Clayton: What new deals for NFL’s top QBs will mean for Russell Wilson

Jun 23, 2017, 1:29 PM
The extension that Seattle's Russell Wilson signed in 2015 made him the second-highest-paid player ...
The extension that Seattle's Russell Wilson signed in 2015 made him the second-highest-paid player in NFL history at $21.9 million per season. Derek Carr's new deal with the Raiders, worth $25 million a year, pushes Wilson to seventh among quarterbacks in terms of annual average. (AP)

Derek Carr became the NFL’s first $25-million-a-year player when he signed his five-year, $125 million contract with the Raiders this week.

That deal dropped the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson to seventh among quarterbacks in annual average, and expect him to drop another spot reasonably soon. The Lions are trying to extend Matthew Stafford, who is entering the last season of his contract and would be a free-agent quarterback at the age of 30 if he were to hit the market next year.

Some believe it’s crazy to make quarterbacks who haven’t won playoff games the highest-paid players at the position. But understand that contract negotiations in the NFL – along with any other sport – are byproducts of timing and leverage. Also, it’s a quarterback-driven league that doesn’t have 32 truly great starters. Those who don’t have one are annually drafting in the top seven.

When the NFL eventually worked out the mechanics of the salary cap and free agency in the early 1990s, Gene Upshaw, then the executive director of the NFLPA, gave teams the ability to use the franchise or transition tag on their top free agents, figuring it provided a way to keep a top quarterback. If a team can’t work out an extension with that quarterback in the final year of his contract, the team can tag him.

If necessary, the team could use two franchise tags. In a case of a disaster, the team could use a third franchise tag, but the price would be way out of line. A second franchise tag raises the salary by 20 percent. A third would ruin a team’s salary cap. A third franchise tag for Kirk Cousins next year would cost the Redskins more than $34 million. A transition tag would be for more than $28 million next year.

Here is where Wilson is in great shape for the future even though at some point he might drop to the 10th- or 11th-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. His key was signing a four-year extension, which would make him a free agent when he’s 31 years old, right in his prime. His final year under contract is 2019, which means he’d be eligible for an extension after the 2018 season. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signed a five-year deal and is also up in 2019. He will be 36.

The pecking order of new quarterback contracts should go like this: Stafford should get the next deal, worth somewhere between $25 million and $25.5 million a season. If Cousins hits free agency next year, he might get more than $25 million. The next one is probably going to be Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who is up after 2018.

The wild-cards in the mix will be Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota and Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, whose rookie deals will be up after 2018.

Playing into the contract values of quarterbacks is the salary cap. Franchise tags are tied to the cap, which has been rising about 8 percent a year. This year’s franchise number for quarterbacks was $21.268 million. Cousins’ was higher at $23.94 million because it was his second franchise tag.

If the cap goes from $167 million to $180 million, the quarterback franchise number might jump to between $24.6 million and $25 million in 2018 and more than $26 million in 2019.

That probably puts the Seahawks in position to pay Wilson around $27 million a year on his next contract. With an 8-4 record in the playoffs over his first five seasons, he’ll be in position to earn that type of deal.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on

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