News & Analysis

Realistic trade packages for Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

Jan 3, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) against the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Following an in-depth report from The Athletic on the brewing tension between Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, speculation has mounted about a potential trade for the star quarterback.

Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, has reportedly told ESPN's Adam Schefter that while Wilson would prefer to remain in Seattle, there are four teams he's willing to go to in a trade — the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders and Chicago Bears. And thanks to the no-trade clause that Wilson negotiated into his latest extension, the Seattle signal-caller does have control over this situation.

All four of those teams currently have very different quarterback situations, but it would be safe to assume that each club would at least explore the possibility of acquiring Wilson. Let's take a look at the veteran quarterback's contract before diving into some potential trade packages.

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Wilson's Contract situation

Wilson signed a four-year, $140 million ($35 million average per year) extension with Seattle in 2019, exactly half of which would travel to a new team if he is traded. Here’s the full breakdown:

  • 2021: $19M (fully guaranteed)
  • 2022: $19M base salary, $5M roster bonus
  • 2023: $22M base salary, $5M roster bonus

Wilson’s contract on a new team would thus come with cap hits of $19 million, $24 million and $27 million, respectively. In total, the deal would come out to $70 million over three years, a massive bargain at $23.33 million per year for one of the league’s best players.

Even given the salary cap constraints facing the NFL this season, the $19 million 2021 cap hit is extremely palatable, and of course, an extension or restructure to create short-term relief could come into play. Absent a reworking of the deal, the $19 million figure is smaller than any of the new cap hits for all three quarterbacks who have been traded thus far this offseason: Matthew Stafford’s current deal will cost $20 million on the Rams' 2021 cap, Carson Wentz will cost $25.4 million on the Colts' cap and Jared Goff will cost $28.15 million on the Lions' cap.

From Seattle’s perspective, however, Wilson would set a new record for the largest dead cap hit in NFL history, unseating Wentz at the top. The Seahawks would take on $39 million in dead money with a Wilson trade, which represents the remainder of his $65 million signing bonus from April 2019 — not even two years ago.

One possibility to get around this massive financial burden could be a maneuver that was also discussed by former Jets general manager and Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum with Wentz. Wilson, if he truly wants out that badly, could cut a check for about $20 million to pay back signing bonus money to Seattle before the first day of the 2021 league year on March 17.

The Seahawks would get salary-cap relief in that amount on their books in 2021, turning the dead cap charge into $19 million, the same amount Stafford left behind in Detroit. Then, the new team Wilson moves to could pay him a signing bonus in that exact amount, and he is made whole while Seattle has a substantially smaller dead cap charge.

Crazy maneuvers aside, if the Seahawks can land a king’s ransom for Wilson, perhaps they’d be willing to stomach a gigantic $39 million dead cap charge, though they would also lose $7 million in cap space in the process. What could a trade package for Wilson look like?

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas is by far the most intriguing potential trade partner on this list because the team has both a franchise quarterback and a top-10 draft pick at its disposal (assuming the Cowboys franchise tag quarterback Dak Prescott for a second time, which appears to be likely).

The Cowboys have been reluctant to pay Prescott a long-term, big-money contract in large part because they have never seen him ascend to the level Russell Wilson was at for a two-and-a-half-year stretch before his late-season collapse in 2020.

Prescott’s career-best PFF grade over a season is still the 85.8 mark he posted in his rookie campaign. He was on track to match or exceed that this year (85.0) before injury took him down, and given the decline in circumstance, you can certainly argue that this was going to be his finest season. But it still wasn’t comparable to Wilson, who has three straight seasons with a PFF grade of at least 88.9 and back-to-back years above 90.0 overall.

The biggest concern the Cowboys likely have with Prescott is whether he can be at his best in a declining environment with so much money attached to other players already, several of which are no longer playing at the level they were when the money was handed out. Wilson has thrived in ugly situations in Seattle, and while this is exactly what’s made him unhappy as of late, it is at least proof he can handle it.

Hypothetical trade package

The key here will be if Seattle is interested in Dak Prescott, who would first need to sign his franchise tag for $37.69 million. If so, this trade could be relatively close to equal. Prescott would of course need a huge extension immediately, even larger than Wilson’s from 2019. But Prescott is also five years younger than Wilson and could help Seattle not miss a beat. 

If the Seahawks would rather start over and stockpile draft picks, the Cowboys’ 2021 first-round pick at No. 10 overall is not a bad place to start. Another first-rounder in 2022 and perhaps wideout Michael Gallup could round out this trade package. Dallas in this hypothetical would then look to move Prescott elsewhere and recoup whatever capital they just gave up for Wilson.

Las Vegas Raiders

The AFC West has the potential to become a quarterback arms race very quickly. Patrick Mahomes is the best passer in the league and is signed to the Chiefs for more than a decade, and Justin Herbert was the 2020 Rookie of the Year despite not starting in Week 1. The Broncos have reportedly been interested in making a blockbuster trade for Deshaun Watson, which leaves the Raiders with a good-not-great option in Derek Carr.

Carr put together his best season since 2016 this year, finishing with an 84.7 overall PFF grade and having his best game in a losing effort against the Super Bowl-bound Chiefs. Carr’s rediscovery of the deep ball this season was transformative to the Raiders' offense, but against Mahomes and the potential quarterbacks in the division, he may just be overmatched and leave the Raiders feeling in need of an upgrade.

Over the past three seasons, only Mahomes has more big-time throws (125) than Wilson (123), while Carr is more than 50 in the rearview mirror. The Raiders are an interesting team because they aren’t in a bad spot at quarterback, but do they let that scare them away from chasing greatness?

Hypothetical trade package

Again, the key here is what Seattle thinks of Derek Carr, who also has age on his side at just 29 years old. Carr has a lower ceiling than Wilson, but he’s probably more willing to hand the ball off 45 times a game — something Pete Carroll apparently wants. In addition to Carr, Las Vegas would probably have to include at least one high draft pick, perhaps a second-rounder or future first-rounder.

If Seattle doesn’t want Carr in return, Las Vegas’ 2021 first, 2022 first and WR Henry Ruggs III could maybe get this deal done.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints’ need at quarterback is obvious. New Orleans has prospered over the last decade and a half through having Drew Brees under center, but that era of dominance now looks to be coming to a close.

Brees is no doubt one of the greatest passers in NFL history, but he had the kind of year in 2020 that usually heralds the beginning of the end. His PFF overall grade slipped almost 20 grading points from 90.8 to 71.5, and he also broke 11 ribs, which is 45% of his entire rib cage. If ever there was a hint to walk off into the sunset, this year seemed to be it for Brees.

The Saints are then left with the options of Taysom Hill — who didn’t exactly look stellar when given starting opportunities this season — or a re-upped Jameis Winston. And that kind of desperation could see them look behind Door No. 3 and try a Hail Mary for a player like Wilson.

The wizardry that this would take in terms of cap manipulation — not to mention the trade package itself — would be typical Saints. Still, Wilson's connection with Sean Payton,  a pass-happy coach who would likely embrace the “Let Russ Cook” mantra like few others, would be incredibly appealing.

Hypothetical trade package

Even ignoring the salary-cap magic that New Orleans would have to work out for 2021 and beyond, it’s difficult to develop a trade package that would entice Seattle into striking a deal with the Saints. Their 2021 first-round pick is at No. 28 overall, and with Wilson in the fold, the odds are that any future first-round picks would fall in the same range.

Good, young players would probably have to be included in addition to draft capital. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore and/or offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, both slated to play on the fifth-year option in 2021, certainly represent positional needs for Seattle. However, they’re not cheap assets anymore, and both would look for big extensions immediately.

As crazy as this may sound, any potential trade package from New Orleans may be more difficult to come up with than the necessary cap space required to absorb Wilson’s contract.

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears were viable quarterback play away from being a real contender in 2020, and that will likely remain the case for 2021. Whether it was Nick Foles (66.5 overall) or Mitchell Trubisky (62.0), Chicago’s quarterback play was woeful in a season where NFL offenses set countless records for success and production. In a different season, grades in the 60s would be passable. In 2020, they were bad enough to rank behind Taysom Hill, 28th (at best) in the league.

Trubisky’s return as a starter late in the year yielded some improved production, but his grade never improved because it was all built on the quality (or lack thereof) of the defenses he was facing. The best single-game grade he achieved after returning as the starter was 70.0, a mark Russell Wilson eclipsed 12 times over the season.

Chicago’s offensive line was a mess in 2020, particularly in the first half of the year, but it should be better next year after getting players back from injury. Still, this is a constant that Wilson has had to contend with throughout his career.

Hypothetical trade package

The Bears have been players in the veteran quarterback market all offseason, and in the above hypotheticals wherein Dak Prescott and Derek Carr are not moved, Chicago would make a lot of sense as the third team that then sends a few first-round picks to Dallas or Las Vegas for the guy Wilson would supplant.

If a direct trade is in play, Chicago’s 2021 first, 2022 first and perhaps 2023 first are all on the table. Young, ascending players like 2020 draft picks Jaylon Johnson and Darnell Mooney are also intriguing options for Seattle.

Conclusion

The compensation package from any of the four teams could end up all over the place depending on what Seattle wants to do going forward. If the Seahawks do end up moving on from their franchise quarterback of nine seasons, it will be the start of a new chapter in the Pacific Northwest, and so the trade collateral would have to be significant. With the NFC West rival Rams going all-in on 2021 and 2022, perhaps Seattle tears things down in the short-term in an attempt to be back on top by 2023. Working against that idea is the fact Pete Carroll is the oldest head coach in the NFL at 69 years old.

That the situation in Seattle has unraveled to the point it has seems remarkable. The Seahawks have certainly hung Wilson out to dry in terms of pass protection, but he has also been a huge contributing factor to his own problems, and that wouldn’t go away by changing teams and chasing greener grass in a trade. Nevertheless, Seattle officially has some drama on their hands before the offseason officially kicks off in March.

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