Unbelievably, it’s looking like the impasse in negotiations between the Seahawks and Russell Okung is indeed about money, with Okung’s agent reportedly thinking a tackle should be paid more than a safety, even if the safety was drafted first.
Okung, picked sixth overall, is one of only two unsigned first-rounders, and the players picked all around him have signed, so the money parameters are well established.
“It's pretty clear,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters Sunday. “All of the work has been done and the staging of the position we’re in, it’s really clear how this should go.”
No. 4 pick Trent Williams, also an offensive tackle, and No. 5 pick Eric Berry, a safety, each signed six-year deals worth $60 million. No. 7 pick Joe Haden, a cornerback, got $50 million over five years. So, we know Okung should get a contract worth $10 million per season.
The haggling comes down to years and guaranteed money. Williams received $36.75 million guaranteed, an average of about $6.1 million per year, while Berry got $34 million, an average of $5.67 million. Haden received $5.2 million per year.
Sensible folk would rightly conclude that Okung should receive guaranteed cash in the range between what Haden got and what Berry got—i.e., $5.4 million per year.
But, according to the beat writers who cover the Seahawks, Schaffer apparently wants Okung to be paid more than Berry, even though the safety was drafted one spot ahead of the tackle.
Mike Sando of ESPN.com wrote: “For Okung, the issues are twofold: Should his deal run five years or six? And how much should that sixth year cost?
“Okung, as a left tackle, stands to gain more in free agency once his deal ends than Berry is likely to command as a safety. He’ll naturally want a five-year deal and, if he’s going to take a sixth year, he’ll want to be paid at a premium offsetting the extra year he’ll spend before reaching free agency.
“But, if you're the Seahawks, it's difficult to pay more for the sixth overall choice than the Chiefs paid for the fifth pick.”
Meanwhile, Danny O’Neil of The Seattle Times says it’s simply a matter of Schaffer thinking a left tackle is worth more than a safety.
“The biggest sticking point right now is over the idea of a position premium,” O’Neil wrote in an online chat Wednesday. “This is about the value of left tackle vs. the value of a safety, and while it's true that in today's NFL economics, a left tackle is more valuable than a safety by almost every measure, it's also true that quarterback is the only position that has commanded a premium in terms of rookie negotiations in the past.”
By “premium,” O’Neil means that quarterbacks have been the only rookies who traditionally have been paid more than their draft slots would otherwise merit.
It seems that Schaffer might be trying to milk the final uncapped year before a rookie wage scale is imposed, and he might be trying to leverage the Seahawks’ desperate need for the left tackle they drafted to replace Walter Jones. He also might be trying to see whether the Seahawks’ new management team will blink, like it did with Charlie Whitehurst.
If Schaffer wants more money for his client, here’s a solution: The Seahawks can give Okung the extra cheddar—e.g., a six-year, $60 million deal with a very generous $36 million ($6 million per year) guaranteed. But make Schaffer agree to a team option for two more years, with the salaries dependent on Okung’s performance in his first four seasons—i.e., if he becomes a Pro Bowl player, pay him at the franchise-tag level (and if he's just average, pay him accordingly).
Otherwise, the Seahawks should make the sixth year voidable through incentives or just settle on a five-year deal within the financial parameters that have been set by other signings (five years, $50 million, $27 million guaranteed). Of course, that assumes Schaffer isn’t trying to get the “tackle premium” even on a five-year deal. If he is, he’s just wasting everyone’s time.
In the end, there are only a couple of ways to do this fairly: straight-up slotting or added money with added time. Anything else is unrealistic and will result in a very long holdout and a wasted rookie season for Okung.
At some point, Okung is going to have to evaluate whether his agent is doing the right thing and decide whether to keep Schaffer or find someone who is willing to do a fair deal.
Until then, it’s simply ridiculous the Seahawks don’t have their new left tackle in uniform yet.
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