal over five years, with $65 million guaranteed.
Since Clark is a year younger than Lawrence and had better pass-rush numbers in 2018, it figures that Clark rates a slightly better deal. Which is great for him, grim for the Seahawks. It’s why rumors swirl about the Seahawks considering trading Clark.
Because in addition to Wilson and Clark, the Seahawks are also needing to extend the contracts of two vital defenders, LB Bobby Wagner, 29 in June, and fast-improving DT Jarran Reed, 27 in December.
While it is true that all NFL clubs must make similar difficult choices, the Seahawks are likely unique right now: They seek to offer extensions simultaneously to players who are considered top-five at two vital positions, quarterback and linebacker, as well as accommodating a premier young pass rusher at the most important position besides QB. Plus, they have a long-term keeper in Reed.
This moment arrives ahead of a draft in which they have a club-record-low four draft choices with which to patch holes.
All of which more than justifies Carroll and general manager John Schneider running scared. They are peering over cliff’s edge, wondering if they can survive the crash of trading Wilson.
Wilson’s apex value means they can fix multiple holes at once, and perhaps get a veteran QB to make the transition quicker. But if they draft a rookie QB, they return to that pivotal business sequence in 2012: Drafting a franchise quarterback who plays on a cheap rookie deal, allowing them to build a roster that reached consecutive Super Bowls.
To make the consequences plain, here it is in a sentence: In 2019, the Chiefs have a cap hit for Mahomes of $4.4 million. The cap hit for the Packers with Aaron Rodgers is $26.5 million.
If I were the Seahawks’ dons, I’d do the easier thing: Stick with what I know in Wilson, franchise-tag him twice, then see after 2021 whether something more than microbial life still exists on the planet.
But I don’t know what kinds of players/picks are being offered right now for Wilson that might get the Seahawks back to the future. They might choose to do the hard thing, for a more optimistic future.