Russell Wilson took off his blue helmet, trotted over to Ciara standing along the sideline and hugged his glamorous, pop-star girlfriend. Then he pumped his fist toward a couple of thousand roaring, adoring fans screaming on the grass berm a few yards away.
At that moment, at the end of the Seahawks’ first training-camp practice, the quarterback could have run for governor of Washington.
The most popular of these two-time NFC-champion Seahawks is now their richest.
Seattle signed its franchise quarterback to an $87.6 million, four-year contract extension Friday at team headquarters. The deal includes what agent Mark Rodgers said is $31.7 million guaranteed at signing.
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That includes $20 million paid in 10 days and $11 million in a deferred payment on April 1. Rodgers told The News Tribune that part of the reason for the “split” signing bonus is to benefit Wilson on taxes. There’s a renegotiated 2015 base salary from $1.54 million on the last year of his rookie contract down to $700,000 fully guaranteed.
Wilson, 26, also gets $29 million more in future guarantees as long as the 2014 Super Bowl-winning QB stays healthy.
Wilson’s total guarantee is $61.5 million. That’s a whopping 70.2 percent of the contract’s total value.
“I’m happy to be a Seahawk. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Wilson said following practice. “It’s a blessing to be here on a championship-type team. ... I was always believing that it would work out. I always believed that I wanted to play here, obviously, so it was exciting.”
Rodgers said a key to the deal was getting four years instead of a more team salary-cap friendly five years. That means Wilson can become a free agent for even more riches at age 30 in 2020.
“(This) puts him in a situation where he’s still a young man and he gets an opportunity maybe to talk about another contract down the road,” Rodgers said. “You don’t do a contract necessarily thinking about the next contract. But I think that’s the big difference between a four-year extension and a five-year extension. That’s a long year. That was a bit of a goal and I think we got there and he was pleased with it.”
Or, as Wilson put it Friday: “Pretty cool.”
Yes, 87.6 million ways of cool, in fact. His average of $21.9 million per year from 2016-19 is the second-highest in the league behind the $22 million for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Not shabby for a supposedly too-short, third-round draft choice from Richmond, Virginia, North Carolina State and the University of Wisconsin. The son of the late former Dartmouth football and baseball player who got a preseason shot with the 1980 San Diego Chargers, Wilson arrived in Seahawks’ minicamp in the spring of 2012 as the team’s third-string passer.
“I always believed it. I’ve always believed in being where I am today,” Wilson said. “It’s something I’ve always visualized. My dad used to always talk to me about it. My dad used to always talk about Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, because Allen Iverson was from Virginia. Guys saying they used to visualize the shot going in or success or whatever. Guys like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, those type of people. They’ve always talked about it.
“I just kind of had to let go and trust that it was all going to be handled the right way. And it was, and it’s been a fun thing for me.”
It’s the result of what Rodgers said was substantial concessions on both sides since he arrived in the Seattle area Monday for four days of intense negotiations.
Rodgers confirmed Wilson’s guaranteed numbers on a day the agent said was a deadline to get an agreement because the quarterback was “adamant” he didn’t want negotiations to go on into the preseason and regular season.
“Mission accomplished with the deadline,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers said both sides came a long way to reach a middle ground during intense negotiations Monday through Thursday. Each side, the agent said, left feeling they didn’t get everything they wanted. Rodgers called that “the art of compromise.”
In the end, the Seahawks didn’t get a more cap-friendly five years, but got their man. And Wilson may not have gotten all the up-front guarantees he sought to keep pace with what Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck is likely to get next year. But he got plenty — with a chance for more at age 30.
Wilson knew the deal — which many observers nationally thought was dead — was done at 11 p.m. Thursday: “one of the coolest days of my life,” he said.
He was sitting on his bed inside the team’s training-camp hotel a half-hour past curfew, talking on the phone with Ciara, his gal with whom he’s made headlines this spring, attending awards shows, a Stevie Wonder and Prince concert at the White House and making weekly visits to kids being treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Mark Rodgers phoned him during the conversation to tell him that the agent had struck an agreement with Seahawks general manager John Schneider and Matt Thomas, the team’s vice president for administration and its lead negotiator.
From the start of the talks, which began in earnest Feb. 3, this deal was all about guaranteed money. Not just future guarantees, but money due to Wilson at signing. Guaranteed money is king in the NFL, which unlike Major League Baseball or pro basketball lacks fully guaranteed contracts. That leaves all but a few elite football players living an almost year-to-year existence.
Wilson’s guarantee at signing surpasses the $31 million deal Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger signed this spring, what was then the second-most, up-front guarantee in the league.
Aaron Rodgers got $54 million from the Packers, guaranteed at signing in April 2013.
Wilson’s signing bonus is $1.7 million more in 2015 cash than Cam Newton got this spring from Carolina. That deal, for the first overall draft pick in 2011, was considered to be the floor for a deal for the far-more-accomplished Seahawks quarterback.
Mark Rodgers, though, said that surpassing Newton’s deal was not the goal.
So, yes, Wilson got (almost all) he sought.
“I never really doubted it was going to happen,” said the first quarterback to start two Super Bowls in the first three seasons of a career. “I just want to be paid based on what I’m worth. Let the play speak for itself.
“The thing is, the train doesn’t stop now. There’s still a lot we have to do.”
Such as re-sign Wilson’s draft classmate from 2012, All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. The Wilson deal may leave the Seahawks enough flexibility to take care of Wagner, whose rookie contract also ends after this season, and maybe even move some money around to end safety Kam Chancellor’s training camp holdout, which began Friday.
The renegotiation of Wilson’s previous $1.54 million in base pay for this year, down to the $700,000 guaranteed, leaves the Seahawks with just more than $4 million in available space under this year’s salary cap. Coach Pete Carroll strongly hinted the team could re-sign Wagner, too, before the regular season begins Sept. 13.
“We’re on it,” Carroll said of negotiations with Wagner’s agent, which started weeks ago. “We’re not done.”
How Wilson stacks up among his peers
Annual value of QB contracts
1. Aaron Rodgers (Packers): $22M
2. Russell Wilson (Seahawks) $21.9M
3. Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) $21.85M
4. Cam Newton (Panthers) $20.76M
5. Matt Ryan (Falcons) $20.75M
Total guaranteeed money
1. Russell Wilson (Seahawks) $61.542M
2. Colin Kaepernick (49ers): $61M*
3. Aaron Rodgers (Packers): $54M
4. Sam Bradford (Eagles): $50M
5. Matt Ryan (Falcons): $42M
* Kaepernick’s total guarantees are based on
Sources: staff, overthecap.com