Russell Wilson’s contract standoff with the Seahawks shouldn’t be taken personally

Jun 29, 2015, 11:42 AM | Updated: 1:07 pm
Russell Wilson has been criticized for the stance he’s taken in his negotiations with the Sea...
Russell Wilson has been criticized for the stance he's taken in his negotiations with the Seahawks. (AP)
(AP)

Russell Wilson doesn’t owe anyone an extension.

Not the Seahawks. Not the city of Seattle. No one.

That’s something everyone should keep in mind as the discussion of Wilson’s new contract threatens to become an impasse.

If Wilson doesn’t sign, that’s his decision. It doesn’t make him Alex Rodriguez. It doesn’t make him Steve Hutchinson. Heck, it doesn’t even make him Michael Bennett. It would make Wilson someone who passes on his first opportunity to cash in with an eight-figure signing bonus because of his belief that he will have a stronger bargaining position down the road.

Whether that’s wise is a matter of opinion. I think the best move for Wilson is to take what’s on the table from the Seahawks and play for the next opportunity at the bargaining table four years from now. But I also know that if Wilson always did what people like me deemed wise, he might be toiling away as a middle infielder instead of playing quarterback.

Part of what has made Wilson so very special is his ability to outplay – obliterate even – the expectations of others. That’s a big part of the reason he has become so beloved in Seattle, symbolic of a region that so often feels itself overlooked on a national scale. The Pacific Northwest’s pioneer spirit and affection for the underdog was tailor-made for this quarterback that so many deemed too short, whose college coach made him transfer as a senior, who became the third-youngest player to start in a Super Bowl and who has piloted the most regular-season victories of any quarterback in his first three years.

Except now it’s the Seahawks who are drawing up the expectations of Wilson, distilling them down to the decimal point and putting it into a four-year contract extension that will fit into the team’s salary cap. It’s unrealistic to think there wouldn’t be some tension along the way, and just because it’s taking longer than anyone either hoped or expected, it doesn’t mean that there’s a bad guy in the whole scenario.

Yet somehow over the past month, the quarterback who has never so much as hinted at a reluctance to play out the final year of a four-year rookie contract that he has outperformed is being criticized more than a player who is hinting he may not show up for training camp after playing out just the first of four years on his deal.

This is a business. At least that’s what fans and players say when a team acts in its own self-interest as the Seahawks did when they declined to pick up Bruce Irvin’s fifth-year option, which would have paid him more than $7 million in 2016. Except now that it’s the quarterback who’s doing the calculus, there are increasingly vocal criticisms that he’s being disingenuous or even greedy.

He may be smart. The Seahawks have a great deal of leverage at the moment, their current offer contrasted against the reality that Wilson’s only other option in 2015 is playing for $1.5 million. Wilson will spend years trying to make up the money that he would pass up now by way of a signing bonus that would almost certainly exceed $15 million.

A year from now, those dynamics would be significantly different. Wilson would not be under contract, and he would be weighing a one-year salary of more than $20 million as a franchise player against any longer-term offer from the team.

Is it a worthwhile risk for Wilson? I don’t think so. Not when you consider that Seattle could prevent Wilson from becoming an unrestricted free agent all the way until 2019, all the while having him on year-to-year deals.

But my risk-reward calculation doesn’t matter here. It’s Wilson we’re talking about, and if he believes the best bargaining decision is to hold off on signing an extension, it doesn’t mean that he’s being ungrateful or uncooperative. It means that the potential Wilson sees for a bigger payoff down the road outweighs the money currently on the table.

You can question his business rationale here, but to make the criticism personal misses the point. A contract extension isn’t a right for the team any more than it is for the player. It’s a business decision, one that doesn’t have to be taken so personal.

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Russell Wilson’s contract standoff with the Seahawks shouldn’t be taken personally