As if the Seahawks don't have enough to worry about in this turbulent offseason, Russell Wilson's next contract just moved into much choppier waters.
Kansas City and Washington made sure of that with their blockbuster trade Tuesday.
Oh, you can rest assured that the Seahawks had long ago began strategizing for Wilson's next contract. The four-year deal the former Badgers star signed in July 2015 has two years left, but the standard time to work out an extension would be with a year remaining — in other words, after next season. And that will be upon us in the snap of a finger.
The Seahawks have known intellectually that re-upping their franchise quarterback was going to require a deal that dwarfed the four years, $87.6 million he received last time. That's just the way it works. And now they can start to put a framework on exactly what that will mean (hint: Cha-ching!).
More specifically, the trade of Alex Smith to Washington sets into motion a series of gold-plated dominoes that eventually will reach Seattle's bank vault. Washington immediately signed Smith to a reported four-year, $94 million extension, which becomes official after the NFL's new league year begins March 14. At that point, Smith will knock Wilson down to eighth on the quarterback pay list (after being No. 2, behind just the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, when he signed his current deal).
But that's not the biggest news, from the Wilson angle. The whopper is that Washington's Kirk Cousins is poised to become an unrestricted free agent after being strung along on the franchise tag for the past two seasons. There is no doubt among NFL analysts that Cousins, at age 29, will set new standards for quarterback salary when he signs. The league is rife with teams that are desperate for a franchise quarterback - and if Cousins doesn't qualify, he's close enough that the likes of the Vikings, Bills, Broncos, Browns, Cardinals, Dolphins and Jets will treat him like one.
So, bank on it. Cousins is going to get huge, huge, money that will blow away the current QB standard bearer, who happens to be the Lions' Matt Stafford, by luck of having been the next one in line after Wilson. And not so far behind Cousins will be Jimmy Garoppolo, who also hits free agency in the sweet spot of being young (26) and having never lost in seven NFL starts, including those five consecutive victories for the 49ers to close the season.
How much will Cousins make? That remains to be seen, but Stafford's deal — five years, $135 million with $60.5 million guaranteed — will look quaint by comparison. Cousins could shoot for $100 million over the first three years as part of a five-year, $150 million package. Whatever it ends up being, prepare to be stunned.
And that's when the trickle down — or more accurately, the gush down — starts in earnest. Next in line is the Saints' Drew Brees, who is a free agent this offseason but at age 39 will not reach such rarified air — at least not long term. But Brees stands to receive a massive short-term contract at least in line with the $24.25 million he got last time.
Then buckle your seat belt. The Falcons' Matt Ryan is a free agent after the 2018 season, with credentials that surpass those of Cousins. And waiting after that is Rodgers, whose deal just happens to be up at the same time as Wilson's, after the 2019 season.
Rodgers is a cut above Ryan and will want to get paid accordingly, particularly with NFL salary caps moving upward. You can expect Wilson's camp to do the same dance with Rodgers as they did last time they negotiated with Seattle. Rodgers' five-year, $110 million contract, already under way, was the guidepost then, and Wilson got within shouting distance — barely under Rodgers ($100,000 per year in arrears of the Green Bay star) but ahead of Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Ryan.
That's the way it goes in the NFL — the latest top-flight quarterback hitting free agency sets the standard, and then slowly drifts down the list as new QBs sign. Wilson, with his $21.9 million per year average salary and $31.7 million guarantee, is behind not just Rodgers and Smith but also Joe Flacco, Brees, Andrew Luck, Derek Carr and Stafford.
That will change, in a big way. The Seahawks had best be bracing themselves. Wilson's agent, Mark Rodgers, has everything he could want on his side. Wilson is just 29 (five years younger than Aaron Rodgers), in full health (knock on wood), immensely popular among the Seahawks fan base and has reached a stature commensurate with all but the elite quarterbacks, such as Tom Brady and Rodgers.
You would be naive to think Wilson and his people aren't going to shoot for the moon. And when Cousins signs in a couple months, we'll start to get an idea how high the moon is.