How much money will Seahawks save by trading out Russell Wilson for a rookie QB contract?
Seaside Joe 1112: The NFL has lost its damn mind, Seattle found a ton of extra cash
Are quarterbacks now overrated? Overpaid? That’s a matter of opinion, but since seeing what Deshaun Watson cost the Cleveland Browns, I now believe that the Seahawks should be over-the-moon that they can set themselves up with a rookie quarterback on the roster and the payroll in the near future.
And it’s all thanks to how quarterbacks are rated and paid these days.
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Seahawks fans are too accustomed these days to memes about trading two first round picks for Jamal Adams and vicious criticisms of Pete Carroll and John Schneider for paying a strong safety $70 million over four years; Adams will have cap hits of $9.1 million, $18.1 million, $23.6 million, and $24.6 million from 2022 to 2025.
Seaside Joe readers may recall that I vehemently defended the trade for Adams (“two late first round picks for a player who was just taken in the top-6 of the draft”) at the time and for more than a year since. However, I had to pull back on that endorsement a little bit during the 2021 season, because it was looking like one of those first round picks was not so late, and Adams has not brought the visibly entertaining impact on the field that we all figured he would when he was added to Carroll’s defense.
Week to week, Adams is fine or pretty good. But he’s also “week-to-week” pretty often with injuries too and has missed nine games in two seasons. “Boof.” That’s the only word I can think of to describe Adams’ time in Seattle. “Boof.”
Time remains for the trade to start looking good again, we’ll see. What I’m interested in today is considering first round pick value in trade: Is one first round pick worth one-half of a Jamal Adams? That seems to be the going currency.
I guess it would be easier to say that one first round pick is worth one Deion Branch. But that was only true of 2006.
Wow, the Seahawks traded a first round pick for Deion Branch the year after going to the Super Bowl. Forgot about that. Get outta here, Deion Branch! I’m working.
Technically there were other parts involved in the Jamal Adams trade but clearly all anyone cares about is the first two round picks. With Watson’s trade to the Browns, all anyone will ever be able to remember or care about is “three first round picks,” which is the same as one-and-a-half Jamal Adams’s.
That does sound—let’s say hard to believe—but what if we look at it another way. That instead of the Seahawks being the team that overpaid, Cleveland overpaid. The only differences between the two scenarios (the completely abstract concept of “what’s a draft pick worth?”) is a matter of point of view or narrative.
I believe that more than anything else first round picks are worth whatever they are worth to the team that acquires them, trades them, or decides when to hold onto them. In the last two years, we’ve seen a higher number of teams than ever gamble first round picks for quarterbacks, a trend that I called out a few years ago that would become “the parting of ‘franchise’ and ‘quarterback’ for every franchise quarterback.” My feeling was that quarterback salaries were becoming too exorbitant, too outlandish, and for many teams simply too large to build a championship roster.
As I wrote here not long ago, 50-percent of Super Bowl-appearing quarterbacks in the last 10 years were playing on their rookie contract. Many of the veteran contracts were extremely team-friendly, and not a single winner has been the higher than fourth in salary.
After directly seeing the Seahawks immense success from 2012-2015 with Russell Wilson not only on a rookie deal, but a third round rookie deal, it sure seemed obvious to me that everybody must now see this incredible cost benefit. And yes, over the years, with quarterbacks like Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, and even Jared Goff making the Super Bowl in their first three seasons, people did acknowledge that rookie QB contracts were beneficial.
This has done NOTHING to stop people from celebrating the enormous contracts signed by quarterbacks like Wilson, Mahomes, Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, and even. once. jared. goff.
Instead, media has poured its blessed heart into paying quarterbacks AND drafting quarterbacks in the first round.
As I’ve also written many times, there have been more quarterbacks drafted in the first round in the last 10 years than in any other decade in history. By a lot. The 2020s are on a rapid-fire pace to beat that by 2027 or so.
I can’t say it often enough: There are not more “good quarterback prospects” in the draft than there used to be. There are only more “first round quarterbacks” than there used to be. And therefore, more first round busts than ever before. I mean damn Field Yates, this is kind of your fault:
I was watching a video today where the host said that the 2021 first round was a “quarterback rich draft.” I know why you said that. The 2021 first round was rich in first round quarterbacks. I only think we need to be careful with the word “rich” when referring to what we saw from rookie quarterbacks last season. Let’s wait and find out how rich it really was first.
Essentially, these two things are true at the same time:
A rookie QB contract is incredibly value IF the quarterback is significantly outplaying the value of the contract… Which Josh Allen is and Sam Darnold is not
You can’t magically make it happen by drafting any quarterback in the first round. Fantastic QB talent remains finite and more exclusive than the Supreme Court.
Sorry to say it, but you just kind of have to get lucky. He might pop in and surprise you from the third round like
Then other times, a team trades multiple first round picks for a quarterback who’s top-10 in salary and the crowd goes wild.
Perhaps they’re right to be. In addition to the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks being good values, they’re also elite players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Patrick Mahomes. In 2021, the Rams traded two first round picks, a third, and Jaaaaaaareeeddd Goffffffffff to the Lions for Matthew Stafford and then won the Super Bowl. This year, both Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson have been traded for multiple first round picks, including three for Watson.
However, other teams will also fail. The Colts ended up trading their 2022 first round pick for one bad season of Carson Wentz. In 2016, the Eagles traded a first and a fourth for pre-Goff Sam Bradford.
But it is always an abstract value. What is a first round pick worth when your team either gives up or acquires one? Depends on your take. Or your mood. Or the day.
Less abstract and far more quantifiable: The Cha-Ching Stuff.
On Friday, it was announced that Watson would be signing a new five-year, $230 million contract with the Browns that is fully guaranteed. It sets off a new era of contracts, following in the wake of Kirk Cousins’ fully-guaranteed deal with the Vikings, and Aaron Rodgers’ getting $100 million fully-guaranteed in the next two years, in which quarterbacks of a certain caliber will either get the entire amount of the contract or at least $50 million of it in salary for multiple seasons.
If that sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo: Watson, Rodgers, Mahomes, Allen, and Prescott have all signed contracts in the last year that are worth $40-$50 million per season and there’s nothing that those teams can do to get away from it cleanly.
The Seahawks and Russell Wilson were far apart in contract extension negotiations and that was certainly an inciting factor in the quarterback now playing for a different team. Seattle doesn’t believe that Wilson is a $50 million per year player for Seattle’s needs, and Wilson was not going to accept anything less. Is not. Denver will pay him.
If the Seahawks stay out of it this year, and drafts a #1 QB in 2023, this is how much cap room that Seattle will save from 2022-2027:
2022: Seahawks were set to pay $37 million cap hit, instead will pay $26 million in dead money, savings $11 million; Drew Lock salary is $1.4 million for a net savings of $9.6 million. (Even if Seattle acquires another quarterback, if he is a player who had the potential to become Wilson’s backup anyway, such as Lock “competition” signing like Trevor Siemian, then it doesn’t count as part of the net. If Seahawks acquire a clear starting option like Baker Mayfield or Matt Ryan, this would factor into what Seattle is actually saving.)
2022 draft: Seahawks acquired Denver’s first round pick, ninth overall, which would cost the team $4.2 million against the cap in 2022 if they don’t trade.
2022 net savings: $5.4 million
2023: Seahawks are saving $27 million next year without Wilson’s contract.
2023 draft: Let’s pretend Seattle drafts a QB with the number one pick in the draft (worst team or trade up? you’ll never know!)… this year, the rookie wage scale pays the top pick $41.4 million over four years with a 2022 cap hit of $7.5m. Let’s advance this one year and bump it to a $8.5m cap hit on the rookie QB. Second-year first round pick gets salary of about $5m. The 2023 first round pick from Broncos, if we judge it as late first, could be roughly $2.5m, but in terms of net cost savings this is inconsequential in accounting for the difference between: Seahawks pay Russ vs. Seahawks pay 2023 #1 QB.
2023 net savings: $13.5 million
Wilson Extension: GM George Paton said “nothing imminent” with an extension but of course they’re planning on it. Wilson is going to be 34. Stafford is also 34, and in a contract year, so he may sign before Wilson does; a QB getting a new contract after a Super Bowl might break $50 million and increase what Wilson can ask for in negotiations. Wilson is going to wait out Stafford and he may not need to wait long. Wilson has signed two different four-year contracts: the first was for $87.6 million, the second for $140 million. The third could be $204 million, giving him $51 million per season… Fairly.
2024: Seattle now owes Wilson $0 forever. Third-year first round pick is paid around $6 million. Second-year QB around $10 million. Second year other first round pick around $4 million.
Seahawks 2024 cost total: $20 million on three first round picks
Wilson 2024 cap charge: $40 million. Rodgers deal carries cap charge of $40.7 million in year one and $59.3 million in year two. The Packers may eventually have to maneuver this cap hit down by restructuring, but let’s keep the cap hits as is: $40, $59, $53. For simplicity, I didn’t change Wilson’s 2022/2023 cap hits.
Seahawks 2024 net savings: $20 million
Let’s reset and discuss. Over the next three seasons…
Seahawks are losing: 3 seasons of Russell Wilson at QB
Seahawks are gaining: 3 seasons of 2022 1st rd pick, 2 seasons of 2023 1st rd pick, three years, $40 million
If you think of it this way, right after trading Wilson, the Seahawks could have turned around and signed one player to a three-year, $40 million deal and they’d only be drawing from the money they saved by trading Wilson. The Rams signed Allen Robinson to a three-year, $46 million deal.
So you could say that the Seahawks are losing three seasons of Wilson, but gaining eight seasons from the first round picks and the money. Of course, Pete doesn’t spend money like that, so instead it will be spread around to keep certain players in-house.
But it doesn’t end there because if Wilson had the same contract as Rodgers, then Seattle will be saving a $59 million cap hit in 2025. Even if the Seahawks have to pay $8 million to their 2022 pick and $12 million to their 2023 pick, that’s a net savings of $39 million to Seattle’s pockets in 2025.
That’s the equal to a four-year, $80 million contract. J.C. Jackson signed a five-year, $82 million deal with the Chargers. The Seahawks could have afforded that… JUST BASED ON THE FACT THAT THEY TRADED RUSSELL WILSON.
When we account for Seattle’s net financial gains by trading away Wilson, the trade doesn’t look like “two first round picks”; it looks like two first round picks and enough money to sign the type of cornerback who could be traded for two first round picks. The Seahawks could have even signed Von Miller, the highest-paid player in the 2022 free agent market, and almost exclusively because they traded Wilson.
I know some of you have been yelling at your television sets because I’m leaving out significant parts of the trade: two second round picks, Noah Fant, and Shelby Harris. My focus here is on quarterbacks and first round picks, so that’s why I didn’t want to distract, but that’s fair too. Harris carries a $7.9m cap hit in 2022, Fant is at $2.2m. Harris has no guaranteed money in 2023, Fant will be a fifth-year option or FA.
So now look at this for the next four years:
Seahawks are losing: four seasons of Russell Wilson
Seahawks are gaining: four seasons of 2022 1st round pick, four seasons of 2022 second round pick, three seasons of 2023 first round pick, three seasons of 2023 second round pick, one season of Drew Lock, one to two seasons of Noah Fant, one to two seasons of Shelby Harris, and roughly $70 million in cap space (which is the same amount they’re paying Jamal Adams).
That doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Russ was traded for two first round picks.”
Seattle would also be avoiding Wilson’s probable cap hits between $44-$54 million in 2026 and 2027, if he signs a four-year extension again. If the Seahawks take my advice and draft a quarterback in the 2023 draft, then the cost comparison in 2025 would be around $12 million for the rookie contract and $59 million for Wilson, a difference of $48 million. In 2026, the difference should sit around $30-35 million. It won’t be until 2027 that Seattle’s QB would be on the fifth-year option and they aren’t paying his extension until 2028.
Are quarterbacks overpaid? Not if the Seahawks can help it. Now they can help it.
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Great analysis! I love Wilson but this is why it’s so difficult to afford a competitive team with so much invested in the QB.
Way to go Kenneth,
I have been reading your Seahawks content for years. I mentioned that to your mom when we met (she liked that). This is easily the best scribe I have seen from you. Your thoughts include the amount of the picture I was looking for - the whole enchilada!
This story sums up what I have been thinking for years. That a potential starting QB NEEDS to be drafted every 3-4 years. Either they end up being a doozy of a value pic and we get a Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen kind of player (GREAT) or a Matt Cassell, Jimmy Garofalo or Jacoby Brissett kind of player that each garnered Bill Belichick a greater return than cost.
Now, lets finish assembling a 'wrecking crew' of a front seven for the Loudest fans in the NFL to scream about! IF we get to the Superbowl in the next few years, we will Need total mayhem to combat whatever AFC quarterback we will be facing. Right?