Every day that draws closer to the March 17 start of NFL free agency ratchets up the frenzy around the future of Russell Wilson, compounded by the unclear futures of fellow top-tier QBs.
The latest is a report Friday from the Chicago Tribune that the said the Bears, the apparent least likely of four teams to which Wilson supposedly would accept a trade (also, the Raiders, Cowboys and Saints), “have prioritized making a run” at Wilson, although sources were neither identified nor quoted.
But as with each team, it’s complicated.
If the Seahawks want in return an accomplished veteran QB, the Bears can offer only Nick Foles, 32, who was beaten out at season’s end by the oft-maligned Mitch Trubisky, who’s a pending free agent. The Bears have the 20th pick in the first round, which likely won’t be enough to get a top-tier rookie QB.
The Bears also are currently about $7 million over the salary cap. They certainly can cut players and restructure the contracts of others to fit in Wilson’s $19 million cap hit in 2021, but can they do so without diminishing their chances for the quick success for which Wilson lusts?
Cap problems are worse for the Saints, even after Drew Brees said he would play for the minimum veteran’s contract (if he returns instead of retires). Despite that help, the Saints are currently more than $40 million over the cap.
Regarding the Cowboys and Raiders, they seem to have QBs of sufficient merit to carry on next season, even if Wilson would be an upgrade.
Cowboys boss Jerry Jones seems to want to keep Dak Prescott, 28 in July, although the Cowboys face an NFL deadline of Tuesday to use the franchise tag again, which this time means a pay increase to $37.7 million for 2021. In Las Vegas, GM Mike Mayock gave an endorsement for QB Derek Carr, 30 this month, for what it’s worth. At least it’s someone in this circus who’s willing to publicly offer a declarative sentence.
One thing that remains unchanged is the largest financial impediment to trading Wilson now: The $39 million hit to Seattle’s 2021 salary cap.
The massive lump sum would nearly freeze the Seahawks’ ability to improve the roster from what is anticipated to be a good class of middle-tier free agents released by other teams in order to survive the pandemic-induced drop in the salary cap. All teams must be cap-compliant by March 17, the start of the league’s business year.
That doesn’t mean that Wilson can’t be traded later, only that his place as a fixture of consistent success is attractive to free agents who are good enough to have choices among multiple destinations. A settled QB situation in Seattle likely would be a tiebreaker among comparable offers.
All of these factors lead me to think that Wilson is more likely than not to remain a Seahawk for at least this season. But since we’re all having semi-fun with this Speculation-
O-Rama in which Wilson directly plunged us, what if another team made an offer the Seahawks couldn’t pass up?
Like, say, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The idea comes from Tony Softli, a longtime NFL executive and former Huskies star who contributes to 950 KJR radio, with whom I chatted on his Pylon & Sticks podcast.
In possession of the No. 1 draft pick that will be Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, said to be the best QB prospect coming out of college since Stanford’s Andrew Luck in 2012, the woebegone Jags would seem set for transformation. They have 11 draft picks and a league-high $85.2 million in cap space.
The Jags undoubtedly have spurned numerous offers for the pick. But they have an ambitious owner, Shad Khan, who has seen one winning season in the past 13 and is sick of the NFL basement. From this interview with Sports Illustrated, he understands his obvious football needs.
Khan is a Pakistan-born American billionaire who bought the Jags in 2011 and, at 70, is probably eager for success now, rather than later. He’s also big into soccer, as is Wilson, a minority owner of the Seattle Sounders. Khan owns Fulham FC of the English Premier League. Among the most worldly of NFL owners, Khan has had the Jags in the NFL’s annual sojourns to London more than any other team.
He’s probably someone good to know in case a guy might have ambitions to build a global brand.
Imagine Wilson in his first season helping turn a 1-15 team into playoff-caliber, then a Super Bowl contender in the second year, then winning it all in year three. Sounds like one or two MVP awards might be found in that scenario, if one were into that sort of thing.
The third year also happens to be the final year of his current contract. Wilson then could be a free agent at 36. To put that in NFL terms, that’s one year younger than Aaron Rodgers when he won the 2020 MVP award.
If Wilson needs some personal insight into the Jags’ potential, the offensive coordinator is Darrell Bevell, his direct boss in Seattle when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl. Bevell recently hired as pass-game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who as recently as October was directing in Seattle the highest-scoring offense in the NFL.
Jeez. What a thing it would be to be able to listen into that three-way Zoom conference. Ah, but that would break the NFL rule against tampering, as well as federal law against eavesdropping.
However, we can add that Bevell and Schottenheimer were hired by head coach Urban Meyer, who is new to the NFL but has a long college history marked by instant success wherever he went (Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State). And in the pros, there’s none of those gosh-darn NCAA rules to follow.
If the Seahawks were to acquire the top pick and take the 6-foot-6 Lawrence, they would be getting Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded prospect in the past seven drafts.
He was 34-2 as a starter, having lost only in the College Football Playoffs (as a sophomore, to LSU in the Championship, and as a junior to Ohio State in the semifinals). As a freshman, Lawrence helped beat Alabama for the title. Lawrence completed 66% of his career passes for 10,098 yards for 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also rushed for 943 yards and 18 touchdowns.
As to the question of why Wilson would go to the NFL’s second-smallest market, there’s something to keep in mind.
The sports world has changed since the days when big and small market designations mattered. Developments in social media make more and more irrelevant any geographic distinctions and local marketing. Anyone living anywhere can be an influencer on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. Today, for many things, there is one market — the globe. As much as any athlete, Wilson is hip to the new world.
If the economic impacts of the pandemic have taught us anything, it’s that many jobs in many businesses can be done by workers regardless the location of their desk and chair. Wilson is not so fortunate, but he is well-compensated for his annual 16 Sundays at the office.
Which gets us to Wilson’s wife, Ciara, who often gets mentioned as a reason he might gravitate to a bigger market, for the benefit of her singing career. Again, irrelevant.
The couple already spends a good chunk of the NFL off-season in a second home in the entertainment capital of the world. That doesn’t need to change regardless of where Wilson works. She can also afford to fly via private jet to any gig, anywhere.
So yes, the idea of Lawrence for Wilson is plausible. Kinda depends how audible one’s clock is.
I have no idea what else may go into such a trade. I also have no idea whether Wilson would expand the list of tradable teams. I just can’t see a reason why that wouldn’t happen. In Seattle, the arrival of Lawrence also would, with unnatural quickness, take much of the sting out of losing Wilson.
As for the notion of an old coach taking on a rookie starter at quarterback, well, I’ve seen it work at least once before.