Russell Wilson started his collegiate career at North Carolina State before transferring to Wisconsin as a senior. Russ left NC State as a grad transfer when Wolfpack head coach Tom O’Brien told him he was going to be a backup to Mike Glennon for the upcoming season. Before Wilson’s departure, O’Brien quipped, “Listen, son, you’re never going to play in the National Football League.” Wilson went on to be brilliant in his one year as a Badger, throwing for 33 touchdowns to just four interceptions. After a defeat in the Rose Bowl against the Oregon Ducks, Russ entered his name into the 2012 NFL Draft.
During the draft process, Wilson was consistently doubted due to his 5’11” height. The Seattle Seahawks overlooked that concern and selected Wilson in the 3rd round. To the organization’s surprise, Wilson beat out Matt Flynn for the starting job in his first year. Wilson went on to be the league’s Rookie of the Year and also tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for touchdown passes.
In 2014, Wilson led the Hawks to the Super Bowl where they squared off against the Broncos. Wilson and the Legion of Boom were excellent, and Seattle routed Denver 43-8. Led by Wilson and their defense, Seattle returned to the Super Bowl again in 2015. They faced the Patriots and up until the final seconds of the game, they seemed on course to capture back-to-back rings. For the sake of the mental wellbeing of Seahawks fans, we will skip over what happened on the goal line.
Where to From Here?
Shortly after the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, the direction of the Seahawks organization started to take a turn. In 2016, the Seahawks put together an impressive 12-4 season, but they were bounced in the NFC divisional round by the Panthers. The following year the Legion of Boom was essentially disbanded and the defensive success that the organization had sustained withered with it. From 2016 to 2019, Seattle’s defense went from 5th, to 11th, to 19th, to 23rd in total yards given up per game. In the last two seasons, Seattle has ranked 16th and 19th in the league for points allowed per game. Gone are the days of suffocating opposing offenses. Seattle’s MO from the Legion of Boom years to where they are now has changed drastically.
As the defense began to go downhill, more was required from the offense to keep the Seahawks in games. For several years, much of the offensive success for the Hawks came from the running game. Seattle’s run game has been successful since 2017, averaging 128.1 rushing yards a game during those four years. For reference, the league-wide team average for rushing yards per game was 118.9 in 2020. In 2018 and 2019, the Hawks were top three in the league in rush attempts per game.
This past season, that changed as Seattle dropped down to 18th in rushing attempts. This is indicative of the offensive line struggling with run blocking as well as injuries at the running back position. When people see the drop in rush attempts, they assume that Russ threw the ball far more this past season than he had in years past. This is not the case. Wilson passed the ball only 2.6 more times a game than he did in 2019. While that is an increase, it is not a huge bump in the grand scheme of things.
Offensive Line Struggles
Media members and fans can lose focus and talk about Seattle’s offensive balance between running and throwing the ball all they want. The stats clearly show that the Hawks are effective both passing and running the ball compared to the league averages. What the problem was last year, and what has been the issue for years running, is the Seahawks’ protection of Wilson in the pocket.
Dating back to 2017 up until now, no quarterback in the league has been sacked more than Wilson. One could make the argument that Wilson puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line by scrambling in the pocket and extending plays. While some of this may true, there are still numerous times during a game where Wilson is running for his life shortly after the ball has been snapped. Two weeks ago, Wilson publicly expressed his displeasure about the number of sacks he has taken in recent years. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who your quarterback is if you can’t protect him. Lack of protection will always put limits on how much your team can achieve. The video below just about sums up Wilson’s life in the pocket over the last few seasons.
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Wilson is still Elite
Despite the faulty pass protection, Wilson has still played at an elite level. His completion percentage has risen every year since 2017. He tossed 40 touchdowns last year and he has the 4th highest passer rating in NFL history only behind Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes. He also holds the record for the most wins by an NFL quarterback in their first nine seasons.
That being said, Wilson did struggle with turnovers during the middle and end of last year. He finished the season with 13 interceptions which is the most that he’s ever thrown during a regular season. The turnover blemish does not take away from the excellent numbers Wilson turned in. He finished the season passing for 4,212 yards and chipped in 513 more on the ground. Any way you slice it, Wilson is still a top-five quarterback in the league.
Restless in Seattle?
From 2017 to 2020, the Seahawks are a combined 42-22 during the regular season. However, during the playoffs, they are 2-4. The question becomes, how can the Hawks translate their regular-season success to the playoffs and achieve the ultimate goal of making it back to the Super Bowl? Well, finding answers to that question might be a little difficult. As it stands now, Seattle’s defense has real holes, the offensive line is a mess, and Wilson isn’t getting any younger.
It seems Wilson is aware of the issues facing the Seahawks, as it has been reported that he is open to the idea of being traded to a contender. At this moment it appears the Seahawks are not entertaining the possibility of a Russell Wilson trade. It is important to note that Wilson has not demanded a trade out of Seattle. However, through his agent, he has listed some teams he would be willing to play for. There have also been reports that there was some tension this past season between Wilson and Seahawks head coach, Pete Carroll, surrounding the team’s offensive game plan.
The simple fact that Wilson has spoken about this topic publicly and let it linger is a bad sign for Seattle’s front office and their fans. Additionally, Wilson is known for being a high character guy and beloved teammate. If there wasn’t some truth to him being interested in playing for another franchise, he would have publicly squashed this rumor from the get-go. The dynamics in the relationship between Wilson and the Seahawks have changed, there is no denying that.
Would Seattle Really Trade Him?
The first thing that should be noted about a potential Russell Wilson trade is the language in his contract. Wilson has a no-trade clause and for obvious reasons that makes dealing him for Seattle a bit more complicated. Seattle’s front office will have to work with him if any trade is to be done. Putting that information to the side, does it actually make sense for Seattle to pull the trigger on a Russell Wilson trade? To answer that question, you have to look at the situation from a financial perspective as well as how it would impact the Seahawks roster.
According to Spotrac, trading Wilson before June 1st would cause Seattle to incur $39 million of dead cap space this year. If he was traded after June 1st, that $39 million in dead cap space would be spread out unevenly over the course of the next two years. Either one of those situations is not ideal for the Seahawks. No team wants to take on a record-breaking dead money cap hit.
From a roster perspective, trading Wilson doesn’t make much sense either. Why would a franchise that has been largely successful in recent years want to trade one of the five best quarterbacks in the league? Without Wilson, the Seahawks could have easily been a 4-12 or 3-13 football team last year. Additionally, Wilson is now 32 years old and he’s taken hit after hit in recent years. Due to this, it’s unlikely that the Seahawks would receive what they feel Wilson is worth in a trade. The no-trade clause will also limit them from fielding offers and which teams Wilson would sign-off on. For these reasons, it seems likely that a Wilson trade will not occur unless a contender makes a handsome offer.
Through his agent, Wilson has identified the Bears, Saints, Raiders, and Cowboys as places he would be interested in playing. According to Spotrac, the Bears, Raiders, and Saints are all currently sitting over the salary cap. The Saints seem the unlikeliest trade partner as they are currently $66.4 million over the cap. That number could change depending on what happens with Drew Brees and some other players, but at the moment it’s hard to imagine Wilson in the Bayou.
Similarly, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Cowboys to trade for Wilson either. Dak Prescott was playing on the franchise tag before he suffered a gruesome ankle injury this past year. Prescott will be ready for play this upcoming season, but the question is whether he will be on the franchise tag again or if the Cowboys offer him a large contract. Regardless, the Cowboys are interested in bringing him back as their starter in 2021. Additionally, Dallas’ problems are largely on the defensive side of the ball. Trading for Russell Wilson should be the least of their concerns unless it becomes clear that Prescott has no interest in returning to the team.
The Bears should be the team that has the most interest in acquiring Wilson if he were to become available. Chicago has a defense led by Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith that is ready to win now. What has been holding them back over the last two years is the play they’ve received from the quarterback position. Mitchell Trubisky was benched early on this past season in favor of Nick Foles. Foles struggled when he got his opportunity and suffered a hip injury in week ten against the Vikings. This opened the door for Trubisky to retake the starting job. During the last six games of the season, Trubisky was competent, but it is doubtful that he did not enough to assure the Bears front office that he is the quarterback of the future.
Adding Russell Wilson would immediately make Chicago a serious threat to the Packers in the NFC North. The Bears have decent weapons on offense in running backs Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery. Cole Kmet is a young and promising tight end, and so too is the second-year receiver, Darnell Mooney. The Bears’ biggest question mark at the receiver position is Allen Robinson‘s pending free agency.
Robinson put up monster numbers last year and he will likely be offered big money in free agency. If the Bears franchise tag him or find a way to clear space to re-sign him, that would do wonders in attracting Wilson. If Chicago did acquire Wilson they would instantly be a legitimate contender in the NFC next season. A trade for Wilson would likely include Nick Foles, some young and promising defensive players from Chicago, as well as two to three first-round draft picks.
Las Vegas Raiders
Since Jon Gruden has taken over as the head coach for the Raiders, there has never been any certainty surrounding the future of quarterback Derek Carr. Every off-season there is speculation about Carr in trade talks or the Raiders possibly drafting a quarterback in one of the earlier rounds. Despite all of this, Carr has put up some solid numbers in each of the last two years. In the most recent season, he threw for 4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Pro Football Focus ranked Carr the 9th best quarterback in the league this past year. Nonetheless, when Gruden fixates on a player, he typically does everything he can to go and get them.
It’s undeniable that Wilson is in the tier of quarterbacks a bracket above Derek Carr. That being said, bringing in Wilson doesn’t fix the holes on the defensive side of the ball for the Raiders. It makes the most sense to roll with Carr on a relatively cheap contract and address the holes on defense than it does to go after Wilson. However, you know that old saying about a dog and its bone. This applies here.
If Jon Gruden becomes hell-bent on improving the quarterback position, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raiders throw Carr and picks at the Hawks for Wilson. It’s well documented that Gruden loves veteran players or guys better known as “Gruden Grinders.” Russell Wilson absolutely fits that bill. He is everything Gruden looks for in terms of leadership, smarts, and competitiveness from the quarterback position. An offer from the Raiders for Wilson would likely include Carr, two first-round picks, and a second-rounder as well. That feels like far too much for a team that has other needs to address. Trading for Wilson will require giving up too much draft capital and Carr would be undervalued in the trade.
Looking at the situation objectively, it is difficult to imagine Russell Wilson playing for another team this season. The financial impact a Russell Wilson trade would have would be crippling to Seattle’s cap space. Also, losing him would drastically impact their chances of being competitive next season. The clear-cut solution for the Seahawks is attempting to repair the relationship with Russell Wilson. This is not a Deshaun Watson-type situation. There is room for conversation here. You don’t move on from your best quarterback in franchise history without exhausting all efforts to make the situation right first. Seattle’s first step to appeasing Wilson would be improving the offensive line. The second would be adding two impactful defensive players, ideally a cornerback and an edge rusher.
If the situation ultimately became unfixable during this offseason, the Bears should be the team to pull the trigger on Wilson. They have the surrounding pieces to be competitive already and the addition of Wilson is exactly what they need. You don’t entertain the possibility of a Russell Wilson trade unless you believe he makes you a Super Bowl contender. That’s exactly what he would do for Chicago.