Now that the Super Bowl is over, the Seattle Seahawks’ No. 1 priority this offseason will be signing quarterback Russell Wilson to a contract extension. Wilson has been the Super Bowl twice, winning it all in 2014 and falling short against the New England Patriots this past Sunday. Although he has one season remaining on his rookie deal — Wilson is scheduled to make $798,651 in 2015, for a salary cap hit of $935,000 — the Seahawks will want to lock up their franchise quarterback for years to come. And that could cost in excess of $100 million.
There are currently 10 NFL players who have multi-year contracts worth $100 million or more – seven are quarterbacks and four average at least $20 million per season.
NFL Contracts in Millions$
As of Feb. 3, 2015
The Chicago Bears and Jay Cutler agreed on a seven-year, $126 million extension last year, with $54 million of that guaranteed. Green Bay Packers quarterback and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million deal that includes $54 million guaranteed and a $33.25 million signing bonus. After Joe Flacco won one Super Bowl he earned $120 million contract over six years, including a $29 million signing bonus and another $29 million guaranteed. And with Pro Football Talk reporting the salary cap could be $145 million in 2015 and $160 million in 2016, $100 million sounds like a reasonable starting point.
But Wilson won’t be worth it.
Based on some recent analysis on the historical relationship between quarterback performance and salary, and after adjusting for the rise of the salary cap, we can estimate Willson’s market value using win probability added. Specifically, teams spend $1 million for every 0.18 in WPA a quarterback generates. Including the playoffs, Wilson has produced 9.04 WPA in three years, so he has created $9 million in value, for which he was paid a little over $2 million, leaving the Seahawks with $7 million in surplus value. To justify a $20 million (or more) annual salary, Wilson would have to produce 3.6 WPA each season — a mark he has topped just once (2012) and come close one other time (2014). Surprisingly, the year the Seahawks won the Super Bowl was Wilson’s least productive season.
Over the past three seasons, being in the top five for WPA has carried an average cap hit of $27.2 million, while a ranking of six to 10 has been valued at $16.6 million. Wilson ranked seventh WPA after the 2014 season – and that includes his playoff performance — placing his value closer to $17 million.
Approximate value, Doug Drinen’s method of putting a single numerical value on any player’s season, at any position, from any year, has Wilson’s first three years in the league valued at an AV of 51 for his regular season performance, or an average of 17 per year. Assuming a long-term deal of at least six years, here are the quarterbacks since 2005 who have registered at least three seasons with an approximate value of 15 or more, after age 27, in years four through seven of their NFL careers:
- Philip Rivers, four times between 2008 and 2011
- Drew Brees, three times between 2006 and 2009
- Aaron Rodgers, three times between 2010 and 2012
So the best the Seahawks can expect is for Wilson to be worth his contract in half of the years they will be paying him. However, Wilson isn’t a traditional pocket passer like those three quarterbacks. Instead, his career should arc like Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton or even Michael Vick — dual-threat quarterbacks who run the ball more often than their contemporaries.
Even if you add back in the $7 million surplus from earlier, $100 million for Wilson is likely going to be a bad deal for the Seahawks franchise.