Rost: The ‘mile markers’ for how Seahawks’ Russell Wilson trade will be judged
It’s Week 1 of the NFL season. Rain drizzles in from dark Seattle sky during a chilly September night, and in a stadium filled with action green and college navy jerseys a final whistle sounds: the Seahawks, an underdog at home in primetime – a rarity under head coach Pete Carroll – have defeated the Russell Wilson-led Denver Broncos.
So, the trade has been won, right?
Not so fast. A victory over the Broncos in Week 1 would certainly feel validating to fans, and the surprisingly quick reunion between Wilson and Seattle will bring plenty of viewers to the league’s enticing first Monday night matchup – something the NFL was undoubtedly counting on in their scheduling. But a single game is hardly a measure of the success of a season, much less a blockbuster trade.
In truth, it will take years to ascertain whether the Seahawks were right to send their 33-year-old franchise star to another team during the peak of his career. But there are still signs – mile markers, of sorts – along the way by which Seattle fans can measure the return.
Mile Marker 1: The initial return
Was it enough?
The question everyone wondered when the news broke about Wilson being sent to Denver. In return, the Broncos sent Seattle a package of players and draft picks: two first-round picks, two second-round picks, quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, and defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
For some, this was never going to be enough; whether it would take another first rounder or more, or whether there was no price tag great enough to give up Wilson, there were always going to be people for whom the initial return underwhelmed. For others, this felt fair: while he’s a proven winner and a clearly talented player, Wilson is older than other trade candidates (like Deshaun Watson) and was coming off a 2020 season that saw him fall apart in the second half, and a 2021 season that saw him miss several weeks with a broken finger.
One final note for this first mile marker: Wilson’s no-trade clause limited potential trade partners. Would Washington have given up three first-round picks? Philadelphia? In a world without that clause, the initial return might’ve been easier to stomach for fans still a little queasy about life without the veteran passer.
Mile marker 2: The success of Seattle (and Denver) in 2022
Beyond Week 1, it’ll be tempting to allow the success of both teams this year to shape the narrative of the Wilson trade. Honestly, it’s unavoidable. If Denver makes it to a Super Bowl and Seattle finishes with two wins, how would fans not see it as a clear, imbalanced return? (After all, a Super Bowl win alone would make the draft capital and eventual contract extension worth it for fans of any team.) But this isn’t about Denver’s return – not completely, anyway. It’s also about Seattle’s, and the success of either team impacts Seattle’s draft capital in 2023.
That’s where this return moves forward. I can promise you neither Seattle nor Denver is keen on struggling at all this year, but a losing Denver team and a losing Seattle team would give the Seahawks two solid first-round picks. In the short term, it’s tough. But with a pair of first rounders and a pair of second rounders, might the Seahawks have enough capital to trade up in a quarterback-rich class? (Worth noting here but penciled in as a conversation for another day: the success and struggles of first-round quarterbacks, a pick that’s never a sure bet.)
Mile Marker 2: The success of Charles Cross (and, to a lesser extent, Boye Mafe)
Outlook: 3 years
The Seahawks got three players in return for Wilson – Lock, Fant, and Harris – but no other part of that trade feels more important than that pair of first-round picks. That ninth overall pick in 2021 carried extra weight: Seattle traded Wilson, in part, to receive the highest draft selection its owned in a decade. If there ever was a way to rebuild a team, this was where it would start.
With the selection, Seattle chose its left tackle of the future: Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. Become an All-Pro franchise tackle and you’ve got a team that found a solution to a big hole on its defensive line and one of the most important pieces of a successful team. Become a bust and miss out on an extension heading into year 4? Add a point for Denver.
With one of the two second-round picks acquired from Denver, Seattle chose edge rusher Boye Mafe. It’s not that success from Mafe would be less impactful than that from Cross; rather, the capital used on Cross puts more pressure on his success compared to the capital used on Mafe. If Mafe turns into a premier edge rusher, though, please disregard this entire section and pretend I pinned Seattle’s hopes on the former Golden Gopher.
In the years to come, Seattle will make trades and signings and other roster moves, and they may all combine to make the Seahawks a true contender (or, of course, they might fail). But it’s these particular picks – those drafted players – who will help determine whether moving on from Wilson more directly contributed to renewed success.
Mile Marker 3: The quarterback of the future
You know what the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Chicago Bears all have in common? All three franchises went decades with finding a true franchise quarterback. Some teams are lucky enough to move on from one star and welcome another – looking at you, Green Bay – while others have watched their signal caller ride off into the sunset and waited… and waited… and waited…
It’s why for all the other mile markers here – the draft picks, the players – no single one matters more than Seattle finding an answer at quarterback. You can point to teams with stacked rosters who lean on weaker passers, but if there’s one thing most Super Bowl winning teams have in common, it’s a franchise quarterback. That, and Tom Brady.
Speaking of, do we think he’s available to play anywhere else in 2023? Asking for a friend.