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O’Neil: Unlikely Russell Wilson will leave Seahawks – but this is what first step would look like

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson reportedly set an April 15 deadline for a new deal. (AP)

If Russell Wilson is going to end up on another team, this is what the first step would look like.

Please note the first word of the preceding sentence. “If” is italicized for a reason because while I’m going to spend the next few minutes bloviating about the possibility that Wilson won’t be a Seahawk three years from now, I want to make it clear that I think the possibility is unlikely as opposed to inevitable. I think he’ll be staying put and this is just the sort of nuclear posturing that will precede an actual contract agreement. But if Wilson was going to leave, this is what the first step would look like. It would start with one side throwing up its hands, declaring a longer-term deal impossible and signaling that the final year of Wilson’s existing contract would be played out.

Does deadline make Russell Wilson extension more likely with Hawks?

That doesn’t mean he would be an unrestricted free agent next year. Seattle would be likely to use the franchise tag, which would reserve the Seahawks the right to match any deal he signed in free agency or to accept two first-round draft picks as compensation. In fact, were Wilson to remain unsigned to a long-term deal, it would be entirely feasible for the Seahawks to use the franchise tag on Wilson in both 2020 and 2021 before the price became prohibitively expensive in 2022.

So if Wilson were to wind up elsewhere, it won’t be this year and it probably wouldn’t be next year, either. In fact, it’s not until three years from now that Wilson could be reasonably sure that he would enter unrestricted free agency, and if that is in fact where this whole thing is heading, we’ll look back at this week preceding the April 15 negotiating deadline as a watershed moment.

It’s the first of what could be numerous staring contests between the Seahawks and their quarterback. One that is entirely artificial, fairly arbitrary and doesn’t come with all that much in the way of consequence. After all, every indication is that even without an extension, Wilson’s commitment will be unchanged for everything from the offseason conditioning program to the upcoming season.

So why have a deadline at all? Well, the reason for that can be traced back to the last contract negotiation between Wilson and the team, one that went all the way up to days before training camp was to begin in 2015. After weeks spent working on a five-year extension, Wilson wound up backtracking to a four-year option. In other words: He didn’t get the five-year deal he wanted, so he took a shorter option that would put him back at the negotiating table a year sooner.

And this time, the rules of engagement are going to be different. Wilson is not coming off of a rookie contract he signed as a third-round pick, a deal that made him one of the biggest bargains in the salary-cap era. He has made significant money and doesn’t have to necessarily take what the team is offering.

He’s also not going to be beholden to the team’s timeline. That was made clear in late January when his representatives laid out an April 15 deadline for a new deal. That deadline – coincidentally enough – was spelled out to Seattle just before ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Seahawks and Wilson had not had earnest contract discussions in the four years since Wilson’s last extension was agreed to.

Beginning to see a pattern here?

Seattle’s quarterback is feeling a little unappreciated. Or, it would be more accurate to say that the people who represent Wilson are expressing the opinion that the quarterback has been unappreciated. And they might be right. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sportsline lays out the argument for that being the case.

Now, it’s also worth noting that it was just a year ago that there two different stories expressing the opinion that Wilson had been coddled by the Seahawks, protected to the detriment of the team’s performance. One was published in ESPN: The Magazine, the other on Now, a year later, we’re supposed to believe the Seahawks’ indifference to that very same quarterback might wind up costing them his services?

It all depends on the perspective, I guess, and I’m going to spend the next few days wondering whether Wilson actually has the conviction to stare down his employer in public. He certainly did that at North Carolina State when football coach Tom O’Brien threatened to give away his starting job should Wilson play baseball before his senior season.

The stakes are certainly higher now, both for Wilson and the franchise that drafted him. And perhaps this is just the posturing that precedes a long-term agreement, but if Wilson were to wind up leaving Seattle – and again note that added and intended emphasis on “if” – this is what the first step out of town would look like.