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Russell Wilson’s Contract Extension the Latest in Rising Quarterback Deals

Wilson’s four-year, $140 million contract extension with the Seahawks makes him the NFL’s highest-paid player—for now. But when will quarterbacks start pushing for deals even shorter than that?

While the high injury rate in the NFL suggests that players should squeeze a team for more long-term stability when negotiating a contract, the quarterback position continues to run on a divergent track.

Russell Wilson’s new deal with the Seahawks, which averages $35 million per year, is the product of him twice hitting free agency at the right time, negotiating two four-year deals before his 31st birthday. Pro Football Talk summed it up well in the early hoursTuesday, noting that two years ago we were fawning over the league’s first set of $25-million men. Now, we’re about to see a flurry of them pushing $40 million.

Until teams start recognizing that they could probably save time and anguish by just anchoring their quarterback salaries to the rising cap, or doing something else on the creative front to recognize that this salary market in particular rises at a much higher multiple, they’ll continue to get hammered by relatively young, healthy and productive quarterbacks who have a keen understanding of the market. Imagine the way we’ll be talking about Baker Mayfield three or four years from now on his 27th or 28th birthday when he signs his next deal, and hopefully another three or four years from that when he’s up for a third contract, should his rise continue. Imagine, also, how insane it is that Andrew Luck, having signed a five-year, $122,970,000 contract back in 2016, makes closer to Joe Flacco than Matt Ryan in salary—and he’s not up for a new deal until 2021.

Kirk Cousins’s fully guaranteed deal aside, elite quarterback contracts are not complicated. They are a rolling, incremental raise over what the last one got in terms of per-year average, amount guaranteed and guaranteed percentage. It would be ludicrous for Wilson to have accepted anything else, because there was a clear avenue for him to either hit free agency, or lock the Seahawks into the same kind of franchise tag handcuffs that Cousins utilized to get his historic deal. Hopefully, Dak Prescott is taking notes.

The question is: When will quarterbacks squeeze teams harder and start opting for even shorter deals than that?

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Quarterback is one of the few essential positions in the NFL. Teams are pressured into investing in their longevity, putting pieces around them to accentuate their talent and installing systems that help them get the ball out faster. Unlike other positions, the entire process is at least designed to aid in a longer career. Coaches tie their legacies to these players. I’m not saying that there is zero injury risk, or even an injury risk below 50%. I’m just saying that, if there is a position to gamble on, it would be quarterback.

Can we apply the Kevin Durant principle from the NBA, which ops for shorter, high-end deals?

As players in general become less easily seduced by the allure of being a “team player” or a franchise guy in a certain city, the possibilities for them to maximize their career earnings will open up. If nothing else, it will force teams into reconsidering the more traditional long-term deals they do at the moment, which can have built in options to reward quarterbacks for their loyalty while others get paid around the league.

The days of a quarterback immediately regretting a long-term deal once five other players leapfrog him in a span of 12 months are about to end one way or another. At some point, the almost comical increase rate on their contracts will slow down as the amount of money teams have to spend decreases. Until then, the positions with the most leverage should try their best to utilize it.

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