O’Neil: Middle ground for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks is only getting harder to find
The airing of grievances did not sufficiently release the tension that exists between the Seattle Seahawks and their star quarterback.
That was made evident on Thursday by a story from The Athletic that painstakingly documented the strain in Seattle’s relationship with Russell Wilson right down to the moment Wilson walked out of a meeting before a pivotal regular-season game because his suggestions on how to fix the offense were not heeded. According to The Athletic’s report, Wilson “stormed out of the room.”
So what happens next? I don’t think anyone truly knows. There’s a lot still in play, but as hostilities have escalated, let’s take stock of what we know.
Three things we know about Russell Wilson and the Seahawks
1. Russell Wilson isn’t getting traded unless he wants to be.
This is true from both a contractual and a logistical sense.
First, he has a no-trade clause. It was something that he insisted on during the negotiation for his latest extension, and the Seahawks included it because it was like selling the sleeves to a vest. Trading him wasn’t going to be a consideration.
It’s also true in a logistical sense: the Seahawks are not the ones who are pushing this discussion either privately around the league nor in the public discussion among reporters and media types. Seattle didn’t solicit offers for Wilson and didn’t want it reported that other teams had even inquired about Wilson’s availability.
The fact that Seattle has been criticized for failing to come out and dispel reports and speculation that it has not fueled about a potential trade of a guy who has the power to veto any proposed deal should give you an idea of who is pumping in the oxygen to keep this issue ablaze. Hint: it’s not the Seahawks.
As a side note, anyone who thinks the Seahawks are going to reach their limit for the drama and get fed up with these reports is drastically underestimating Seattle’s tolerance for locker-room turbulence under coach Pete Carroll. Whether it’s locker-room fights (Percy Harvin), sideline tantrums (Richard Sherman) or players who held out for better contracts (Kam Chancellor, Marshawn Lynch), Seattle’s got a pretty high pain threshold when it comes to functioning – and winning – amid dysfunction.
2. Russell Wilson is not wrong to want more control.
He has been sacked an awful lot, and while it’s fair to point out that some of those sacks – maybe even a quarter of them – result from his style of play, the pass protection of Seattle’s offensive line has never been considered above average in any of the previous six years. Not only that, but while Seattle has used a number of draft choices in hopes of improving the line, it has not spent big to either retain veterans or acquire them from other teams. According to ESPN, from 2016 through 2020, Seattle used the smallest percentage of its salary cap on the offensive line of any team in the league.
Then there’s Carroll’s offensive preferences. His idea of a balanced diet is always going to include more rushing plays than other coaches in this league.
After nine years and nearly 400 sacks, it’s not wrong for Wilson to wonder if the grass would be greener elsewhere. And it’s very possible that his statements over the past month, not to mention the reports attributed to his camp, are an attempt not necessarily to force Seattle’s hand but to make it clear to anyone if he does end up signing off on a trade, it’s only because he wasn’t getting the kind of opportunities and support that he wanted from the Seahawks.
Now, just because he wants it doesn’t mean Seattle is obligated to – or even should – give it to him, but he’s not wrong to ask for it, either.
3. Finding a middle ground is going to be increasingly difficult.
Up until The Athletic’s story this week, I didn’t think there was any chance Wilson would be traded this year. It’s no longer impossible, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s likely even if Wilson is starting to lean that way. Mark Rodgers, Wilson’s agent, told ESPN that while Wilson hasn’t asked for a trade, the only four teams he would consider going to are the Cowboys, Saints, Raiders and Bears. It’s hard to see where the Saints, Raiders and Bears would come up with the kind of trade compensation to acquire Wilson, and a deal to the Cowboys would almost inevitably involve Dak Prescott, who is both unsigned and coming off a serious ankle injury.
If – and I honestly can’t believe I’m using the word if here – Wilson remains with the Seahawks in 2021, it will put an unbelievable amount of pressure on the results of this next season. Every sack will require a diagnosis of who is responsible with a secondary assessment of whether it would have been prevented by a front-office move. Each loss could come to be seen as a vindication that Seattle should do more than just listen to Wilson’s input and actually follow his advice.
Look no further than Green Bay for evidence of how difficult it is to restore equilibrium to a relationship between a team and its franchise quarterback. A year ago, the Packers not only used a first-round pick to draft a quarterback but traded up to do so. In the most charitable description, Green Bay used its most valuable currency for offseason acquisition to draft a player who wouldn’t help star quarterback Aaron Rodgers in any way shape or form. In the most critical, the team was preparing for a future beyond the quarterback.
Well, Rodgers went out and played better than any quarterback in the league to win his third MVP award, and his team won 13 games and played for the conference title for a second consecutive year. When the Packers lost, Rodgers played up the uncertainty of his future in Green Bay and fueled speculation that he wanted the team to make more short-term investments to go all-in for a title run in the near future.
People like to say that winning cures all in the NFL, but what if the bar becomes winning it all? Setting the stakes that high may not be all that tenable a situation.