The ‘Russell Wilson’ dilemma

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was drafted in the third round in 2012

So just where are those former players and execs that still refuse to acknowledge the shift in player power this morning? After Antonio Brown was granted everything under the sun by the Raiders, it now appears that if you are a franchise QB you can impose a contract deadline and get a record setting deal in return. After weeks of rumours regarding a potential trade/end of season free agency move to the New York Giants (often a negotiating tactic by the agent representing the player), the Seahawks starting QB got what he ultimately wanted. In the early hours of this morning he signed a 4 year contract worth a reported $140m, that now makes him the highest paid player, per season, in NFL history. With such a huge contract and the current trend of big name players getting what they want, here we take a quick look at how this could impact the NFL moving forward.

As has been the trend over the last 4 to 5 seasons, NFL QB’s are getting paid. First it was Andrew Luck, then Jimmy G, then Kirk Cousins, and then Matt Ryan, until Aaron Rodgers blew all of their respective contracts out of the water in 2018. Yet each contract was expected, largely due to how the NFL’s current labor deal is structured. Signed as part of the collective bargaining agreement in 2011, it has allowed players to command more and more each year due to ever increasing NFL revenue. Nevertheless, although said agreement runs to 2021, with several premier QB’s now under contract and players like Dak Prescott likely to secure at least $25m per year sooner rather than later, don’t expect the market to spiral completely out of control for at least another 2 years, when we will see Patrick Mahomes receive the next record setting deal.

Yet when these contracts are agreed who wins? Is it good for the players? Absolutely. Is it good for the teams? Well that is a little harder to answer. Russell Wilson got paid his current market value, and in return the Seahawks secured their franchise QB for what should be the best years of his relatively young career. Yet look at the immediate impact such a large contract had on the Packers, the Falcons, the Vikings and the Colts. Teams often appear to struggle to secure both their young stars, as well as the occasional marquee talent that might just push them over the top towards a championship. So unless a team has an unprecedented run in the draft (like the Seahawk’s had with Wagner, Sherman, Chancellor, Wilson et al), or players are playing lights out in a contract year, history has shown that it becomes increasingly harder to remain competitive, at least in the short term. In reality only Bill Belichick has been able to successfully turn over a roster year after year and still remain a force. Yet the Patriots have had relative financial flexibility over the years due to the discount Tom Brady gives the organisation. Once he retires the Patriots will likely find themselves in a similar position — having to pay whatever the market rate is for their future franchise QB.

And this leads me to one final observation. How much do these players want to win a championship? There can be little doubt regarding their respective talents, and both Rodgers and Wilson will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But have they done absolutely everything that is necessary to win? Is it even their responsibility to do so? Ask yourself whether you would take a pay cut to ensure a better working environment? If the answer is no how can anyone expect a professional athlete to? Nevertheless, no team has ever won a Super Bowl whilst having a player account for over 13% in total cap space, and for the time being at least, this trend will likely continue. Finally, could we see a future trend where teams regularly draft new (cheaper) QB’s like they do with other skill positions? Could blockbuster QB trades be the future to ensure teams can spread the wealth? Or perhaps more QB’s will risk playing under the franchise tag, as Kirk Cousins did when he was with the Redskins, if teams become reluctant to hand over more guaranteed dollars? Yet whilst QB’s are making more money than ever before, we will likely have to wait for the next collective bargaining agreement to answer those questions. J