Seahawks’ Wilson seen going from NFL bargain to $120 million man – Chicago Tribune

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2015

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Russell Wilson is one win away from claiming a second Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks in his first three National Football League seasons. The undersized third- round draft pick is also a step from becoming the highest-paid quarterback in league history.

Wilson, 26, has been among the NFL’s most underpaid players for the past three seasons, making just more than $2 million total in base salary and signing bonuses while leading the Seahawks to a 42-13 record and three straight playoff appearances, including a second consecutive Super Bowl trip.

Fifty-two other quarterbacks made more money this season than Wilson, whose team-friendly rookie deal has allowed the Seahawks to pay for a deep roster that has them in position to become the first repeat NFL champions in 11 years. That payroll flexibility in Seattle is going to change, especially if Wilson and his teammates hoist the Lombardi Trophy again after beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Feb. 1.

“It puts him in that $120 million club, clearly,” Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick, now an analyst for the NFL Network, said during an interview in Phoenix. “People go, ‘Is one player worth that much?’ Nobody is worth that much. But in today’s market, that’s what you pay. That’s the going price. And it’s going north.”

Wilson can become the 11th quarterback in NFL history with multiple Super Bowl titles and the first with two in his first three seasons as a starter since Brady, who has three overall.

Listed by the Seahawks as 5-foot-11, Wilson is four inches below the average height for an NFL quarterback, yet perhaps no player in the league has come up bigger in crucial situations in recent years. Wilson’s 15 fourth-quarter comebacks are the most of any quarterback in the NFL over the past three seasons, and he has a 6-1 record in the playoffs. His football instinct and dynamic, elusive style of play led Patriots coach Bill Belichick to compare Wilson to Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, a two-time Super Bowl winner for the Dallas Cowboys.

“He’s the most exciting, cerebral young quarterback I’ve seen,” said former Pro Bowl receiver Cris Collinsworth, who will help call Sunday’s game for NBC. “He has a way of creating magic in the biggest of moments.”

The Seahawks are willing to pay to keep him happy, has reported, citing unidentified people involved in the situation who say the team this offseason will give Wilson a long-term extension that makes him the league’s top-paid quarterback. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers currently averages $22 million a year with his five-year, $110 million contract, while Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints all have annual salaries of more than $20 million. Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos averages $19.2 million.

Flacco and Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears signed contracts with a total value in excess of $120 million, while quarterbacks Rodgers, Ryan, Brees, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers and Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys all have deals worth $100 million or more. Former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci said Wilson’s next deal will probably move him to the head of the list.

“That’s what the market is,” Mariucci, who’s now an analyst for the NFL Network, said in an interview. “You pay a quarterback to win games. It doesn’t really matter if he’s 6- foot-6 and can sling it from the pocket, or if he’s doing something with his legs or his smarts. You pay them to win, and he’s done that better than anybody.”

Wilson, 10-0 in his career when facing opposing quarterbacks who have won Super Bowl titles, said this week he hasn’t thought about his next contract and that he’s just blessed to be part of a special team. Wilson is making about $817,000 in salary and bonuses this season, far less than the team-high $11.2 million made by left tackle Russell Okung.

Seahawks General Manager John Schneider said he’s indeed thought about Wilson’s next contract, though he hasn’t yet met with the player’s representatives to talk dollars.

“It’s a huge piece of our puzzle going forward for our offseason,” Schneider said in an interview at Super Bowl media day as fans chanted “Sea…Hawks” from the stands behind him. “We have a lot of different models that we work with, we just have to figure out where it’s going to go.”

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning this season accounted for more than 15 percent of the $133 million salary cap the NFL imposes on each team. Brady’s $14.8 million in salary and bonuses this season is just over 11 percent of the Patriots’ player payroll. Wilson takes up less than half of 1 percent of the Seahawks’ salary cap.

As a result, a new market-value deal will present challenges for the Seahawks going forward, Schneider said.

“We might not be able to dip into free agency like we want to here and there, or compensate someone else on your team as much as you want to,” he added. “But the fact that we’ll continue drafting players and playing young people should help us compensate for whatever that level of compensation is.”

That will surely affect the depth of a team that’s had the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense for three years running to compliment Wilson’s playmaking ability and Marshawn Lynch’s physical rushing style.

“At the end of the day, you can’t keep everybody,” said Billick, who led the Ravens to a Super Bowl win in 2001. “The pie is only so big and that’s a pretty big piece of pie.”

Mariucci said there’s bound to be a transition for the Seahawks, pointing to the Ravens and 49ers — who played in the Super Bowl following the 2012 season — as examples after the hefty new contracts given to Flacco and Kaepernick. The Ravens went 8-8 the year after they won the Super Bowl, while the 49ers missed the playoffs at 8-8 this season.

“Something has to give,” Mariucci said. “You’re not taking away young guys that make the minimum. You’re taking away veterans who make a substantial salary to compensate for that large amount for the quarterback. But you take into consideration — is he the voice and the face of your organization that you’re proud of? The answer is absolutely yes. It’s a slam dunk that they pay him whatever it requires.”

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