It's Russell Wilson contract deadline day, and I remain skeptical the sides accomplish much. And if in fact April 15 comes and goes without the Seahawks managing to sign their All-World quarterback to a long-term extension, don't believe the hype some are already peddling about Wilson's intentions.
Some folks in the media didn't even wait for the deadline to come and go without opining that Wilson doesn't want to be a Seahawk. He wants out, they suggest. If he and the Seahawks can't find sufficient common ground on a mega-deal, then surely it must be someone's "fault," so why not point to the player – the one who has done nothing but completely dedicate himself to his team and his craft from the moment he walked into the building as a mid-round pick, who shockingly won the starting job as a rookie and then has done nothing but win games since.
Sure, it must be on the player that the things got to this point. I mean, how dare him and his representative for believing that as we stand on the precipice of gambling money entering the NFL like never before, and with an economic recalibration coming with a new labor deal and broadcast deals on the horizon, that any new contract should include mechanisms that keep the QB's compensation in line with that growing pie. How dare they want to resolve a negotiating process – one that should have begun in earnest a year prior to the start of offseason work, when Wilson will focus solely on trying to bring a Super Bowl back to Seattle in 2019.
I mean, imagine the gall of this guy thinking, perhaps, that he was worthy of being approached in the same manner that franchises like the Falcons (Matt Ryan), Lions (Matt Stafford), Packers (Aaron Rodgers), Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger), 49ers (Jimmy Garoppolo) and Panthers (Cam Newton), to name a few, have gone about doing business with the men they identified as their franchise quarterbacks. I mean, who would think Wilson belongs in that group (insert sarcasm font here)? Forgive him for not wanting his lame-duck status – and ongoing negotiations – to dwarf whatever else the Seahawks are trying to accomplish.
Here is a dirty little secret in professional sports – when you have a generational talent, and a truly iconic player, you need to be always re-recruiting them. As transcendent as some talent can be, there is always a person in there as well who has the same insecurities and concerns and emotions as everyone else. The question – should this marriage in fact be on the rocks – isn't about why this deadline exists now. The question was and always will be: why was there not a single exploratory phone call to Wilson a year ago, at the same time the Falcons and Packers were falling all over themselves to lock up their QBs? Why let the process get to the spring of 2019 – now months away from an expiring contract – to make any real attempt to retain him on a long-term deal in the first place? Is that on Wilson, too?
A quarterback who has never missed a snap with a historic QB rating and an obvious first-ballot Hall of Fame career trajectory, who just turned 30 in November – who gathered teammates en masse for offseason workouts and played through high-ankle sprains and never said a word about the way Richard Sherman and other members of that defense would pile on at times – has already proven who he is. This was never was or should be about his intentions; the onus is always on the team to recommit to a player of this magnitude, at the right time and at the right price. The QB market was always only skyrocketing (just as with the 49ers, who went big in Jimmy G before he'd even done much of anything on the field for them). Cost of doing business and all.
Don't let the timeline get lost amid all the breathless talk and keyboard pounding being done over this deadline right now. And the idea that an NFL player is somehow abandoning anyone or anything by believing only a truly generational contract should prevent him from hitting the open market in his prime is doing nothing more than following his collectively-bargained rights. It's championed in other sports, and in a post-Kirk Cousins NFL, teams had better start bracing for it to become a more frequent occurrence. Plan accordingly. Don't blame the superstar.
More insider notes
- If I had to do a mock draft right now, I'd put Ed Oliver to the Bucs with the fifth-overall pick. For all of the hand-wringing about how the defensive lineman performed in 2018, the bottom line is teams see how to unlock him more at the next level and better utilize him, and his projectables are off the charts … Had a trusted top executive for a team that is not in the rookie QB market tell me that there is chatter on the scouting circuit about Drew Lock, comparing his attitude and mentality to Jay Cutler. Yikes. That would be a massive red flag for me. If he is rubbing these people that way now, I can't imagine that trends differently once he's making millions. It won't preclude him from being drafted higher than he should …
- Agents and executives I spoke to over the weekend believe a wild rush of contract-extension talks will begin after the draft. Some of the recent market forces in baseball are bleeding over into football – veterans not shattering new contract thresholds in free agency and a glut of quality starters still on the open market deep into the offseason (when is the last time you heard boo about Ndamukong Suh, Ziggy Ansah, Jay Ajayi, Corey Liuget, Eric Berry, Jamie Collins, Tre Boston or Glover Quin, all of whom remain unrestricted free agents?). In MLB that has led to a recent spate of contract extensions for young players who are nowhere close to free agency (Max Kepler, Aaron Nola, Luis Severino, Ozzie Albies). In the NFL, we've chronicled in this space how veteran free agents are getting squeezed out by compensatory pics and the franchise tag and how cheap players are on their rookie contracts now – which could lead to a lot more players signing extensions before they begin to play out their fourth NFL season. "That will be the next trend," one prominent agent told me. "Look at baseball and the market forces there. We are usually a year or two behind them but a lot of the same principles apply. Check out the 2016 draft class, and watch how many of those guys sign new deals between May (after the draft) and September." Expect to hear plenty about it, from guys like Zeke Elliott and Joey Bosa at the top of the drat to guys like Michael Pierce and Matt Judon, who have emerged as impact players despite their draft status. With so many players being caught in the middle, I expect a lot of action on this front in the coming months ...
- Agents are also wondering if the fallout of the collapse of the AAF will have a chilling impact on undrafted free agency. Sure, a lot of the guys being signed out of the demise of the AAF are offseason "camp bodies" for the most part, but they are in football shape and are signing cheap and could displace room for post-draft players. "Some teams are effectively already at 75-man rosters," one agent pointed out. "The collapse of that league has been good business for NFL teams. They are bolstering their rosters before the draft, which we haven't really seen much of before." … I'm hearing that Michigan pass rusher Rashan Gary might not do as well in real life in the first round as he is on a lot of mock drafts going around. That is a great position of strength and I could see him slipping down the board. … Princeton QB John Lovett won't show up in many (any?) draft guides, but he is getting a lot of attention from NFL teams recently. The Titans and 49ers are among those to work him out and I wouldn't be shocked at all at this point if he hears his named called on Day 3.