Breaking Down Christine Michael’s Record-Setting Contract

By John Gilbert


Over the past several months, the NFL has seen free agency, the draft, training camp and the preseason move from the windshield to the rearview mirror. With roster cuts to 53 in the books, the 2019 NFL season is now upon us.

While teams have trimmed the fat off their roster in preparation for Week 1, the Seattle Seahawks have made a surprise move that no one could have predicted, adding eventual All Pro running back Christine Michael as a late free agent signing that is sending shockwaves through the NFL. The contract, on its face, is a five-year deal worth $175,005,000, giving C-Mike an average annual salary of $35.001M, coming in just ahead of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. This makes Michael the highest-paid player in the NFL. 

The deal is uniquely structured, which is fitting for a player whose athleticism and skills are unique in nature. While the first four years of the contract are fully guaranteed, the fifth year vests based on Michael’s performance in the coming seasons. Specifically, the guarantees for the final season kick in if, at the end of the 2022 season, Michael has surpassed 10,000 career rushing yards. With 1,089 yards already to his credit, C-Mike will need 8,911 yards over the next four seasons for the fifth year to vest. Thus, the contract is effectively a four year, $90M deal, with a one year, $85.001M performance-based incentive should he hit the necessary rushing yardage threshold.

That may seem like an unattainable level of performance, but, when queried about it, Michael’s agent stated that his client has been playing a lot of Madden with himself as a starter and has routinely amassed north of 3,000 yards per season. Thus, the true question is whether the Seahawks will need to cut Russell Wilson in 2023 in order to afford the $85.001M salary cap hit Michael will carry that year. When this response was met with scoffs by the media, Michael’s agent proceeded to add that C-Mike is an unquestioned generational talent at running back, as time has shown he was held back by his coaches in prior seasons. The 2013 and 2014 Seahawks were led by a staff so incompetent that, when they had the ball on the one-yard line with a Lombardi trophy hanging in the balance, they called a slant from a 5’6” Doug Flutie wannabe to a special teamer rather than hand the ball off to a running back who once single-handedly broke fourteen tackles on the way to the end zone.

The 2015 Cowboys were a 4-12 nightmare with Kellen Moore and Matt Cassell at quarterback, not to mention a head coach whose biggest claim to fame is having held a clipboard for Troy Aikman.

The 2015 Redskins were under the same incompetent ownership as the 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 Redskins.

The 2015 Seahawks were 1-0 in playoff games started by Christine Michael and 0-1 in playoff games started by anyone not named Christine Michael.

The 2016 Seahawks were 6-2-1 prior to cutting C-Mike and just 4-3 after.

On the 2016 Packers, there was nothing Michael could do to overcome the double whammy of subpar quarterbacking by Aaron Rodgers on top of the antiquated offense of Mike McCarthy. To this day, Michael remains the only player in NFL history to record a touchdown run of 40+ yards for two different teams in the same season in spite of the Packers running a system one step removed from the Wing T.

The Colts did what they could to try and salvage their 2018 season by releasing CMike so that his presence didn’t overshadow that of Andrew Luck, even though, at the end of the day, the team’s job should be to get out of the back’s way. 

Of course, it should be noted that “get out of the way” is exactly what C-Mike’s offensive lines did for years under Tom Cable in Seattle. During his reintroductory press conference, Michael noted that he sees no reason that he won’t hit the necessary performance thresholds. “I led the team in rushing behind Bradley Sowell, Mark Glowinski, Germain Ifedi and Garry Gilliam while they were being coached by Tom Cable. What do you think I can do behind a line coached by Mike Solari with some actual experience and Brian Schottenheimer repeatedly calling the three running plays he remembers from attending Chiefs practices?”

When queried about the signing, Seahawks general manager John Schneider stated that it was a deal they felt the team had to make. “Following our renewed commitment to the run in 2018, we were looking to add all the horsepower at running back we can. We toyed around with the ideas of adding [Le’Veon] Bell in free agency or trading for either [Melvin] Gordon or [Ezekiel] Elliott, but we want players who want to be here. We aren’t interested in players who would rather hold out than risk their body for a money-hungry corporation that gives zero shits about its employees once they can no longer help it print money. So bringing Christine back made the most sense.”

The ever-optimistic Pete Carroll also had positive things to say about the signing. “We’re really jacked up about what [Christine] can do. We’ve seen him on the practice field, so we can’t wait to get him in the building and start adding on to the things we know he can do. We’re really gonna run the heck out of the ball and he’s going to be a big part of that.

When prodded about having spent so much money to bring back C-Mike, Schneider offered a very reasonable explanation. “We looked around at the names that were available on the waiver wire and guys who had gone unsigned, but it was a whole lot of Eddie Lacy and Alex Collins type players. Only one name jumped out at as extremely attractive.

“Back during the 2018 NFL Draft we were really hoping that Saquon Barkley would fall to us. When the Browns took [Baker] Mayfield, we started to get excited because, sitting there at 17, we were only 16 picks away. Everything was breaking the way we planned. We were really hoping Barkley would have an Aaron Rodgers-esque slide, and we almost got there. Unfortunately, we’re not the only team that plays like it’s still 1973, so it’s Dave Gettleman and the Giants who will benefit.

“Obviously, watching what Barkley did taking handoffs from [Eli] Manning in 2018 and knowing that C-Mike is extremely similar from an athletic standpoint, we are truly excited for what Christine can do taking handoffs from a quarterback in his prime, rather than some washed up has-been whose name people only know thanks to David Tyree.”

The athletic similarities between Michael and Barkley are uncanny:

Category Michael Barkley
Height 5100 6000
Weight 220 233
40 4.54 4.4
Bench 27 29
Vertical 43 41
Broad 125 N/A
3-cone 4.02 4.24
Shuttle 6.69 N/A

When asked about the market-setting deal, Schneider had the following to say, “When we sat down and weighed the options, adding C-Mike to this record contract had multiple benefits. While it’s expensive for us, we’ve got the cap space to handle it because we’ve let all our good players leave as free agents or have traded them for cheap labor that we can draft. It also gives us a chance to really hamstring some of the competition heading into the CBA.

“With guys like Gordon and Elliott* still holding out, and the CBA set to expire in a couple of years, this gives us a chance to get out in front of things and wreak havoc on the cap for other teams. Everybody knows minimum salaries are about to jump, and that means that 70-80% of the roster that teams have on cost-controlled rookie and minimum salary contracts are going to see a big jump. Add in a team like the Cowboys needing to commit massive money to young core pieces like Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott, and this let us get out in front of them and force their hand in giving Zeke more money than they’d like to. We get to improve our team while fucking over Jerry Jones, which, I mean, who doesn’t want to fuck over Jerry Jones?” 

* On September 4th, 2019, the Dallas Cowboys handed Ezekiel Elliott a six-year, $210M extension, no doubt due to the pressure created by Michael’s monster contract in Seattle.

For fans worried that the team might be overcommitting to the running back position with this contract, fear not. While this contract does give Michael his long-sought record deal, there are protections built in for the team. For starters, if is very much backloaded. The first year of the deal is for league minimum salary, with the signing bonus set to be paid the day before the first game of the 2020 season. In addition, while player contracts typically have language regarding prohibited off-field conduct, Michael’s contract has custom language. The standard jargon for such a contract is:

3. OTHER ACTIVITIES.  Without prior written consent of the Club, Player will not play football or engage in activities related to football otherwise than for Club or engage in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury. Player represents that he has special, exceptional and unique knowledge, skill, ability, and experience as a football player, the loss of which cannot be estimated with any certainty and cannot be fairly or adequately compensated by damages. Player therefore agrees that Club will have the right, in addition to any other right which Club may possess, to enjoin Player by appropriate proceedings from playing football or engaging in football-related activities other than for Club or from engaging in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury.

However, the language in Michael’s contract is, per a source who has reviewed the contract, as follows (bolding for emphasis): 

3. OTHER ACTIVITIES.  Without prior written consent of the Club, Player will not play football or engage in activities related to football otherwise than for Club or engage in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury. Player represents that he has special, exceptional and unique knowledge, skill, ability, and experience as a football player, the loss of which cannot be estimated with any certainty and cannot be fairly or adequately compensated by damages. Player therefore agrees that Club will have the right, in addition to any other right which Club may possess, to enjoin Player by appropriate proceedings from playing football or engaging in football-related activities other than for Club or from engaging in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury or from dropping a mix tape.

For fans concerned about the potential for Michael’s contract to become fully guaranteed in any individual year of the contract — the guarantee provided to a player for being on the Week 1 roster under Article 30 of the CBA — that is not an issue. Pursuant to Section 1(b) of Article 30, a player may only collect Termination Pay under the Week 1 guarantee a single time during their NFL career, and as Michael reportedly collected his termination pay in 2018 after being on the Colts roster for the first three weeks of the season, the full guarantee of Week 1 salary for having been on the roster does not apply. 

Thus, in signing C-Mike, the Seahawks have added a franchise-altering talent at running back while also delivering a blow to the NFC rival Cowboys. Add in the accountability necessary for Russell Wilson to perform in order to regain his title as the highest-paid player in the NFL, and it’s a win-win-win-win for Seattle. 

Pete Carroll and John Schneider have amassed the second-best winning percentage in the NFC since arriving in Seattle in 2010, and this signing is just another example showing that they are playing 3-D Connect 4, while other teams are still playing tic tac toe.