Blockbuster Deal(s): Russell Wilson to Denver, Seahawks Sale Next

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Russell Wilson and his middle finger, surgically repaired, were ready to go after missing three games last season, the first injury absence of his career. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Asked Dec. 30 if his next Seahawks game would be his last in Seattle, Russell Wilson said, “For me personally, I hope it is not . . . I also know that the reality is that I know it won’t be my last game in the NFL, period.”

He knew then he was gone.

The good times — coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson hug it out after the Seahawks won the  Super Bowl at MetLife Field in New Jersey in 2014. / Seattle Seahawks

Same thing when coach Pete Carroll said last week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis that the Seahawks “had no intention” of trading their premium quarterback, and when general manager John Schneider said he was “not shopping” the best player in Seahawks history and a near-certain NFL Hall of Fame member.

All were deliberately disingenuous, knowing they were closing in on a blockbuster deal with the Denver Broncos.

That’s how the game inside The Game is played. The Seahawks wanted to drive up the market by denying they were in the market. Wilson played along.

Each got Tuesday a chunk of what they sought: Wilson goes to an offense-oriented team that has had 11 starting QBs since 2016 (tied for the most in the NFL) to become the final piece in a genuine Super Bowl contender. The Seahawks picked up two first-round picks, including the ninth in the first round of the April draft, two second-round picks, a fifth-rounder, a good tight end (Noah Fant, 24) and a good pass rusher (Shelby Harris, 30). They also acquired a serviceable backup quarterback, Drew Lock, who is better than Geno Smith only because he has not recently been busted for a DUI, but in no way represents a solution to the Crater Lake-sized ditch left by Wilson’s departure. Not to mention the $26 million owed Wilson in guaranteed money over his final two years that cannot be used for other player contracts (what’s called dead money).

Finding a QB starter awaits another move, or moves. This Seahawks’ hand has just opened. At least now, the Seahawks have more than a pair of deuces.

Many things influenced the biggest sports deal in Seattle sports history (the 1999 trade of Ken Griffey Jr. is close, but Wilson, by position, had more hegemony over the Seahawks success than Junior did with the Mariners). Here are three factors that stand out to me:

  • Wilson lost faith that the Seahawks could create a Super Bowl champion around his enormous salary in the two seasons remaining on his contract in Seattle.
  • Wilson can’t quite do the voodoo like he used to.
  • The Seahawks likely will be for sale.

Regarding the final point about a sale, according two sources with knowledge of the circumstances who asked for anonymity, the death of owner Paul Allen in October 2018, without an obvious heir for the football franchise, set in motion a series of events that includes the sale of many, if not most, of the assets of a man whose net worth was well more than $20 billion — the wealthiest owner in the the NFL at one time by a factor of four.

Among items already sold by his Vulcan holding company were his mega-yacht, a hilltop mansion in Los Angeles, and Google’s Seattle headquarters building on South Lake Union for $802 million, believed to be a city per-square-foot record.

According to a source, the sale of the Seahawks “is going happen, no doubt,” influenced not by any won-loss record but the desire by the Vulcan trust to avoid estate and income taxes. It’s a typical development in the world of mega-wealth, and ironically the sale is a driver influencing Wilson’s new team. The Denver Broncos are up for auction following the 2019 death of longtime owner Pat Bowlen, and subsequent squabbling among his heirs that led to the public auction. The early estimate of the winning bid is north of $4 billion.

Regarding the Seattle franchise’s possible sale, the sources had no timetable. But a potential local buyer is a guy who wouldn’t need to bother with an auction, after doing well with a little Seattle online bookstore. Jeff Bezos figures to muster the $4 billion-plus cost from the change under the seat cushions in his Blue Origin rocket ride for the uber-rich.

Bezos is already said to be interested in an NFL franchise, and was reported to have dismissed any interest in buying the Washington Commanders near his second home in the D.C. suburbs. But Amazon is all over the notion of expanding its footprint in sports. Even though he’s done with his day job in Seattle, Bezos would be eagerly welcomed among the NFL’s landed gentry.

So why trade away the franchise’s best football asset? The answer gets us to the first two drivers. Because the timing of a proposed sale is not known, it’s better to resolve the QB situation now.

If Wilson played both years of his remaining contract and entered free agency, the Seahawks surely would lose him, getting only a third-round compensatory pick for his departure. Even if he played in Seattle only this season, he would likely bring far less in trade than the Seahawks obtained Tuesday (the official announcement of the deal awaits the passing of physical exams).

The trust is obligated to get apex value for the asset. After a 7-10 season that didn’t have a first-round pick until the Denver deal onTuesday, the Seahawks are seen as a franchise in decline. Absent Wilson, the decline grows steep. But between free agency beginning next week (where the Seahawks now have more than $40 million in cap space to hire veteran players under the salary cap) and the April draft, Carroll and Schneider, minus Wilson’s $35 million salary, have flexibility to bust some moves.

However, since 2012, Carroll and Schneider have whiffed more than they have hit on trades, drafts, and free agent signings. Starting in 2016, the Seahawks have drafted 52 players, and only one received All-Pro designation: Punter Michael Dickson. It is largely testimony to Wilson’s capacity for spontaneous invention that the first losing season was delayed until 2021.

No one knows that conclusion better than Wilson and his agent, Mark Rodgers. They signaled their dismay 13 months ago, and went public with complaints of Seahawks’ inadequacies that became national sports-media fixtures. Carroll and Schneider were enraged. They refused a chance to trade him. For 2021, the sides publicly patched the hurt feelings. Then Wilson missed games to injury for the first time in his career, and also had a losing season for the first time in his career. 

So yes, the writing has been on the wall for this moment. The Seahawks were forced to do the forbidden thing in the NFL: they traded a Hall of Fame quarterback with tread on his tires. But they also unloaded a big salary, broke the franchise-wide tension, and dodged the chance to extend Wilson’s contract in 2024 for $50 million or more a year for four or five years. And they won’t have to talk around Wilson’s decline in speed and elusiveness, the virtues that made him so confounding for defenses.

In exchange, management has dived into the NFL shark tank with an open wound. Carroll and Schneider need to hit on almost every trade, free-agent signing, and draft choice to become something other than a last-place team in the loaded NFC West. Vulcan chair Jody Allen needs to sell a franchise on ascent, and Bezos is known to suffer losers poorly.

All Wilson has to do is be better than John Elway and Peyton Manning, the best QBs in Broncos annals and two of the 10 best in NFL history. More important, he has to be better than young NFC West rivals Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. 

Many fans are heavy-hearted at the departure of one of the most thrilling athletes in Seattle sports history. Depending on how the next couple of months proceed regarding talent acquisition, the sniffles may be overcome with an NFL season of unmatched sports theater.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at SportsPressNW.com.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Agreed. I imagine that Rodgers extension could mean yet another round of tension filled contract negotiations next year that the Hawks weren’t looking forward to. They kept players like Bennett and the Legion around for too long and only got the finger from Thomas to show for it. Wilson is on the decline and doesn’t always make those around him better. Brady, Brees and Manning(s)won with the roster they had. Once the Super Bowl roster started to decline Russ began to vocalize his displeasure. That SB team should have won at least 1 more title, maybe 2. But their success became their vice and undoing.

    • Good QBs have always dictated terms and conditions to their teams. But I think the Seahawks view Wilson’s game-breaking talents will fade as age tackles his legs.

      The breach with Wilson began with the playoff loss in Dallas when the Seahawks refused to throw the ball despite the run game’s shutdown by the Cowboys.

      The Seahawks are little different than every other team that has tried to win consecutive SBs.

      • It seems as though the Hawks brain trust is taking a cue from the Patriots. If you aren’t fully on board with the Seahawks way then you’re out. Bleacher Report is reporting that some players thought Russ checked out in the second half of the season and I did question if he came back more for bonus reasons than for a playoff push. They’re also reporting that Russ was saying thru others that he wanted Mahomes money. Evidently they felt he wasn’t worth it.

  2. Although sad to see him go after all the amazing moments he has provided (think about it for a sec), it does seem like a good business and a good football decision. The part about the sale of the team surprised me, but that’s just what a good writer does. So glad you found a spot to land. We used to play Jazz in Post Alley. Ha.

  3. If the sale of the Seahawks goes through, I wonder if this town is ready for another epic drama, having endured the loss of Boeing, the death of Paul Allen, the fall of Bill Gates, the migration of Amazon, Covid, and price shocks. Another identity crisis looms!

    • David…I think at this moment Seattle has an identity crisis and it better figure out a way to fix it before it spends a lot of time worrying about who is slinging a football 17 times a year.

  4. Multilayered perspective appreciated. Thanks.
    (Sorry, can’t help myself: Typo in penultimate graph. Shoud be AFC West.)

  5. For better or for worse Seahawk fans have become much like Steeler fans. They expect that the team will be a Super Bowl contender year in and year out. No excuses. Unfortunately the Seahawks front office record in drafts and player acquisition looks more like the Jets dismal record. This deal gives them a loaded quiver. Lets see if they can finally hit some bulls-eyes. They need to.

    • IMO Seahawks fans feel as though the Seahawks should have repeated and returned to the SB at least one more time because they had the talent but their early success went to their heads among the players. That’s frustrating. Plus bad drafts like taking Malik McDowell over Budda Baker or having only 3 picks. Free agent acquisitions have had mixed results. Hopefully these moves will be a new beginning.

    • Actually, a couple of those draft picks worked pretty well, like DK Metcalf, Jordyn Brooks, and lately, Rashad Penney.
      It actually seems like the team wanted to rebuild a few years ago when Bennett, Sherman, Chancellor, and Avril left, but it made the playoffs in spite of itself.
      Tip of the cap to Paul Allen for taking over an ailing team and building it up to championship caliber.

  6. Nice one Art.
    As always you have such an astute handle on the situation.

    As sad as it is it seems this day had to come.
    The question now is are the duo who oversaw the decline of the team over the last few years the ones to bring it back?

  7. Appreciate the insight. To your point we just won’t know for a few years if this was a smart move or not. In hindsight it may have been smarter to dump management. Only time will tell.

  8. Pete has won his argument. However the defense has been a bit dismal recently. A disgruntled talented QB like Russ does need to cook. Denver will most likely be a serious contender for a few years.
    It is very difficult to have a stable long term contender with today’s player marketplace. Individual success demands more $$$ so a player takes advantage of the increase in his stock and plays for the highest bidder. More loyalty to $$$ than the team.
    It is also very difficult for a fan base to part ways with a legend who helped bring unparalleled success to a franchise. However move on we must….enjoy this move forward as we rebuild again and try to turn things around…I am losing no sleep over this move, and there are probably more to come in the short term.
    Great analysis by Art as usual.

  9. One Russell Wilson won the SuperBowl handily over Denver, the writing was on the wall for Seahawks’ decline. Wilson could demand and be paid so much that the rest of the team would falter. And so it happened.

  10. Russ’ unwillingness to restructure his contract along with the dismal draft record since that 2012 draft ultimately sealed their fate.
    Brady set the blueprint that neither Wilson nor the Seahawks followed.
    Can’t have your cake and eat it too!

  11. The trade is for the better. This give’s Pete a chance to bring in a low cost QB who can hand off the ball to a RB 75% of the time and put the money into the defense, because defense wins championships. Of course it all means nothing if they bring in Deshean Watson to replace Wilson.

    • Watson, thankfully, is not on the list. He’s owed $35M, and Wilson counts $26M against the Seahawks’ salary cap. That’s $61M for one position. Aside from his alleged sexual misconduct.

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