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Russell Wilson Got the Richest Deal in NFL History. Now Comes the Hard Part.

After his contract deadline caused weeks of hand-wringing for fans, the Seahawks quarterback agreed to a four-year extension late Monday. But Seattle still faces tough questions on defense and about its offensive strategy.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Tough beat for Paxton Lynch. After two weeks of reports that Russell Wilson would stop negotiating with the Seahawks if the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement by the April 15 deadline he’d set—and speculation that Wilson could be traded, leaving Lynch as the only quarterback on the team’s roster—the superstar has reached an agreement to stay in Seattle.

“Hey, Seattle, we got a deal,” Wilson said in a video of him in bed with his wife, Ciara, that he tweeted at 12:44 a.m. PT on Tuesday.

The extension, which begins next year, is for four years and a base of $140 million with $107 million guaranteed, which comes out to $35 million per year in average annual salary. Wilson, who will pass Aaron Rodgers as the highest-paid player in NFL history on a per-year basis, will get $65 million of that up front in his signing bonus. It’s a far cry from five years ago when Wilson won the Super Bowl with Seattle while earning less than the team’s long snapper.

Wilson and his agent, Mark Rodgers (no relation to Aaron, I assume), had set midnight Tuesday as the deadline for Wilson to sign a contract and reportedly communicated that if there was no agreement by that time, he would not sign one at all, according to NBC Sports’ Peter King. The strategy worked. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that Seattle GM John Schneider came through with the final paperwork at 11:30 p.m. PT. Many of the mechanisms of this deal mirrored the extension Wilson signed in 2015, which also came when he set a deadline and when Aaron Rodgers was the highest-paid player in the league. Back then, Wilson came in as the second-highest-paid player. Now, he’s no. 1.

Wilson, who has been to two Super Bowls and won one, has never missed a game and has the second-highest career passer rating ever (Rodgers is no. 1, and they are the only two to stay above 100). In 2017, he led the league in touchdown passes (34) and led his own team in rushing. A year later, Wilson had 49 fewer pass attempts yet managed one more touchdown pass (35), a total that was good for third in the league. Wilson was the only person in Patrick Mahomes II’s stratosphere last season in terms of touchdown percentage (Mahomes threw for touchdowns on 8.6 percent of his passes vs. Wilson’s 8.2 percent, with nobody else above 7.0). Yet stats alone will never tell the story of why Wilson deserved however much Seattle needed to pay to keep him. Nobody does more with less than Wilson, who seemingly has been asked to conjure a magic trick in lieu of an actual play call on third down each week for the past three years.

For Russ, the next step is to attend Seattle’s offseason activities, which began Monday and served as the impetus for the deadline. Wilson will likely be there Tuesday, but the next issue for Seattle to deal with is who won’t be there: Defensive end Frank Clark, who led the team in sacks (13) last year, was assigned the franchise tag in March but has not yet signed his tender and seems a good bet to hold out. Beyond Clark, the Seahawks also need to budget for defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who was second on the team in sacks (10.5) last year and will be a free agent at the end of this season. Combined, Clark and Reed had 23.5 sacks for Seattle last year, and no other player on the team had more than 3.0. While the obvious answer would be to pay both, that might leave the team too stretched to pay inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, the last remaining vestige of the elite mid-decade Seattle defense, who also will be a free agent at the end of the year. Wagner has been just one notch below Defensive Player of the Year–level the past two seasons. He turns 29 in June, so Seattle could decide to move on; however those situations shake out, the Seahawks know they’re walking a fine line since paying Wilson money that could have gone to the defense has fractured the Seattle locker room before.

Seattle may also want to address its offensive game plan, which is either conservative or outdated, depending on your perspective. Wilson will now make about $2 million per game, and if the Seahawks are content to have him hand the ball off on first and second down, as they did when they ran themselves out of the playoffs last season, it’ll be a waste of money. Wilson took up roughly one-two-hundredth of the Seahawks’ salary cap when they made their two Super Bowls, but now he’ll occupy roughly one-sixth. If they want to compete for a championship, they’ll need to do it through the air, and that might mean sacrificing some of their defensive identity for offensive talent. Paying Wilson was the easy choice. Now the team has to make the hard decisions.