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Rooting Against Russell Wilson

by Mike Conklin

E-mail: mikeconklin@packerpedia.com
June 27, 2012


Packers fans should want Russell Wilson to fail.

He was a great college quarterback, and he led the Wisconsin Badgers to their best offensive season ever. What he was able to accomplish in just one season in Madison is mind boggling: he set the NCAA record for pass efficiency, and broke the school record for single-season passing yards, touchdown passes, completions, and yards of total offense. But now the Packers need for him to take a break.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll turned a few heads in Seattle when he said that Wilson could challenge for the starting position after just three days with him in their rookie camp.

"He showed us enough," Carroll said. "He's in the competition."

Wisconsin fans probably shouldn't be surprised, the way he adapted so well when he came from N.C. State. It has been well documented how he fully immersed himself in the team and took an immediate leadership role. He arrived on campus July 1, called a team meeting July 7, and by August 21 he was voted by the other players to be a team captain.

Wilson can have a great career, and there is a good chance he will. But as far as the Packers are concerned, they dont want his career to get on track this year. The Packers need Matt Flynn to do well. Not because he's a former teammate and friend of Aaron Rodgers, but because his success will maximize the Packers' compensatory pick value in next year's draft. No matter what, the Packers will get something from the NFL for losing Flynn in free agency. But if he plays and plays well, the compensation will be higher.

The way compensatory picks are determined is shrouded in mystery. There have been a lot of trade secrets over the years, but the formula for Coca Cola and the secret Big Mac Special Sauce have nothing on the National Football League in this department. The NFL guards its formula for determining the value of compensatory picks like it is a state secret. In fact, all the NFL says in an official press release is, "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula." Clear as mud.

The code has never been cracked, but over time it has become apparent that the biggest factor in the equation is salary. Taking that into consideration, Matt Flynn's deal with Seattle included a $2 million base salary for 2012 and a $6 million signing bonus. Another $2 million (part of his 2013 base salary) is guaranteed as well, making for a total of $10 million guaranteed. He also has some "unlikely to be earned" incentive bonuses, including $200,000 for making the Pro Bowl and another $200,000 for being named NFL MVP.

It's unclear whether the compensatory pick formula just takes the first year salary into account along with a portion of the signing bonus, or if it's the total amount of guaranteed money, or some combination therein.

Also factoring heavily into the equation is Scott Wells, who actually signed a bigger contract with the Rams. Wells will have a base salary of $2.5 million in 2012, to go along with his $4 million signing bonus. Although his signing bonus was smaller, the total value of his contract will be worth more than that of Flynn, and will have a total of $13 million guaranteed. The only other free agent the Packers "lost" was Pat Lee, who went to the Raiders on a one-year deal for $680,000.

The Packers did actually make a moderate splash in free agency themselves, signing Jeff Saturday to a contract that will pay him $1.1 million base salary with $2.9 million in bonuses, for a total cap hit of $4 million in the first year. This deal is for quite a bit less than either Flynn or Wells received, especially in guaranteed money. The Packers also signed Anthony Hargrove to a one-year contract for the veteran minimum of $825,000, which will in effect wash out the Pat Lee deal with the Raiders. And although the Packers also signed Daniel Muir and Phillip Merling, both had been cut by their previous teams and are designated as "street free agents," which will likely exclude them from the compensatory pick formula.

At this point, the contracts are done and those numbers won't change. The playing time portion of the equation, however, is the part for which Packers fans actually have a rooting interest this season. It would benefit the Packers for Matt Flynn to start every game this season. If he were to excel and even make the Pro Bowl, all the better. If he turns out to be a one-hit wonder this year and then fade away, that wouldn't matter since the Packers would have already earned the compensatory pick by that time.

The news that has surfaced over the past few days is that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said that Tarvaris Jackson will be the starter going into camp, which is definitely a concern. Most reporters in the know seem to think that is just posturing, however. It will likely be Flynn's job to lose, with as much money as was invested in him.

Carroll is a bit of a loose cannon, and it is hard to know how this will play out. Even though Tarvaris Jackson has the most experience in Seattle's system, based on his body of work to this point in his career it is hard to think that he will really be a major threat for that job. Russell Wilson is an intriguing young player, however, and Pete Carroll seems to gravitate toward those types of players. He had a history of playing talented underclassmen at USC, most notably true freshman Matt Barkley in 2009. It is possible to imagine a scenario where Wilson is given every chance to succeed, and that Flynn may have a fairly short leash. That perception is only fueled by the fact that ESPN's John Clayton reported that Flynn "hasn't wowed anybody" so far this offseason.

As mentioned previously, however, the Seahawks have millions of reasons for Matt Flynn to win that job, and what he was paid will certainly be a factor when it comes to playing time.

Last year, the Packers lost Cullen Jenkins, Darryn Colledge, Brandon Jackson, Korey Hall, and Jason Spitz in free agency, and didn't sign any free agents of their own. They were awarded two fourth round picks and two seventh round picks. They will likely receive less compensation next year, but if Wells can stay healthy and Flynn can be the starter all year the Packers will be in a good position to earn the best possible picks.

Ted Thompson has made excellent use of compensatory picks in his time in Green Bay. Since Thompson arrived, he has selected Tony Moll (2006 fifth round), Dave Tollefson (2006 seventh round), Clark Harris (2007 seventh round), Josh Sitton (2008 fourth round), Marshall Newhouse (2010 fifth round), and Davon House (2011 fourth round). This year he chose Mike Daniels and Jerron McMillian in the fourth round, and Andrew Datko and B.J. Coleman in the seventh round.

At this point, all of those players are still in the NFL, although not all of them are with the Packers. That is remarkable, considering none of them were drafted higher than the fourth round. With that kind of track record, the Packers have a good chance at getting a good player or two from next year's compensatory draft picks. Just how high those picks will be remains to be determined, but as long as Russell Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson stay on the bench this year in Seattle the Packers should be in pretty good shape when the NFL deals out the compensatory picks next year.