Russell Wilson Might Become the Biggest Winner of the Jimmy Garoppolo Deal

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystFebruary 12, 2018

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) warms up before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

Maybe when Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson learned of Jimmy Garoppolo's monstrous new contract with the San Francisco 49ers, he was doing normal offseason things.

You know, typical quarterback stuff like preparing for another trip to Disneyland so he could rock another wizard hat. Or he may have been fielding grounders in preparation for spring training.

What he should be doing now, though, is finding the nearest pool and draining all the water because swimming in sweet, sweet cash is much more fun.

Wilson was underpaid even before Garoppolo signed his record-breaking contract worth $137.5 million over five years. That's $27.5 million annually, the highest per-year average in league history, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. Garoppolo did earn his raise after winning all five of his starts in 2017 while averaging 8.8 yards per passing attempt. But he's still logged only seven career games as a starter.

Garoppolo will have the top quarterback contract perch to himself for a few more weeks until Kirk Cousins becomes a free agent March 14 and gets to do his own Huell impersonation.

Garoppolo raised the high-water mark for quarterback contracts to a previously unseen level. Cousins will push it further and possibly into the neighborhood of $30 million annually if the open market drives up his price as expected.        

Wilson, meanwhile, is among a group of perennial Pro Bowl quarterbacks with contracts that now seem like they were signed when the main method of communication was carrier pigeons.

The Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers somehow ranks eighth in average annual salary at $22 million, per Spotrac. Wilson is right behind him at $21.9 million, and Pittsburgh Steelers signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger rounds out the top 10 at $21.85 million. Then there's New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the league's reigning MVP who just threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl LII, and he barely cracks the top 15 at $20.5 million.

Wilson is in a unique situation. Every one of those underpaid quarterbacks has generation-defining skill, and trying to rank them becomes the sort of sports-bar discussion that lasts until the lights turn on.

The advantage Wilson has—and the reason his bank account should balloon when the Seahawks have to extend him in the near future—lies in a combination of his ability and his age.

Wilson was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl in 2017.
Wilson was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl in 2017.Doug Benc/Associated Press

Wilson has two years left on a deal he signed in 2015. That wasn't long ago, but going back three years feels like a trip to the medieval era with the trajectory of NFL quarterback contracts.

Wilson's deal came with $61.5 million guaranteed, and the one Rodgers signed in 2013 gave him $54 million guaranteed. Now, the 49ers have given Garoppolo $74.1 million guaranteed.

Like Wilson, Rodgers has two years remaining on his contract. But age is where the parallels between the two end.

At 29 years old, Wilson is five years younger than Rodgers. He's also been on this earth for 11 fewer years than Brady and is the same age as Cousins, who has made just one career postseason start (a loss).

Wilson has plenty of prime years left. And he's about to spend at least one of those playing under a contract laughably below-market value.

He has already played in two Super Bowls over his six NFL seasons, winning one of them over the Denver Broncos. The 2017 campaign was the first time Seattle missed the playoffs with Wilson under center. The Seahawks still finished above .500 (9-7), however, because of the quarterback's weekly heroics, and they fell short of the postseason by only one game.     

His brilliance comes amid chaos—more than most quarterbacks can tolerate. Wilson manipulates a pocket that barely exists and weaves his way around pass-rushers to create plays others couldn't imagine.

Plenty of them ended in touchdowns during the 2017 season too, as Pro Football Focus noted:

Pro Football Focus @PFF

Does your team need a QB? Top targets for this offseason: https://t.co/Tt5i1FDELL https://t.co/jizxmJXnNX

Wilson's lack of protection forces him into a style of play that can best be described as running in circles until something cool happens. It's not a method he necessarily chooses, as the former Wisconsin standout has a powerful arm and is just as comfortable in the pocket as he is scrambling.

But Seattle keeps trotting out an embarrassing offensive line, and that makes his already incredible production even more impressive.

In 2017, Wilson was sacked 40-plus times for the fifth straight season. Yet the Seahawks still had a playoff pulse during a year in which Wilson led the league in touchdown passes (34). He also led the Seahawks in rushing yards, with his 586 far more than the 240 that Mike Davis—the Seahawks' top-producing running back—put up.

He received basically no support from a 23rd-ranked backfield that scored just four touchdowns (tied for a league low with the Miami Dolphins). Wilson had to do most of it himself, with his combined passing and rushing accounting for 86.4 percent of the Seahawks offense.

His ability to make plays while he's facing constant pressure is nothing new. Wilson leads the league in sacks received from 2012-17, and it's not that close, according to Pro Football Reference. Since his rookie year, he has been sacked 248 times. That's 23 more sacks than Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who's second in that span with 225.

Wilson was sacked 43 times in 2017.
Wilson was sacked 43 times in 2017.John Froschauer/Associated Press/Associated Press

But that punishment hasn't slowed down Wilson in recent years.

That's what matters in a contract negotiation, a conversation inherently filled with recency bias. All Wilson has done for the Seahawks lately is throw 30-plus touchdown passes in two of his last three seasons. He also became the first player in league history to produce all of his team's passing yards as well as at least 30 percent of its rushing yards during a single season, per Dan Clasgens of Pro Football Focus.

He kept the Seahawks afloat and in playoff contention during the 2017 season. He did that even though his offensive line crumbled in a stiff breeze and even though Seattle lost much of its intimidating defense to injury for a large chunk of the campaign (most notably cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor).

Wilson has been durable—he hasn't missed a game yet—and is only at the beginning of his prime years, as he won't turn 30 until late in the 2018 season. Garoppolo has raised the salary ceiling significantly, and Cousins should soon do the same.

The recent play of the Seahawks quarterback has made his contract ancient. He's become one of the league's best bargains relative to what his top position peers are making. That should swing in the opposite direction as the salary cap keeps rising, and Wilson will ride the wave of a swift market adjustment.