Russell Wilson’s contract: No frills, lots of up-front cash

As the April 15 deadline for Russell Wilson‘s contract approached, condensing what would have been months of speculation into a few weeks, there were (unfounded) rumors that he wanted to play elsewhere and (accurate) reports that his agent was seeking an unprecedented mechanism that would have tied the quarterback’s annual compensation to the salary cap.

The outcome, though, was the most predictable one all along: Wilson staying with the Seattle Seahawks — and doing so on a conventionally structured contract.

Details of his four-year, $140 million extension provided to ESPN by league sources confirm as much.

As reported, a $65 million signing bonus makes up more than half of the $107 million in overall guarantees. That was one way the two sides worked around the Seahawks’ precedent — on which the team held firm — of not fully guaranteeing money beyond the first year of a new deal.

So Wilson’s previously scheduled $17 million salary for 2019 was reduced to $5 million, which is fully guaranteed. His 2020-2023 salaries are guaranteed for injury only at signing and vest into full guarantees (meaning for injury, skill and cap) on the fifth day of each league year waiver period, which begins after the Super Bowl. That is how the Seahawks have been structuring guarantees for several seasons.

So for Wilson, the trade-off for not having any full guarantees beyond 2019 is getting a $65 million signing bonus, which breaks the record Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers set last year at $57.5 million. Part of the signing-bonus payment is deferred to a later date, which makes sense for the team (for cash-flow purposes) and for Wilson (because of the tax implications). The $107 million in overall guarantees also is a record, as is Wilson’s new-money average of $35 million.

The final two seasons, 2022 and ’23, include $5 million roster bonuses that are due on the fifth day of the league year, which begins with the start of free agency. Those types of roster bonuses favor players. If a team is going to cut a player before the end of his contract, it almost certainly would happen for paying him $5 million. Thus, the bonus spurs action on the team’s part and puts the player in the best position to find his next team.

Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, surely fought to move that money from base salaries to roster bonuses for the same reason he fought for the no-trade clause that helped push the deal through — to give Wilson some protection in the event the Seahawks wanted to move on before the end of his contract.

As reported by ESPN last week, Wilson has an additional $6 million in incentives tied to performance and awards that is available on the back end of the contract. That could push the overall value of the extension to $146 million.

Here’s the year-by-year breakdown:







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