With the way the internet has been losing it’s mind over the NFL hot stove season for the past few seasons, you could be forgiven if I didn’t jump feet first into the rumors of Russell Wilson wanting to be traded this morning. The Athletic wrote an amazing piece about the growing rift between Russell Wilson and the powers that be in Seattle that came out today. What the article didn’t do was make it abundantly clear that Wilson wanted out of the Seahawks organization. The two notable people discussing him wanting to be traded were Brandon Marshall, who played all of seven games in Seattle at the end of his career, and noted rumor-maker-upper Jason La Confora. The CBS Sports “Insider” is notable mostly for being wrong.
Then Adam Schefter, someone worth paying attention to, dropped a bomb on all of us this afternoon.
A lot to unpack here. First, poor Barry McCockiner.
Secondly, this is basically an incredibly polite way for the Russell Wilson camp to say that they want out, and they want out their way. In the Athletic article, it was portrayed that Wilson was growing frustrated by Pete Carroll’s run first offense, and his lack of input in it. Carroll can point to the fact that he has always been a run first team, and it has made Wilson rich and gotten them to the Super Bowl…where they lost by inexplicably throwing the ball.
Russell Wilson looks at other quarterbacks around the league getting to throw 50 times, and consistently raising their profiles as the games’ elite players. He wants to be a part of that. He wants hardware. He thinks he can get it with four teams.
The Raiders stand out because they have no history of winning, and their coach, noted quarterback whisperer and Hooters enthusiast Jon Gruden, hasn’t been able to get his team to the playoffs in any of his three seasons. Their offense is good, now. They have Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller, and Henry Ruggs on offense. Trading for Wilson will definitely make them better. THAT SAID, offense really isn’t the problem for the Raiders. They need defense. It’s fine to not really have a defense when you are playing a moribound team like the Broncos. But the Chiefs are in position to be the rulers of the AFC West for awhile. You have to find a way to stop their offense. Justin Herbert is also on the come up in San Diego, who could be a threat as soon as next year if they get their players healthy. The Raiders need help on defense, and they would need to trade Derek Carr to be able to bring in Russ, and even then, they would have to do some salary gymnastics to do anything about their defense.
The Cowboys are interesting, but are in a similar spot as Oakland. They theoretically have a quarterback already in Dak Prescott. Even though contract talks got contentious, and Prescott suffered a gruesome injury while playing on the franchise tag, every player’s worst nightmare, it looks like Dallas plans to keep around Dak. Currently, the Cowboys have 24 million in salary cap space, but the only quarterbacks they have on their roster are Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush. And they are also a team that stands out as desperately needing talent on defense. The best way for them to do it is through the draft because of the limited cap space they will have by bringing back Prescott for 2021, hopefully under a long term deal. They don’t seem like a candidate to be willing to give up draft picks they desperately need to rebuild their defense. Then again, it’s Jerry Jones, so all bets are off.
The New Orleans Saints are currently 66 million dollars OVER the projected salary cap, and even if you remove Drew Brees from the list, they still have to trim 50 million dollars before getting to break even, let alone getting to a point where they can afford to do anything. If they wait until June 1st, they could cut star receiver Michael Thomas, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, lineback Kwon Alexander, and guard Andrus Peat, and they will still have to trim 10 million dollars to get to break even. Of course, the Saints treat the salary cap like a ridiculous shell game that they have loopholed to death, and this wouldn’t stop them from going for Wilson.
But that’s not why you guys tuned in! You all want to know how Russell Wilson can become a Bear. It won’t be easy. Chicago currently needs to cut their salary by two million to get to the cap, and that’s with Nick Foles as their starting quarterback and no Allen Robinson. The defense is aging, but you can’t afford to get rid of guys because their depth is so razor thin, and to pull off a trade for Russell Wilson, they won’t be able to afford to get deeper at those positions.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, first: No, you can’t trade Khalil Mack in a Russell Wilson trade. Why? Because current Bears GM and “guy who learned how to screw the cap up from the Saints, but isn’t as good at it” Ryan Pace kept converting Khalil Mack’s salary from previous seasons into bonuses that spread out over a few years. Khalil Mack’s salary cap hit this season is 26.6 million. Russell Wilson makes 32 million. That’s not bad. Yea, except for this poison pill: Even if Mack is traded, his dead cap is 21 million dollars. If Wilson is traded, his dead cap is 39 million. That means that if Mack becomes a Seahawk, he will cost Seattle 65 million between Mack’s salary and Wilson’s dead cap. Wilson will cost the Bears 53 million in the first season. That’s out of play.
They could try to pull off this trade after June 1st, as some have suggested, when Wilson’s dead cap is only 13 million, and Mack’s is 9.4 million. That being said, the draft and free agency will have already happened. A trade like that would most likely need to be done before the draft because draft capital is going to be the most important thing coming back to the Seahawks, who would not have as much cap flexibility with Wilson gone.
Could the Bears enter a hand shake agreement with the Seahawks over draft picks and have Seattle tell the Bears which guy to draft? Yea, that’s possible, but complicated. The biggest complication would be that a player drafted by the Bears would need to sign a rookie contract before being eligible to be traded. If, say the Bears came to a verbal agreement with Seattle that included the 20th pick in this year’s draft, and the 20th pick decided not to sign his contract, then it would blow up the entire trade. Beyond that, top players rarely come to terms on their rookie contracts until around training camp in July. At that point, both teams will have lost so much time waiting for the trade, that they would have to shotgun all involved players directly into the other team’s training camps.
The other issue is draft valuation. The Bears could just offer a bunch of first round picks after this year to make it happen after June 1, but the 20th pick in this year’s draft is worth more than the Bears first round pick in next year’s draft because there is no certainty of draft position. If the Bears outperform expectations in 2021 with Wilson, then their pick in 2022 would be worse than 2021.
It would also make more sense for the Seahawks, if doing the trade before June 1st, to want more 2021 draft picks because that allows them the ability to have more cap flexibility because draft picks tend to be more fixed cost, without variance, thanks to the collective bargaining agreement.
If the Seahawks come back and say that if they do the trade before June 1st, then you would have to expect the trade to look like this:
2021 first round pick
2021 second round pick
2021 fourth round pick
2022 first round pick
2022 third round pick
2023 first round pick
2023 second round pick
If they waited until after June 1st, they would expect something along the lines of:
2022 first round pick
2022 second round pick
2022 third round pick
2023 first round pick
2023 second pick
2024 first round pick
2024 second round pick
That main difference might seem small. The first one includes a fourth round pick, the second one includes a second. But in terms of pure value, the second one is much more brutal because you are giving away any opportunity to draft in the top 60 for the next three seasons after this one, whereas the first one allows you your second round pick in 2022.
It’s also worth noting that the first trade would be better for the Bears than the second one, depending on the eyes of the beholder. If you trade for Russell Wilson, the plan would obviously be for him to stay long term, but his contract does expire after 2023. Wilson could walk after that season, and if you push the trade past June 1st, then you are giving up a first and second round pick in a season where he is no longer even on your tream.
The other massive issue is: how do the Bears make this work with the salary cap? If you are going to trade for Wilson, then it makes absolutely zero sense to let Allen Robinson leave. People who don’t think Allen Robinson is worth the money are people that only look at football through a fantasy lense. He has put up incredible numbers for seasons, considering his quarterbacks have been Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, and Mitch Trubisky. He is a top 15 receiver in the NFL. If you were willing to pay him like a top 10 receiver last season, you would have more flexibility in this. The Bears didn’t, and therefore they really have no choice but to franchise tag Robinson if they plan on bringing in Wilson. To bring both guys on, the Bears will need to create 49 million in cap space. Oh, and since they already need to create two million, so let’s call it 51 million.
Again, don’t bother saying Khalil Mack. If you cut him before June 1st, he will cost 37 million against the salary cap. If you cut him after June 1st, he will cost 25 million. You might as well just pay the extra 1.5 million to have him on the team.
Same goes for Robert Quinn’s increasingly terrible contract. If you cut him before June 1st, it will cost nearly 24 million against the cap. If you cut him after June 1st, it will be 14.6 million in dead cap space. His actual contract is only 14.7 million. Might as well keep him for the extra 100k.
Even though the defense has fallen off each of the past two years since Vic Fangio left to take over the Broncos, that is still where most of the cuts have to come, because it’s where they have invested the most money. That means some tough things need to happen.
Akeim Hicks makes 12 million this season, and has a dead cap hit of 1.5 million. He would have to be gone. 10.5 million in found money.
Kyle Fuller has been a great player at cornerback for the Bears. That position is also incredibly thin, with only rookies Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor, along with Duke Shelley available to step up. That being said, lf you want to bring in a prize like Wilson, then you are going to have to hope that the combined 40 million you are paying Mack and Quinn will create enough pressure to help the corners out.
Doesn’t matter if you are releasing or trading Fuller, the numbers break the same way. If they cut him or trade him before June 1st, they will save 11 million dollars on the cap. If they trade or cut him after June 1st, then he will cost six million in dead cap, saving the Bears 14 million. It’s hard to imagine the defense not horribly regressing without Fuller. Is there a way to find somewhere else to get that 14 million? Let’s find out.
There are a few other cuts. Let’s barrel through these possibilities:
Charles Leno: Trade or cut him after June 1st, the Bears save nine million. Leno isn’t a bad player. But he is in the final year of his contract and would most likely not be resigned after the season, anyway.
Jimmy Graham: His dead cap is three million regardless. He will save seven million whether he is cut now or in June. Seems like an easy one.
Bobby Massie: Another post 6/1 release because of cap ridiculousness. If they cut him after June 1, it will save 8 million dollars. Can you really go into 2021 without having Massie and Leno? You might have to find out.
Buster Skrine: Skrine is a tough one. If you get rid of Fuller, you almost can’t get rid of Skrine, but Skrine has concussion issues that could completely derail his career. Cutting him after June 1st would save five million.
Danny Trevathan: Not happening. He is 12 million in dead cap if you cut him before June 1st, and would only save you a couple hundred thousand if you cut him after. Much like Quinn, the savings aren’t worth losing and having to replace the player.
Aaaand, that’s pretty much it.
So here is where we are. Let’s say the Bears cut Hicks, Leno, Graham, Massie, and Skrine. That saves: around 40 million. The Bears have depleted their offensive line, but they could work their cap shenanigans with Fuller to spread out his money and make it a problem for a different season when the cap goes up. They can do the same thing for Mack. Turn his salary this year into bonuses spread out over the rest of his contract. The salary cap is just an illusion anywhere. Screw it. There is wiggle room to finagle Eddie Jackson’s contract around, too. That would probably open up another 15-20 million in cap space, and what do you know, the Bears are there.
They would have to bargain hunting at Safety and offensive line depth. Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars would have to go into the season as presumed starters along with Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, and some late round draft picks they can pray will contribute day one. They would still only be two deep at wide receiver with Robinson and Darnell Mooney. I’m not in the camp that is a big believer in Anthony Miller, Riley Ridley, or Javon Wims.
They would also, in essence, be committing to both Mack and Quinn for multiple more seasons.
That being said, by QB Rating among all Bears quarterbacks with at least 20 starts, Mitch Trubisky has the highest rating in Bears history. Jay Cutler marks a relative stability in the position. This is a team that, in m lifetime, has ushered through a rogue’s gallery of terrible. From Peter Tom Willis to Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Rick Mirer (all on the same team briefly in 1998!) Craig Krenzel, Jason Campbell, and, god help us all, Henry Burris. It is enough to make any Bears fan shudder, and not bat an eyelash if the Bears give Seattle the old “Ditka in New Orleans” special, when he traded every one of his draft picks one season so he could draft Ricky Wililams.
The Bears, by being in on Russell Wilson, are at the big boys table. It’s time for them to go out and Russell Wilson for the sake of the sanity of every Bears fan out there.