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Pass the buck: Seahawks have a bargain at QB; Giants don't

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Much has been made this year of the fact that the Seahawks are enjoying the fruits of their drafts, challenging for a Super Bowl title with a bunch of young players who have not yet come of financial age.

Chief among them is Russell Wilson, who is one of the cheapest starting quarterbacks in the league (the average value of his contract -- $750,000 -- is not even in the top 50, per OverTheCap.com).

Wilson will remain a major bargain for another season, but in 2015 the Hawks will face the same quandary that most teams with franchise QBs deal with: How do you put together or keep a contending roster while paying so much money to your QB?

As the Hawks go to New York this week, they will be facing a team that is dealing with that very problem. Eli Manning's contract has become a major albatross, limiting the Giants' ability to improve their team.

At $20.8 million, Manning has the highest cap number in the league, eating up 16.8 percent of the Giants' salary cap. It forced the Giants to cut several players in the offseason and limited their participation in free agency. He's due to count $20.4 million next season, and even though the salary cap reportedly could jump by as much as $4.5 million, to $127.5 million, the Giants will need some relief from Manning if they want to improve their roster.

In a league with a fairly tight salary cap and 53-man rosters, QB salaries are a significant issue. They basically squeeze out middle-salary veterans and force teams to use inexperienced players for depth.

Some teams -- the ones with strong draft execs and great coaches -- have overcome the handicap. Many haven't. Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll -- who both excel at their crafts -- surely have taken note.

At $17.8 million, Detroit's Matthew Stafford has the league's second-highest cap hit, taking up 14.9 percent of the cap. The Lions have remained competitive because they have just three large contracts, but they will be tight against the 2014 cap as several players' salaries spike.

Stafford's cap number will drop to $15.8 million next year before jumping up to $22 million in 2016 and 2017 -- when wide receiver Calvin Johnson also will count for more than $20 million. The Lions will certainly have to adjust one or both in 2016, if not before.

At $17.4 million, Drew Brees accounts for 14.1 percent of the New Orleans Saints' cap. But he has the Saints at 10-3 and jockeying for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. His number goes up by $1 million next year and then skyrockets beyond $26 million in the last two years of his deal -- the Saints will have to adjust it.

Eli's brother, Peyton, takes up 13.4 percent of Denver's cap at $17.5 million, but no one would argue he is not worth it -- until the underpaid defense (allocated just 39 percent of the team's cap dollars) lets the team down in the playoffs.

Other teams will have to address high QB salaries next year as well. The Chicago Bears have to decide whether to pay pending free agent Jay Cutler upwards of $18 million a year. Atlanta, Dallas, Green Bay and Pittsburgh all will have QBs who count $17 million or more.

This gives you an idea of what the Seahawks will have to pay Wilson in 2015 (assuming they extend him a year early). If he's a top-five quarterback then, he will be worth close to $20 million per year, with around $40 million guaranteed.

To give a player that kind of money, a team has to be sure he will be worth it over the long haul. Of course, if Wilson wins a Super Bowl this season and continues to ascend into superstardom (while ignoring the lesser call of baseball), he will be.

The Hawks are bracing for it, as Carroll said earlier this year: "Imagine to have a guy like Russell under contract for so long -- he's under the rookie contract for such a long time. That will help us the next couple of years, but it will catch us on the other end. And he'll be well deserving of it when it does."

Just like the aforementioned teams, the Hawks will have to make sure their quarterback's contract does not become a big, fat boa constrictor that strangles the rest of the roster.

It becomes even harder when teams have other stars to pay. Percy Harvin already counts more than $12 million a year, and the Hawks likely will be paying Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Richard Sherman deals that count $8 million to $12 million annually.

To keep the charges down, teams with franchise QBs need to keep rolling the contracts over to keep them reasonable. Players typically will convert their salaries into guaranteed bonus money, which can be prorated over the remainder of the deals or as extensions.

Tom Brady did that for the New England Patriots earlier this year, getting $33 million guaranteed while freeing up cash over the next two years and extending his deal through 2017. That helped keep Brady's cap hit to 11.2 percent of their total this year, at $13.8 million.

Ben Roethlisberger has made a habit of redoing his deal for the Steelers for the past three years, and if the Steelers keep him he will have to do it again -- his salaries are $12.1 million and $11.6 million in the next two years.

The Seahawks likely will have to do that with Wilson starting in 2018 or 2019. In the meantime, while the Giants struggle with Manning's league-high cap hit and other teams juggle cap numbers to stay competitive, the Hawks will enjoy the luxury of having a top-five quarterback for less than top-50 money.

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