The Seattle Seahawks came to terms late Monday night on a contract extension with quarterback Russell Wilson, making him the highest paid player in the league. The deal is for four years and worth $140 million with $107 million in guarantees. The annual salary ($35 million) and the guarantees are both NFL records.
NFL quarterback contracts have consistently grown during the current collective bargaining agreement, with the APY and guaranteed money creeping upwards with each new deal. Kirk Cousins broke the mold with a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract, but otherwise each quarterback contract has had a fairly consistent structure for the past eight years under the current CBA.
Changes in revenue and the upcoming collective bargaining agreement could provide the impetus for change to these traditional structures. Wilson reportedly wanted to factor that into his contract, but even though he did not land such a deal, there are at least two quarterbacks currently in the league who could make it happen.
Wilson reportedly wanted a deal tied to the salary cap
Wilson was entering the final year of his contract and had imposed an April 15th deadline to get a new deal done. Peter King reported he wanted an unprecedented type of contract that would tie his salary to the salary cap. Wilson was looking to get a deal that would include language that allows it to adjust in future years based on how high the salary cap grows each year. There had been talk in recent years of Aaron Rodgers potentially pushing for that with Green Bay, but he eventually settled on a highly paid but fairly traditional contract structure.
King was hearing Wilson was prepared to play out his contract and two years on the franchise tag to get that kind of deal. Wilson has proven his value to the Seahawks, bringing home a Lombardi Trophy, and keeping the offense moving in spite of often atrocious offensive line play and shaky play-calling. If Wilson wanted that kind of paradigm-shifting contract, he could have had the leverage to do it.
In the end, any such rumors were either nothing more than speculation, or were simply a negotiating technique. Either way, Wilson has landed himself a sizable contract extension. But at some point, a quarterback could be in position to negotiate a contract tied to the cap and change the way franchise players are able to value themselves.
The NFL’s CBA negotiations could impact franchise players in a big way after 2021
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season. The NFL and NFLPA have begun preliminary negotiations on an extension, although any completion before spring 2021 seems like a longshot. There is plenty to figure out from the traditional television revenue standpoint, but additional revenue opportunities are only going to complicate matters.
The NFL has slowly joined the rest of sports in offering more live streaming, and that is a revenue stream that will continue to grow. The league is likely to eventually move into uniform sponsorships as well, which is already netting the NBA nine figures in revenue. And the biggest question mark is what sports betting will mean as a revenue stream.
A year ago, the Supreme Court struck down legislation prohibiting sports betting in America. Since then, seven states have joined Nevada in legalizing sports betting, and 31 states are currently or will soon be considering legislation on the matter.
If King’s report is accurate, Wilson recognizes the increasing trends in league revenue. And even if King’s report is not accurate, Wilson has made it clear he recognizes the potential trend with legalized sports betting. Showtime is airing a four-episode series called Action, and in the finale, he made a brief appearance in a discussion about the potential revenue for leagues through gambling.
Russell Wilson says the legalization of sports betting will increase the salary cap. Makes sense why he wants tie his new contract to the increasing salary cap. He sees from sports betting. pic.twitter.com/Lt4IvqR5Nm
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) April 15, 2019
If Wilson had been willing to play out this year and through two franchise tags, he might have been able to secure a deal tied to the salary cap. He has remained healthy and productive through his entire career, but given the nature of the NFL, a fluke injury would not have surprised anybody. Wilson could have built his leverage between now and 2022, but nobody can blame him for agreeing to the reported deal.
Who else might be able to get this kind of deal?
Even though Wilson did not get a deal connected to the salary cap, somebody else eventually could. Cousins had tremendous leverage, but his skill level raised some question marks. Now that Wilson has his deal done, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield are two early candidates to secure a deal that changes the fundamental structure of a franchise contract.
Mahomes is coming off a monster breakout season in which he led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game. He is signed through 2020 and the Chiefs hold his fifth-year option in 2021. Add on two more franchise tags, and his ultimate leverage might not come until after the 2023 season. But, if they two sides want to get something done sooner, maybe he gets a percentage of the cap deal.
Mayfield is coming off a rookie season in which he led the Browns to their best record since 2007 and might just be the answer they’ve been looking for at the quarterback position. Add in the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. and a host of other talent, and the Browns are an intriguing threat in the AFC. He is signed through 2021 and the Browns hold his fifth-year option in 2022. The franchise tags mean he has a ways to go before a new contract, but given Cleveland’s history with so-called franchise quarterbacks, they might be prepared to give him the house sooner rather than later.
As the league is currently structured, it will take a franchise quarterback to get this kind of deal done. The next CBA negotiation could shake up the league’s financial structure, but the players might need to be willing to miss game checks and force a reckoning on this. If that does not happen, it will remain a system where good to great quarterbacks build the most leverage.
Russell Wilson decided to pass on pushing for an industry-altering contract, but he will not be the last quarterback with a chance to make that happen. Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield could be the next quarterbacks with a chance to shake up how franchise quarterbacks are valued.