On the day the Seahawks announced the trade of Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos in March, one of the stated reasons for the deal is that the team said it had been told he was not likely to sign another significant contract to stay in Seattle.
“We were under the impression that there wouldn’t be a long-term extension,” general manager John Schneider said then.
With Wilson having just two years left on his deal, the Seahawks knew that one way or the other, things would come to a head after the 2022 season, the typical time for an extension.
That played a significant factor in Seattle deciding to make a trade sooner rather than later, thinking it could more easily maximize its return with Wilson having two years remaining on his contract rather than one. It resulted in a mammoth haul of eight players — including two first-round picks and two second-rounders — from Denver.
So, some wondered, would Wilson easily re-up with the Broncos, or would he look to maybe hit free agency in a few years, something he’d never done?
The answer came early Thursday morning when it was reported by multiple sources that Wilson had agreed to a five-year extension with Denver worth up to $245 million that will keep him under contract through the 2028 season, when he turns 40 years old.
The average value of the new money on the deal of $49 million ranks second in the NFL behind the $50.271 million of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
And the reported guaranteed money of $165 million is third most in NFL history behind the $245 million of Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson and $189.5 million of Arizona’s Kyler Murray.
The contract marks a significant raise from the last deal Wilson signed with Seattle in 2019, the famous contract agreed to just before a midnight deadline on April 15, 2019.
That contract was due to pay Wilson $140 million over four years ($35 million per season) and, at the time, made him the highest paid player in NFL history. That contract included $107 million in guarantees.
His new deal with Denver begins in the 2024 season, and including the 2022 and 2023 seasons of his Seattle contract that the Broncos inherit, he can make up to $296 million through 2028.
Wilson will receive a $50 million signing bonus and a guaranteed option bonus in March 2023, which means that including his $2 million salary this year and a $5 million roster bonus, he will receive $77 million over the next eight months.
Wilson will get $124 million over the next three years. But after that, there are few guarantees. But following the 2025 season there are no guarantees, and the contract is structured to include little dead money and huge potential cap savings in 2027 and 2028, meaning Wilson will likely either want a new deal before the 2027 season or the Broncos could get out of it. He would seem particularly unlikely to play the 2028 season on this contract as it includes a $50 non-guaranteed salary that year, all of which Denver could save if Wilson were released/traded, with just a $4.4 million dead cap hit.
Some analysts initially considered the deal favorable to Denver, in part because it is not fully guaranteed as is Watson’s with Cleveland, something many around the league speculated future big-name quarterbacks would ask for. And unlike his last deal with Seattle, it does not make him the highest-paid player in the league.
But once the full details were revealed — included the back-loaded final two years — the general consensus is that it was a fair deal for both sides.
Wilson, for instance, got a five-year extension and essentially an assurance that Denver couldn’t get out of the deal until at least the 2026 season. Wilson was thought to have wanted five years in his last contract with Seattle and didn’t get — the Seahawks have not given a contract of longer than four years since before the 2013 season when Percy Harvin got a six-year deal that year and Kam Chancellor five.
Denver had no such qualms, with a new ownership group apparently eager to show fans its commitment and also not potentially risk losing after only two years a player for which it made such a heavy investment to get.
Would Wilson have agreed to a similar deal with Seattle?
Schneider’s comment last March indicated the Seahawks weren’t sure Wilson would agree to just about any long-term contract of any kind, indicative of how the relations between the two sides had frayed.
And if some viewed the contract as favorable for Denver, Wilson gets not only a big immediate payday but also some added security coming off a season in which he suffered the first significant injury of his NFL career, a dislocated middle finger that forced him to sit out three games in 2021.
A question that may never have a real answer is whether the Seahawks would also have considered Wilson worth that much as he heads the second decade of his career assuming he had wanted to stay in Seattle — he turns 34 in November.
Seattle won the Super Bowl in Wilson’s second season with the Seahawks in 2013 and advanced to another in 2014, taking advantage of Wilson’s rookie contract — he made $526,217 in 2013 and $662,434 in 2014.
Wilson signed a four-year, $87.6 million contract in the summer of 2015. That came in the wake of big contracts handed in 2013 to Chancellor and in 2014 to Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, and a few days before Bobby Wagner got a new deal, all with salaries at or near the top of their position.
Those contracts severely crimped the team’s salary cap from 2015 on, and while you can point to a lot of reasons why, the reality is the Seahawks haven’t been back to a Super Bowl since.
And in the wake of the Wilson trade last March, both Schneider and coach Pete Carroll talked enthusiastically of all the added ammo the team now has to try to put together another winner.
“It’s exciting,” Schneider said. “We have a lot of cap flexibility, draft flexibility. It’s exciting.”
Indeed, while Wilson still counts $26 million against Seattle’s cap in 2022, he comes off it completely next year, with the Seahawks having a listed $52 million in 2023 by OvertheCap.com — currently fifth most in the NFL — and then a whopping $127 million in 2024.
Then there are all those players, including three Seattle got from Denver — tight end Noah Fant, defensive end Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock — and what turned out to be four players in this year’s draft after trading one of the picks. Seattle also has Denver’s first- and second-round picks in 2023.
Of course, what Seattle doesn’t have is a proven quarterback.
Denver does, willing to pay a whopping sum — both in players and money, regardless of if the deal may be somewhat favorable to the Broncos at an initial glance — to get and keep one.
If nothing else, the two team’s different tactics will prove a fascinating case study in how to go about building an NFL team, beginning with Wilson’s return to Seattle for the regular season opener on Sept. 12.