Early Tuesday morning, Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider fidgeted inside a conference room at the team's luxuriant lakeside training facility, anxious to crack a celebratory beer. Standing between Schneider's desired toast with agent Mark Rodgers was the blessing of quarterback Russell Wilson, who sat at his nearby home, reviewing a proposed contract extension that would make him the highest-paid player in football history.
After four days of intensive negotiations aimed at beating a player-imposed deadline on getting the deal done or abandoning the quest altogether, Schneider and Rodgers had come to a tentative agreement with just minutes to spare. Now, even after the clock struck midnight, they were waiting for Wilson to sign off -- something he did via phone at about 12:20 a.m., completing a difficult but rewarding process for the franchise that drafted him seven years ago.
As Schneider and Seahawks vice president of football administration Matt Thomas exchanged handshakes with Rodgers, the mood was equal parts rejoicing and relief. About 30 minutes later, when Wilson posted a video to his Twitter account with his wife, Ciara, saying, "Hey Seattle, we got a deal,"Seahawks fans everywhere -- at least, the ones who weren't snoring -- emphatically exhaled.
Thanks to the four-year, $140 million extension, Wilson, who has been one of the NFL's best players since his rookie season, is now tied contractually to Seattle through the 2023 season. Thanks to a no-trade clause that helped persuade the quarterback to finalize the agreement, the odds have increased dramatically that Wilson will spend at least the bulk of his career in Seattle.
And really, that's as it should be. For all the NFL coaches, general managers and other talent evaluators who've told me over the past seven years that they loved Wilson coming out of Wisconsin or were thisclose to drafting him -- and trust me, this is a group that could fill more than one conference room -- Schneider and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll were the only ones who backed it up.
After Schneider became enamored of the passer who measured just 5-foot-10 5/8 inches, the Seahawks took Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft -- and Carroll gave him an immediate chance to compete, despite the presence of Matt Flynn, who months earlier had been signed to a lucrative free-agent contract.
As the Seahawks have transitioned to a new era, parting with many of their iconic defensive stars and rebuilding on the fly, Wilson has only gotten better. He was instrumental in their surprising playoff run in 2018, marking the sixth time Seattle has reached the postseason during his seven years with the team. Seattle is 75-36-1 in the regular season during that stretch, and Wilson has compiled a 100.3 career passer rating -- second all-time behind the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers -- and earned five Pro Bowl selections.
So yes, the Seahawks valued Wilson as a precious resource, and understandably so. That said, this was not an easy process. With Wilson entering the last year of his current contract and intent on getting something done by April 15, the team was on the clock. Had a deal not been reached -- and had Wilson followed through on a threat not to negotiate with the team thereafter -- the future would have become murky. Seattle could have held onto Wilson through the 2020 and 2021 seasons by using the franchise tag, but the cost would have become prohibitive after that, and the notion of trading him before reaching critical mass might well have been broached.
Rodgers, a baseball agent who counts Wilson as his lone NFL client, was comfortable driving a hard bargain. He arrived in Seattle last Friday and set up shop in that conference room at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Washington, where he began negotiating with Thomas and Schneider, who popped in and out of draft meetings over the next several days. There were plenty of moments over the weekend, and up until late Monday night, when it seemed as though the quest for an agreement was futile.
Schneider was aware of the reports by Pro Football Talk and other outlets that Wilson wanted to play elsewhere, but he successfully tuned out the noise and stayed optimistic. The death of Seattle owner Paul Allen last October could have presented another complication, but team sources say his sister, Jody -- the team's current chair -- was engaged and supportive throughout the process.
The Seahawks were determined to stand firm when it came to one of Wilson's primary demands -- that his compensation be tied to a percentage of the team's salary cap, allowing for expected increases in the latter years of the deal. It's a device that agents for several other NFL players have broached before during contract talks but have never successfully negotiated. Yielding to Wilson presumably would have changed the landscape for current and future generations of elite players.
It wasn't until late Monday that Rodgers finally relented and focused on completing a traditional deal. The agent had also asked for language preventing the team from using the franchise or transition tags upon the completion of Wilson's extension in 2023, but Schneider again resisted. The GM yielded on the no-trade language and, with Jody Allen's blessing, essentially threw money at the problem, hoping that an annual average of $35 million in new money would be enough to satisfy Wilson.
As midnight neared, Schneider indicated the Seahawks were dug in. Shortly thereafter, Rodgers told him they had a deal, pending Wilson's review of the language.
So Rodgers, Schneider and Thomas waited ... and waited a little more. Finally, the call came in -- and, soon after Wilson had given his blessing, beers were cracked.
If all goes as planned, Seahawks fans will also be doing plenty of celebrating for the next five seasons, and perhaps even longer.