In one of the biggest – if not the biggest – trades in Seattle sports history, the Seahawks agreed Tuesday to deal quarterback Russell Wilson to Denver for a mammoth haul of five draft picks and three players, including two first-rounders, and quarterback Drew Lock.
A league source confirmed the parameters of the deal to The Seattle Times. Because of league rules, it won’t become official until the start of the new league year on March 16. However, ESPN reported Tuesday night that Wilson had passed a physical with the Broncos and signed a waiver of his no-trade clause, key steps to completing the trade. As of Tuesday night, the Seahawks had not officially confirmed the deal, but they can announce that it has been agreed upon before March 16.
A source confirmed that talks between the Seahawks and Broncos heated up during the NFL combine last week in Indianapolis and were the result of the continued fraying of the relationship between Wilson and Seattle and of Denver giving the Seahawks an offer that proved too good to turn down, given the circumstances.
A source also confirmed that while Seattle got multiple offers for Wilson – including one reported last week from Washington – Denver was the only team of those that made offers that Wilson agreed to waive his no-trade clause for. In fact, a report from the Washington Post on Tuesday stated the Commanders offered Seattle three first-round picks. But Wilson apparently would not waive his no-trade clause to go to Washington. Reports on Tuesday night also stated that the Eagles tried to trade for Wilson, but that Wilson would not waive his no-trade clause to go to Philly.
The talks with Denver, whose second-year general manager George Paton had made clear for months he would swing big to get a quarterback, were said to have intensified and culminated Tuesday after Denver learned it would not be able to get Aaron Rodgers, who agreed to a four-year deal worth $200 million to stay with Green Bay.
The Seahawks also understood that Rodgers’ contract could serve as a starting point for any future talks with Wilson, who has two years remaining on a four-year, $35 million-per-year deal he signed in April 2019. That deal was finalized only after the Seahawks agreed to Wilson’s request for a no-trade clause, rare by NFL standards, and which ultimately played a pivotal role in Tuesday’s trade.
And the challenge the team knew it would have re-signing Wilson in a year played a role in the Seahawks’ decision to move on knowing that they might get their best package in return for Wilson now instead of waiting a year, especially with Wilson making it clear he was not only amenable to a trade but was more than happy to be moved to the right team. It was already expected Wilson would ask for a contract following the 2022 season that would put him on par with, if not surpass, Rodgers.
A source confirmed that Seattle will also send a fourth-round pick to Denver while getting three players, including Lock, as well as two first-rounders, two second-rounders and a fifth. Lock, a second-round pick of the Broncos in 2019, has an 8-13 record as a starter, including 0-3 in 2021.
A source confirmed to The Times that one of the other players Seattle will get is defensive end Shelby Harris, a 30-year-old who had six sacks in 2021. Harris has two years remaining on his contract, due to make $7.5 million in 2022.
Seattle will also get tight end Noah Fant, who is entering his fourth year and had 68 receptions for 670 yards and four touchdowns last season.
And with this trade, the Seahawks are now expected to have eight overall picks, including Nos. 9, 40, 41 and 72, in the 2022 draft, which will be held April 28-30.
Also adding some urgency to get the deal done now is that Wilson’s $5 million roster bonus was due March 21. He also has no guaranteed money left in his contract, making a deal less complicated to complete now than a year ago.
The trade sends Wilson to the team against which he had his greatest moment as a Seahawk, Seattle’s 43-8 win over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII. According to ESPN, Wilson becomes the first player to start for a team that he beat in a Super Bowl.
A few hours after the Seahawks agreed to trade Wilson, they then decided to move on from the quarterback of the team’s defense the last 10 years – middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
ESPN was the first to report that the Seahawks will release Wagner in what is a salary-cap-saving move – cutting Wagner will save Seattle $16.6 million against the cap. The NFL Network also reported Seattle will release Wagner.
Trading Wilson and releasing Wagner within roughly eight hours means the Seahawks now have no players left who have been with the team continuously who were part of the squad that won Super Bowl XLVIII (defensive end Benson Mayowa, who played in two games as a rookie that year, returned in 2020 and remains under contract).
The potential savings and the fact there was no remaining guaranteed money in Wagner’s contract led to conjecture that the team would move on from Wagner.
While rumors of Wilson’s future with the team hovered since last year, the Seahawks appeared to tamp them down last week when coach Pete Carroll said at the combine that the Seahawks “had no intention” to trade Wilson and that general manager John Schneider had told teams who called about Wilson that Seattle was “not shopping the quarterback.”
But the Seahawks stopped short of saying Wilson would not be dealt, and Schneider said he would not be doing his job if he didn’t take calls on Wilson.
When Denver kept calling and Wilson agreed to waive his no-trade clause, the deal got done. Wilson was thought to prefer Denver in part due to its corps of young receivers and solid defense as well as playing for a first-year offensive-minded coach in Nathaniel Hackett, who was the offensive coordinator for Green Bay the last three years.
The trade means Wilson will still play a game in Seattle next season as the Broncos are on the list of Seahawks’ home opponents in 2022.
But thus ends the 10-year career of Wilson in Seattle, one that may have been as important as any in franchise history, if not Seattle sports history.
The Seahawks had four straight losing seasons before Wilson arrived in 2012, taken in the third round at No. 75 overall out of Wisconsin.
He led Seattle to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth his first year and then to the Super Bowl each of his next two seasons, including the Seahawks’ only title following the 2013 season.
Wilson ended last season with the most wins of any quarterback in the first 10 years of his career of any in NFL history – 113 – including regular season and playoffs.
But Wilson, who turned 33 in November, endured the worst season of his career in 2021, missing three games with a ruptured and dislocated right middle finger as Seattle fell to 7-10, the first losing season for the Seahawks since 2011, the year before Wilson was drafted.
Rumors surrounding Wilson’s future began circulating last season when he said he was frustrated with how often he had been hit during his career and that he wanted more of a say in moves the organization made. It was later reported that his agent, Mark Rodgers, had told the team he would approve a trade to one of four teams – the Saints, Raiders, Packers and Bears.
Credible reports stated that the Seahawks turned down a blockbuster offer from the Bears, with Carroll said to have nixed the trade at the last minute.
Denver was not on that list. But with Denver aggressively pursuing a quarterback and Wilson increasingly uncertain about his future in Seattle – and the Seahawks realizing that a stare down with Wilson was coming after the 2022 season at the latest – the deal was made.
Wilson said repeatedly this offseason that his “hope” was to end his career in Seattle. But like the team, he never definitively said he would stay.
That Carroll turns 71 in September led to the idea that the team would hold on to Wilson for one more season, keep the team largely together in 2022 and try to get back to the playoffs.
So what does Seattle do now at quarterback?
The Seahawks are thought to believe Lock has more potential than he showed in Denver. He becomes one of only two QBs currently on Seattle’s roster, the other being former UW and Lake Stevens standout Jacob Eason, whom the Seahawks claimed off waivers last season. Seattle is also likely to re-sign Geno Smith, the team’s backup the last three years.
But the Seahawks will also now pursue other QB options via trade, free agency and the draft, possibly using some of its draft capital acquired Tuesday to try to make a deal. Among those Seattle could seek are Sam Darnold of Carolina, Carson Wentz of Indianapolis, Jimmy Garoppolo of the 49ers and possibly Deshaun Watson of Houston, among others.
Seattle will save $11 million against the cap with the trade of Wilson but will still take on a $26 million dead cap hit. According to ESPN, that is the second-biggest dead cap hit any NFL team has ever taken other than the Eagles taking a $33.8 million dead cap hit when they dealt Wentz to the Colts.
According to OvertheCap.com, though, Seattle’s net cap savings for 2022, when including the cap hits of the three players acquired in the trade, will be just $775,000.
However, the trade also means Seattle will save $27 million against the cap in 2023, the final year of Wilson’s contract, and that the Seahawks can now forge contracts with other players this season knowing it has that cap space available down the road.
Like Seattle, Denver finished 7-10 in 2021. But the Broncos fired Vic Fangio and hired Hackett, who drew raves for his work with Aaron Rodgers, as their new head coach.
That undoubtedly appealed to Wilson, who has been rumored to feel stifled in the offense of Seattle and Carroll, who comes from a defensive background and has stressed being careful with the football and building around a running game.
Wilson finishes his Seattle career with a regular-season record of 104-53-1 and numerous team records, including 292 touchdowns, which ranks 15th in NFL history. His final TD came on a 25-yarder to Freddie Swain that helped secure a 38-30 win at Arizona on Jan. 9, his final play coming on a kneel down as the final seconds of that game ran off the clock.
Bob Condotta covers the Seahawks for the Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout the year.
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