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Wassell’s Thoughts: Seahawks’ Wilson no longer ‘boxed in’ by 1st impression

Tom Wassell says Seahawks QB Russell Wilson finally broke out of "the box." (Getty)

Welcome to another edition of Tom Wassell’s Thoughts, a regular column from the co-host of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy. This week, Tom shares his a few thoughts related to the play of star Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

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Box ‘em in

Why hasn’t Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson been “appreciated” for his accomplishments until now? Because we like to put people in boxes. That first impression is just so important.

Most of the time when it comes to evaluating anyone, be it an athlete, actor, politician, or musician, we tend to make an initial judgement and leave it there, regardless of that person’s career evolution and accolades that they may collect along the way. “Yeah, I like their first album, but after that I stopped caring.” How many times have you heard someone use that line when talking about a given band?

In 2012, Russell Wilson was a running quarterback in a running Seahawks offense. Yes, he had the ability to throw and make sound decisions, but his skills as a mobile QB and the system in which he played defined the first few years of his career. Once all of those things were clear, the judgement about who he was and who he would always be were made and that’s the way it stayed.

Once Russell began to show that he was capable of more than managing a game and making flash play with his legs, it took awhile for people to catch up to reality. In this sense, I’ll hand it to the analytics folks who were quicker to identify that Seattle’s offense was best left in the hands of their quarterback and NOT the running back. The numbers favor him as a passer and combined with the amount of work he’s done over the last several years to improve, he’s completely transformed himself.

The problem is that in the meantime, players like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes entered the NFL and were subject to the same pigeonhole job as every QB before them. Lamar’s a runner who can pass when necessary and Patrick Mahomes, he can do anything. We only have so much room for the truly elite, and while that serves us well in terms of honest discernment, our unwillingness to reassess other players who may have improved or altered their game leaves our perspective incomplete.

It took people awhile to realize that Eli Manning was, for a time, a top-five QB because they still had images in their heads of him as a young QB unable to truly lead an offense. Tom Brady became one of the best passers in the league just as he was winning his third championship, but at that point there was still debate as to whether or not he was a Hall of Famer because he’d previously just handed the ball off to guys like Antowain Smith. We’re always behind because it’s easier that way. Some might call that laziness.

As far as what Russell is doing now, it sure seems like analysts and critics are catching up. Hearing Cris Collinsworth gush over Wilson throughout the broadcasts in Weeks 2 and 5 is at least a little evidence that the national media “gets it.” Seattle’s QB is only held back now by straight up competition with other guys in the league like Mahomes, Jackson and Rodgers (another guy who was prematurely labeled and written off as “old”).

Why does MVP Matter?

I said it on Tuesday’s show at 12:45 and was validated somewhat by Brock Huard later in the program. If it matters to Russell, then it matters to me.

An MVP or any individual accomplishment is window dressing to what is hopefully a successful football season for our team. It’s a nice acknowledgement of one’s efforts and superior play for one season. But as many players will testify: “I’m honored to receive the award, but it’s a team game.” That’s always so nice to hear, even if we don’t believe that sentiment is 100% honest.

If Carson Wentz had remained healthy and won the MVP in 2017 as many thought he was on track to do, it wouldn’t have mattered a lick to Eagles fans because that same season, they won the Super Bowl for the first time in team history. A championship is all that would have mattered. Nobody assumed that Wentz’s goal that year was to win MVP.

Now that it’s Russ’ ninth year with the Seahawks and in the NFL and he hasn’t received so much as one MVP vote, this issue motivated him to be better, and what motivated him to be better makes his team better. If winning this award was of no consequence to Wilson, would he have worked as hard to better himself over the last few offseasons? I’m sure he would have been dedicated, as that’s what he’s demonstrated ever since he began playing sports, but does that added incentive take his performance to another level? It sure seems like it. Not only does he wish to win the league’s Most Valuable Player, but he’s stated that he wants to be thought of as the best to ever play the position.

If an individual is consumed by nothing but winning, chances are if they’re born with the physical potential to achieve such titles, they might at least come close if a few things break their way, like health for example.

Of course, Russ must also overcome his isolation up here in the Pacific Northwest as opposed to playing in New York, where guys get equal publicity for how terrible they play as they would for the opposite. If we had Sam Darnold and Adam Gase up here, they wouldn’t be talked about nearly as much. So it’s not just a question of how hard Russell is willing to work. There are external factors.

Another Super Bowl championship will help his case as well, but I’m guessing that he wants that even more than he wants an MVP, whether he says it or not.

For now, he’s hungry, talented, committed and motivated. We’re getting a treat up here, but of course, that’s always been the case with our quarterback.

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Jake & Stacy