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Analysis: Despite what you may have heard, Russell Wilson always wanted to stay in Seattle

UPDATED: Tue., April 16, 2019, 5:52 p.m.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson keeps the ball on a 40-yard gain against the Minnesota Vikings  on Dec. 10, 2018, in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear / AP)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson keeps the ball on a 40-yard gain against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 10, 2018, in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear / AP)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – So after all that – months of trade rumors and rumblings about whether Russell Wilson wanted to stay in Seattle and if the Seahawks really wanted to keep him – the two sides remained married.

For at least another five years, anyway.

They did so with a contract that was much in line with what most observers figured all along might be what it would take to get it done – a four-year extension worth $35 million a season ($140 overall) that makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history. Adding that onto the one year he had left, and Wilson can make $157 million through the 2023 season, keeping him with the Seahawks until he is 35.

There had been talk that Wilson wanted to set some other precedents with this contract – specifically, maybe tying the contract to rises in the salary cap, an attempt to assure that his salary would always stay at the top of the market (rising salaries of other players meant Wilson went from being the second-highest paid player in the NFL in July 2015, to 14th highest before agreeing to his new deal Monday).

But early indications are that the deal is conventional in its structure with no salary cap tie-ins, although there is a no-trade clause, at Wilson’s request, and also no guaranteed money other than for injury after the first season, preserving Seattle’s recent trend of not guaranteeing money after the first year of a contract.

Indications are that Wilson’s camp fought for the cap tie-in until the last minute as well as a few other potential precedent breakers. Michael Silver of NFL.com reported Tuesday afternoon that Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, wanted it written in the contract that the Seahawks could not use a franchise tag on Wilson following the 2023 season, assuring he would become a free agent then unless signed to another big extension by Seattle.

But the Seahawks didn’t cave on the precedent setters, but did up the ante financially, specifically in the form of a higher signing bonus – $65 million, the highest in NFL history, with Wilson being guaranteed $70 million in the first year of the contract. That is said to have finally broken the ice after four days of negotiations between the Seahawks and Rodgers, who is based in Florida and arrived in Seattle on Friday with the hope of getting the deal done by Wilson’s stated deadline.

NFL Network reported that Seahawks general manager John Schneider walked that final contract offer down the hall to Rodgers at 11:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the clock struck midnight on Wilson’s self-imposed deadline of April 15.

That’s literally a check Wilson gets the minute he signs the contract, or a healthy chunk of it anyway – as of Tuesday morning, the Seahawks had yet to officially announce the deal, which they will only do once pen is put to paper.

That the contract makes Wilson the highest-paid player in NFL history (for the moment, anyway) means he certainly got a lot financially out of the deal.

But his agent, Rodgers, said in a statement to the Seattle Times that what was ultimately most important for Wilson than setting any precedents in terms of guarantees or cap tie-ins, was staying in Seattle.

“Russell loves this town, this team and these fans,” Rodgers told the Times early Tuesday morning. “Part of the compromise involved his affection for all things Seattle. The idea of playing anywhere else was not nearly as appealing as playing right here, the place he and his family call home.”

Wilson’s apparent desire to stay in Seattle, and willingness not to push the envelope too much to try to get the team to make some unprecedented concessions, flew in the face of much of the discussion over the last few weeks, notably a rumor started by sports talk show host Colin Cowherd of FS1 that Wilson’s wife, entertainer and singer Ciara, preferred for the couple to be based in New York and as such, Wilson wanted to be traded to the Giants.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll publicly scoffed at the rumor when asked in March at the NFL league meetings. Other sources said there was nothing to it, some noting that Cowherd said all along he heard it from “the entertainment side” of things (Cowherd and Ciara have the same representation). And Ciara tweeted to her 11.1 million followers Tuesday morning “Soooo proud of my love @DangeRussWilson. So excited Seattle is home! God is so good. The hardest working man I know! You inspire me so much! #GoHawks @Seahawks.”

But the rumor and others like it lingered and grew only more intense when it was revealed that Wilson had set an April 15 deadline to get a new contract.

Why seem to complicate things – no one had heard of an April deadline before for an NFL player to get a contract extension – if he just wanted to stay put?

The response was that Wilson wanted to get it over with. In 2015, he set a deadline of the start of training camp to get a new contract, and the two sides came to agreement at the 11th hour the night before.

His side figured this time that nothing would change in terms of what Seattle could offer – or what Wilson would want – from spring to summer, so why not get it done now? That way, Wilson didn’t also have to deal with an offseason of questions and wondering about his future.

Getting it done quickly also may have given Wilson whatever assurance he may still have needed about how the team feels about him.

That may seem a silly notion – it’s worth recalling again the Seahawks made him the second-highest paid player in the NFL with his 2015 contract at $21.9 million per season, just $100,000 less a year than Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

And wasn’t it this time a year ago that seemingly every national outlet had some sort of story about the Seahawks choosing to tie its future to Wilson over other seminal Seahawks such as Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett?

But everybody wants to be wanted, and in the high-stakes world of professional sports, it’s money that conveys feelings the best.

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