First, a brief introduction. Greetings, 12’s! It is an honor and privilege to join the FanSided team for the purposes of bringing Seattle Seahawks-centered content to Emerald City Swagger. I hope to provide an interesting perspective on the team, and truly appreciate the opportunity to talk ‘Hawks with you all. Now let’s get to why we’re here.
Per NFL.com reporter Ian Rapaport, the Washington Redskins agreed to a contract extension with left tackle Trent Williams to the tune of $66M over five years with $43.25M guaranteed and $32M at signing on Saturday. If these eye-popping numbers are accurate, the $13.2M/yr average per year (APY) would make Williams the highest paid left tackle in history. So why should any Seahawk fan care about Williams’ deal? Simple – it will be used as pertinent information by Russell Okung’s agent Russell Okung when discussing a possible second contract with the Seattle Seahawks after his contract expires at the end of the 2015 season, rendering him an unrestricted free agent.
Jan 29, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks tackle Russell Okung (76) at press conference at Arizona Grand in advance of Super Bowl XLIX. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Up to this point, it could have been argued that a contract extension for Okung might be discounted for a couple reasons: 1) he’s never started all 16 regular season games in any of his five years as a Seahawk due to various injuries, and 2) he is generally happy to be a member of the Seattle community with roots now firmly planted in the PNW, including his very own charitable foundation. It’s probably fair to say that people looking at preliminary numbers for an agreement may have been using a $7.5M-$9M APY framework, placing him behind the likes of Jason Peters and Andrew Whitworth in APY, but ahead of Eugene Monroe and Will Beatty. In terms of player comparisons, this seemed like the correct monetary neighborhood for Okung to reside.
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Well, in the immortal words of Young Dolph, “Not No More.”
Oh, and if anyone thinks Okung acting as his own agent will leave him unsure of his place among his left tackle peers, think again. This a very intelligent man who is quite aware of his surroundings, as evidenced by this quote in July:
"“I know my worth. I can look at the market and go directly to a team without an agent and tell that team my worth,” Okung said. “And I can do so with confidence because I’ve done my research, I’ve educated myself and I’ve questioned the answers I’ve been given.”"
When Okung says he’s done his research, it may now include a comparison to Williams like the one outlined below. As you can see, there was not a whole lot of difference between the two statistically in 2014, though it must be said Williams battled various injuries last year that likely had a direct and substantially negative effect on his performance. As a result, Williams ranked 17th overall at the left tackle position in 2014 after easily ranking first overall in 2013, according to the metrics used by profootballfocus.com. Regardless, Okung can point to the following numbers gleaned from PFF and footballoutsiders.com (protection totals for 2012 and 2013 are unavailable) to argue the position that he deserves to be compensated similarly:
Now, if you asked 32 NFL General Managers who is better, Williams or Okung, at least 31 of them would say Williams and maybe all 32. It was thought Seattle coveted Williams the most when they held the 6th pick of the 2010 draft – only to see him go off the board two picks earlier to Washington. However, while it can be agreed upon by most that Williams is the better player now and likely going forward, there doesn’t seem to be a gap between them that would suggest a contract at significantly less money for Russell Okung.
This presents a very real problem for the Seattle Seahawks. On one hand, this offense- this team– can’t afford to lose their best lineman from a unit that is, to put it kindly, struggling to hold up its end of the bargain. The one thing Tom Cable can rely on up front is consistently good blind-side protection for their newly minted quarterback and pretty good run blocking from their left tackle (when healthy). For a unit that struggles with just about every other facet of O-line play, it seems impossible to expect a functional offense if the lone high-quality player on the line of scrimmage jumps ship in free agency for a bigger sack of cash.
Teams are always in need of quality offensive linemen, and it is almost a given that one or more of them would gladly pony up a pretty penny for Okung.
Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks tackle Russell Okung (76) celebrates after winning Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. Seattle Seahawks won 43-8. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
On the other hand, you know how seemingly everybody on earth likes to say “Well you can’t pay everybody” ad nauseam when it comes to Seahawk player contracts? It’s true. They can’t. Actually, no team can pay everybody, but that’s beside the point. A contract extension for Russell Okung that reaches into double figure APY territory would be very difficult for the team to pull off without there being a few falling dominos as a direct result. While it’s true Seattle does not have a lot of cap space to play with, they do have cap flexibility that would allow them to move some chess pieces around to fit a contract like this under their hat, but it likely would not come without very real ramifications involving some other players. Players you know and possibly love.
Hopefully Okung and the team can find some reasonable middle ground and come to an agreement that works for both sides sometime before free agency commences in 2016. If the Williams contract is seen as more of an outlier versus a deal to use as a player comp in negotiations, an agreement that satisfies each party is within reach.
Ultimately, as difficult as it may be for the Seahawks to fit a large contract extension for Russell Okung under the salary cap over the next few years, it may be a deal the team can’t afford NOT to make considering the enormous investment in its quarterback who must be kept vertical to thrive as this core group of Seahawks attempts to become the team of this decade.
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