By Danny O’Neil
INDIANAPOLIS – Russell Wilson’s success is a set-up for future failure.
That has nothing to do with his career, and everything to do with the precedent he has set for vertically challenged quarterbacks as well as team seeking franchise cornerstones.
Wilson is an outlier, a most exceptional exception both in his ability to become a Pro Bowler at 5 feet 10 and five-eighths inches and to start for a Super Bowl champion in just his second year.
The shortest quarterback in the NFL is casting quite a shadow over this offseason whether it’s in the draft prognosis of a quarterback like Johnny Manziel, who is shorter than 6 feet, or a contending team expecting a young quarterback to provide the finishing touch.
The double play Wilson performed is remarkable. Unprecedented even. Only two quarterbacks have won a Super Bowl at a younger age and neither was Wilson’s height.
But Wilson’s success doesn’t make it any less difficult for another short quarterback like Manziel. Similarly, Seattle’s success doesn’t make it any more likely that a team that chooses a quarterback in this draft will be hoisting a Lombardi Trophy two years from now.
That’s not to say teams won’t try, though. Especially after seeing the bargain that Seattle got with a starting quarterback on a rookie contract that paid him a little more than $500,000 last season (or $17 million less than Denver’s Peyton Manning made). The Seahawks parlayed that into signing defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, who more than made up for the difference in the Super Bowl.
“It was a big deal for us,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said regarding the salary-cap flexibility Wilson’s contract provided. “We’ve been able to acquire other players, and they were definitely players we were able to acquire that helped us get over the top this year.”
That bargain was more like a fortunate occurrence, though, as opposed to a premeditated plan. The Seahawks may have hoped Wilson would emerge as the starter, but they did not necessarily expect it. After all, he was one of three quarterbacks competing to be the starter his rookie season, and he only became a bargain once he played well enough not only to win the starting job but carry the team into the playoffs each of his first two seasons.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel would join Russell Wilson as the NFL’s only starting quarterbacks under 6 feet tall. (AP)
Any team that starts a rookie quarterback with an eye toward the salary-cap flexibility it will provide is fooling itself because there’s no amount of spending room that can make up for starting someone who’s not ready for the job.
That’s something that is worth emphasizing with Manziel, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater expected to be chosen among the first 10 picks in this year’s draft. One of them is already drawing comparisons to Wilson not just because of his ability to improvise, but because of his height.
Manziel doesn’t necessarily look up to Wilson. Not even after he measured in more than half an inch shorter than expected on Friday at the scouting combine.
But Manziel does look to Wilson as a precedent, an example that someone shorter than 6-feet tall can excel. And Manziel is shorter than 6 feet, measured at 5 foot 11 and three-eighths inches, though he said Friday that won’t define him.
“I play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of passion,” Manziel said. “I feel like I play like I’m 10-feet tall. A measurement to me is just a number.”
But it’s not entirely insignificant. It is more difficult for a shorter quarterback. Not impossible as Wilson has clearly shown, but definitely more difficult.
“Not everybody that’s 5-10 and a half can play quarterback,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “You’ve got to be a great football player and a great player. Like we say, all the elements make up Russell, make him very, very unique regardless of how tall he is.”
Carroll is a fan of Manziel’s. Loves the way he plays, the flair and the ability, and he said Friday on 710 ESPN Seattle that Manziel is going to be long gone by the time Seattle picks for the first time in a draft where it holds the 32nd overall pick.
That’s probably true. But chances are that whoever picks Manziel won’t experience the same success because Wilson is such a tremendous success in terms of his height and his team’s success.