Adding some nuance to the narratives around a Russell Wilson trade
This is a guest post from Curtis Allen
The Russell Wilson trade drama has really shifted into gear in the last three weeks and it has rightly dominated the sports landscape in Seattle.
Several one-line narratives have emerged in the media about a potential trade and they keep being repeated over and over and over again.
This presents a challenge — there is a bit of a danger of these simple viewpoints hardening like concrete.
As we all know, one-line narratives rarely reveal the breadth and width and depth of the situation. Particularly a situation that could shift the balance of power across the league and reshape the face of Seahawks football as we know it for the next 10 years.
– A superstar player being unhappy with one of the NFL’s premier organizations
– A potential trade that could be one of the biggest in NFL history
– Four flagging franchises that could be revitalized by the acquisition of a franchise quarterback in his prime
– One of the NFL’s most decorated coaches starting a whole new cycle of his professional career at a time when most coaches retire and doing it on his terms
This is far, far too big a story to just be dismissed with 10 word answers, no matter how emphatically they are said. Simple answers can blind you to the reality of the situation and only muddy perspectives at a time when truth and objectivity needs every single word it can get its hands on. Every fissure of this story needs to be explored. Nuance is critical.
So here are some thoughts on the narratives that are being discussed in relation to this potentially massive event.
Narrative: The $39m dead cap hit is a big obstacle to a pre-June 1st Russell Wilson trade
Why the narrative has merit:
$39m is over 20% of the total 2021 salary cap for the Seahawks. Having one fifth of your cap dedicated to a player not on your roster is a serious blow to your efforts to build a contending roster in 2021.
There is more resistance to a trade when that player is an all-time Seahawks great.
Even more resistance is added when the reason for eating dead cap is not because he is injured, retired or suspended by the league. He is in his prime and will be lighting it up for another team and perhaps taking them deep in the playoffs.
It would be a particularly hard pill to swallow.
Nuance: The Seahawks have the flexibility available to absorb the hit and not need to shred their roster
The team currently has $4m of cap room. Trading Russell Wilson away will eat $7m of cap room and put them in the red.
Any proceeds from a trade, such as players and 2021 draft picks will lower that number even further.
Further lowering the cap is the fact that they will then need to add a quarterback to the roster.
Here is the good news: The Seahawks currently have over $72million of “movable cap space” on their roster. What is that?
It is non-guaranteed money owed to players. The 2021 cap hit can easily be lowered to get the team under the cap by any combination of negotiating their contract down, extending, restructuring, cutting or trading players.
Furthermore, if the Seahawks trade Russell Wilson, they will have approximately $178million of cap room in 2022 to work with. They could easily push some 2021 money into the following season.
They can operate in the same way in the free agent market. They could get creative, crafting contracts with a minimal hit in 2021 and a bigger hit in 2022.
Will they be handcuffing themselves in the future with bloated contracts for ageing players? That is the beauty of it – they won’t. Any downside of using future cap is more than counterbalanced by the return of trading their biggest roster asset.
With a huge haul of draft picks and no top three quarterback salary to pay, the Seahawks will reap a double benefit of having nearly half of their roster stocked with cheap young talent that can contribute right away, veteran players who can provide leadership and still play at a very high level and bunches of cap room to make major moves in the market.
Will it take some clever structuring by the Seahawks? Yes.
Will it cause some sleepless nights, not having a franchise QB locked on your roster? Yes.
Is it a workable solution to the current standoff? Yes.
Is it preferable to a miserable 2021 with an unhappy Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll trying to coexist? Yes.
Narrative: You trade Wilson and you can write off the next three seasons while you rebuild
Why the narrative has merit:
A true franchise quarterback is the most sought-after commodity in the NFL.
He can cover up, minimize or simply overcome a multitude of roster holes in other areas. Seahawks fans have had a front row seat to witness that with Russell Wilson, particularly in 2020.
Any team that trades their franchise quarterback is immediately tasked with filling the biggest hole on their roster.
Nuance: The hefty return the Seahawks would receive in trade opens up all kinds of options to remain competitive
The magnitude of the return means the Seahawks can get both a top level player or two that provide instant productivity and multiple draft picks to inject youth and talent into the roster. Those holes that had to be covered by a franchise QB are no longer holes.
As noted above, the Seahawks also all of the sudden have enough cap room to immediately buy the top free agent at any position they choose in 2022 if they like.
They would be in a position to assess the QB prospects in the 2021 draft and make a move.
Seattle would also be a very intriguing destination for a free agent QB.
Want to come to Seattle and play for a Super Bowl winning coach? Get fawned over by the local media and never asked a tough question in your life?
Throw to two of the best wide receivers in the game?
Get protected by Duane Brown and some young bucks on the interior?
Get supported by a stout defense headlined by a Mack or a Lattimore along with Bobby Wagner and Carlos Dunlap?
A trade like this also puts them back in their wheelhouse. They absolutely excel when they have resources, build depth and allow opportunities to come to them. They can focus on maximizing value and talent over need in the draft and the free agent market.
When they have extra cap room and draft picks to trade, they are able to add high-value players at a very reasonable cost, whether in the post-draft market or in-season.
This offseason will likely see many opportunities to add talented veteran players at very affordable prices if they play their cards right.
This has always been a better place for them. When they reach to fill needs, they frequently only fill their hands with trouble.
Narrative: Even with a raft of picks Pete Carroll and John Schneider can’t draft well enough to rebuild successfully
Why the narrative has merit:
LJ Collier. Darrell Taylor. Malik McDowell. Cody Barton. Rashaad Penny.
You don’t need to look too far to find draft misses on this team.
Nuance: There has been a measure of effectiveness in building the team in recent seasons. This will also energize the Front Office’s focus like no other move.
Damien Lewis, Jordyn Brooks, DK Metcalf in the draft.
Poona Ford in the UDFA market. DJ Reed in the waiver market.
Quandre Diggs and Carlos Dunlap as fantastic in-season value trades.
There has been success. John Schneider has not completely lost his touch.
Consider this though: There is an added dimension when trading Wilson. It would be a return to a state where John Schneider and Pete Carroll operate at their best.
They have proven to be much stronger at building a winner than maintaining a winner.
Being free of a quarterback with a massive salary, an even bigger public persona, and very specific public demands about the offense and personnel allows them to reshape the team in their vision.
In trading Wilson, they will have taken on a massive challenge. It will no doubt focus their minds and their efforts like no other task they have recently faced. There is something about taking on a big risk that brings clarity and focus to the mind unlike anything else.
At the same time, it will re-invigorate both of them. How often do you get to build a team up to a Super Bowl champion and stay long enough to move on from nearly all the players from that team? And then start over with a bonanza of draft picks, a top-flight player or two and massive cap room added to a roster that already has talent?
The opportunity is tantalizing.
They both received contract extensions recently. The plain fact is they aren’t going anywhere. There would be tremendous incentive to make this work.
Narrative: Fans will abandon the Seahawks in droves for trading Russell Wilson.
Why the narrative has merit:
They’d be trading one of the most successful and well-liked players in franchise history.
Nuance: While the fans would rightly be upset over the team trading Wilson there is no doubt the next two seasons will absolutely capture our interest.
Fan interest in the 2021 draft will skyrocket. The Seahawks will go from having only three or four draft picks to having many more and be big time players on draft day.
Training camp will be abuzz with all the new players and everyone will want to get a look at the rookies and see how they fit on the team. Excitement about the defense will return and be justified this time.
The in-season weekly discussion will have a complete breath of fresh air to it. Rather than discussing stale topics like “Let Russ Cook” or how poorly the defense has performed, the focus will shift to a tough defense and marvelling at the next stage in DK Metcalf’s development into one of the all time greats.
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