Rost: Seahawks, Russell Wilson make very different gambles with split

Sep 7, 2022, 9:30 AM

Seahawks Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson...

Head coach Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks interact on the sidelines during the second half against the Detroit Lions at Lumen Field. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seahawks’ gamble was clear.

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They’d send a future Hall of Fame quarterback in his prime to the Denver Broncos for two first-round picks. The deal also netted them two second-rounders and a trio of players. But the return hardly felt enough for many critics: most competitive teams in the NFL have the best quarterbacks, and John Schneider and Pete Carroll knew the trade meant they’d need to find another as good as Wilson — or, at the very least, find a way to win without a franchise passer.

It’s Russell Wilson’s gamble that makes this all the more fascinating.

Already I know the retorts: Was Wilson really in his prime? Did the Seahawks move on from a declining quarterback? Do they need an elite passer to win a Super Bowl?

It’s hard to separate those critiques from Wilson’s morphing reputation in Seattle toward the end of his tenure. By then, his once sterling reputation had become a complicated one.

For some, a quarterback who never said the wrong thing had become too polished, leading with a persona that was understandable (the job of a franchise quarterback calls for perfection) and even sincere (it’s hard to keep up the mantras for a decade without truly believing them) if not also saccharine.

For others, Wilson’s departure was a true loss for the Seattle community, because also departing to Denver was a man who also spent every single Tuesday at a children’s hospital and, to his credit, always represented the team well.

His on-field work is also complicated, and that’s where this gamble is focused.

Outside of a Super Bowl run with an aged Peyton Manning, the Broncos have been searching for a true franchise star since John Elway. A Denver fan desperate for a top-five passer would tell you they don’t care if you’re no longer a Wilson fan — if he can get them back to a Super Bowl he’ll be an oasis in a desert of failed first-rounders.

The resume is there at least. Make no mistake: Wilson is spectacular. He’s one of the best, if not the best, deep-ball passer in the league. He has made improbable plays look possible, whether by scrambling around in the backfield before launching a bomb toward the end zone or throwing a dime into a tight window to a tip-toeing receiver. He has perfect touch. He utilizes his legs to frustrate defenders, but has also defied stereotypes about mobile quarterbacks struggling to become prolific passers: the Seahawks have just four seasons of 4,000-plus passing yards and all are owned by Wilson.

He’s also a flawed player, particularly in a more recent body of work. Wilson had a career-high in pass attempts and touchdowns in 2020, but also a career-high in interceptions (13) and a second-half stretch that saw him thrown from the MVP race. His first return from injury in 2021 saw him play one of the worst games of his career. His preference for the home run ball over a short route has at times kept the offense behind the sticks.

An effect of spending the entirety of a career with one team and one head coach means that it’s impossible to separate the team’s success and failures from its quarterback. The Seahawks have been a horrible third-down offense for consecutive seasons and have struggled to utilize tight ends. Is that Wilson’s struggles with the middle of the field and preference for the long ball, or is it a bottom-third offensive line, a perennially-injured running back group, and one too many uncreative plays?

The Seahawks have been one of the winningest regular season teams over the last decade. Would the same roster have been able to do it without Wilson?

While the Seahawks’ gamble is that they can find another franchise quarterback in the future, Wilson’s bet is that he can win outside of Seattle now. And for the first time in his career, he’ll be given full rein.

There’s a future where Wilson wins and the doubts about Carroll’s era in Seattle — that the team didn’t utilize Wilson to the fullest extent — are proven right. There’s also a world where Carroll and Seattle return to a championship without Wilson, and even a world where Wilson’s recent struggles are part of a real decline and Seattle was all the wiser to move on.

The most poetic outcome might also be the most disheartening: that in any bet, sometimes the house wins. Should Wilson fail to find success in his new offense and should the Seahawks find themselves in the basement of the NFL, all it’ll show is that some gambles have no winner, and that perhaps the best version of these two sides is one — now gone — that existed as a whole.

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