The Seattle Seahawks pulled off a blockbuster trade on the first day of the NFL’s free agency period, trading away a first-round pick and center Max Unger to the New Orleans Saints for tight end Jimmy Graham.
The deal filled one of the Seahawks’ biggest weaknesses, receiving threats. However, it may have also created a small problem for the person responsible for getting Graham the ball, quarterback Russell Wilson.
Russell Wilson is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is scheduled to make just $US1.5 million this season, mere peanuts for a starting quarterback in the NFL, especially one who has led his team to the Super Bowl twice. This is also the first off-season in which Wilson is allowed to renegotiate his contract and there were some early signs that the Seahawks were prepared to make Wilson the highest-paid player in the NFL.
However, the addition of Graham makes the Seahawks’ already precarious salary cap situation even trickier and it is starting to look like they won’t be able to fit a record-setting deal into the payroll without doing something extremely unique.
Prior to the start of free agency, the Seahawks had about $US25 million in salary cap space with $US3-4 million of that needed for rookies selected in the NFL draft.
Unger and the player drafted with the first-round pick would have combined to count as ~$US6.9 million against the Seahawks’ salary cap. Meanwhile, Graham will take up $US10.2 million of Seattle’s cap space. The difference is not huge (~$US3.3 million), but it moves the Seahawks’ cap situation in the wrong direction.
OverTheCap.com estimates that the Seahawks have just $US14.5 million in space left after the first two days of the free agency period.
If the Seahawks are going to make Wilson the highest-paid player in the NFL, that means a contract with an average annual value of at least $US22 million, which is what Aaron Rodgers’ contract with the Green Bay Packers is priced at.
Rodgers’ cap hit in the first year of his deal was only $US11.7 million. So it is not impossible for the Seahawks and Wilson to still work out a new deal.
The traditional way to make these contracts work is a big signing bonus and with a long contract. The signing bonus’ impact on the salary cap is spread out over the length of the deal, lessening the impact. But the type of signing bonus Wilson will command will still make things difficult for the Seahawks in 2015.
Another option would be to forgo a huge signing bonus, give Wilson a ho-hum salary for the 2015 season (say $US5 million or so) and then give him gradually larger salaries in the subsequent years that are fully guaranteed.
That would fit in the 2015 salary cap for the Seahawks but would also set a dangerous precedent for the NFL that other teams won’t want.
The Seahawks can still get a deal done with Wilson, but the situation is growing trickier by the day and pretty soon, Wilson may be forced to play one more season for next-to-nothing, or hold out and force the Seahawks’ hand.
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