Russell Wilson could be the one to blow up the salary curve

Mike Florio
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

As Aaron Rodgers continues to wonder why football players don’t get paid like basketball players, a baseball player may be the one who shows Rodgers how it’s done.

PFT explained in May that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson currently plans to play out his contract, which has two years remaining on it, and then to embark on the Kirk Cousins-style franchise-tag dance. And Wilson, who would assume the injury risk (and who has more than enough money to buy insurance that would cover him in the event of a career-ending injury), inevitably will make much, much more money than any other NFL player ever has.

Wilson will pocket $32.5 million over the final two years of his contract. A $25.286 million cap number bloated in 2019 by lingering signing bonus proration and a restructuring becomes a franchise tender of $30.34 million (by rule, a 20-percent increase) in 2020. And that becomes a franchise tender of $36.41 million (by rule, a 20-percent increase) in 2021.

And that becomes a franchise tender of $52.43 million (by rule, a 44-percent increase) in 2022.

Do the math. (We’ll forgive Seahawks G.M. John Schneider and owner Paul Allen if they don’t want to.) Over the next five years, Wilson would make under two years of his contract and three franchise tags a whopping $176.966 million. That equates in five years to more than the base value of Rodgers’ deal over the next six.

Then comes 2023. Year Six for Rodgers. Year One for Russell Wilson in the new deal he’d sign on the open market, with Seattle or someone else. (It’s unclear whether the Seahawks would be permitted to tag him a fourth time; even if they were, the 44-percent bump would push his salary to $75.49 million for one year.)

There’s the leverage that Rodgers says doesn’t exist. The leverage resides squarely in the willingness to say to the team, “Take your long-term offer and shove it sideways, I’m going year to year.”

Rodgers made his own bed not now but in 2013, when he committed to the Packers through 2019. A shorter deal plus a Kirk Cousins mindset could have allowed Rodgers to do what Wilson likely will. And Wilson likely will because he wisely insisted on only a four-year extension, which came before his fourth NFL season.

Moving forward, Wilson needs to resist the temptation to nudge the injury risk to the Seahawks when they inevitably offer him a huge pile of money that will be less huge than what he could earn a year at a time and trust that he’ll continue to play like he has. If he can pull that off, Rodgers will make every penny of $176,966,000.00 in one year quicker than Rodgers will make nearly $1 million less.

The only flaw in this logic works to Wilson’s benefit. If the Seahawks decide at some point between 2020, 2021, and 2020 not to tag Wilson, Wilson would become a free agent, and he’d get a contract that likely would result in him making plenty more than $176,966,000 over the next five years.

So if you’re looking for the NFL’s answer to Steph Curry, the guy plays quarterback up the road from Curry’s adopted hometown. And Russell Wilson is smart enough to know it, courageous enough to act on it, and quite possibly charismatic enough to pursue that path without pissing off Seattle fans.

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