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O’Neil: Retroactive reports of Seahawks almost trading Russell Wilson are just a parlor trick

The Seahawks didn't trade Russell Wilson in 2018, but they did give him a no-trade clause. (AP)

Reporting on trades that didn’t happen is the best parlor trick in sports journalism.

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Seriously. It’s the perfect racket because you get all of the upside of a possible transaction involving the best players in a given sport and none of the downside of it actually having to be true.

Take the latest example, which are reports that the Seahawks discussed trading Russell Wilson to the Cleveland Browns in 2018.

Here’s the exact quote from Chris Simms, a former quarterback who is now affiliated with ProFootballTalk.com, which caused the first ripple.

“I had heard a rumor from some people I trusted a few years ago,” Simms said, “that Seattle called Cleveland when (the Browns) had the No. 1 pick and there was this rumor going around the NFL that they offered Russell Wilson to the Browns for the No. 1 pick that year.”

Without pausing, here’s what Simms said next: “I never followed up, but I just know that I had people telling me that was something people were hearing. But now we’re two years down the road, three years down the road and I think the Seahawks have totally flipped the organization to where it is all about Russell Wilson to where he was untradable now and I think he was even then.”

OK. Let’s unpack that. Two years ago, a man working in sports media heard from someone he trusted that one of the most prominent quarterbacks in the NFL was being offered for the first pick in the draft… and he didn’t follow up on that? Yeah. That totally makes sense because there’s no way anybody would have been interested in that subject at the time. In fact, it was such an inconsequential bit of news that it wasn’t really until two years later when no sports were being actively played in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis that Simms could be bothered to really get around to talking about it.

But re-read the end of that statement where he says that now, “the Seahawks have totally flipped the organization to where it is all about Russell Wilson to where he was untradeable now and I think he was even then.”

But you just said he was offered for the first overall pick. And as for him being untradeable now? Yeah. He has a no-trade clause.

Then on Thursday, Tim Hasselbeck was on Will Cain’s radio show, and he disclosed what he had heard.

“They were definitely talking about Russell Wilson being traded back then, yeah,” Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know if it was just the Browns or where else that went, but yeah.”

Do tell.

“Told by people in the organization that would know, I think the comment was, ‘Hey, we’re looking at some players in that draft,’” Hasselbeck said, “and some of the players they were looking at I was surprised because of where they were picking. It was like, ‘Well, why would you be looking at these players?’ Basically it was going to be an effort to get a bunch of picks and obviously move way up and Russell Wilson would have helped make that happen.

“I wasn’t thinking Russell when the guy made the comment to me originally. And then someone else after that kind of came like, ‘Hey, the name might surprise you. Hey, it’s not Bobby Wagner. It’s a big name but not Bobby Wagner,’ was I think the comment back then.”

Hasselbeck has never worked in an NFL personnel office to my knowledge. Not only that, but the Seahawks are about the tightest-lipped team when it comes to talking about draft prospects. Yet someone in the Seahawks front office wanted to pick Hasselbeck’s brain about potential picks and let it slip that they’d be moving a star bigger than Wagner, and Hasselbeck just tucked that little tidbit of information away for a rainy day? OK.

The entire episode reached a peak on Thursday when the web site ProFootballTalk.com – you know, the one Simms is affiliated with – posted an article, which credited Simms because he “unwittingly lit a slow-burning fuse” in identifying players who were untradeable. Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times analyzed the accuracy of the claims, and Colin Cowherd ripped the Seahawks because somehow they’re responsible for keeping these kind of conversations from occurring.

Everybody wins, right? Except the idea of, you know, talking about stuff that actually occurred, because at this point, the question of whether or not Seattle discussed or considered trading Wilson doesn’t even matter. And therein lies the true power of this specific parlor trick. You can’t ever truly dispel these non-stories. A denial from the Seahawks wouldn’t dissuade anyone who thinks Seattle may have considered trading Wilson. What else are the Seahawks going to say? Pointing to the fact Seattle signed Wilson to the biggest contract in NFL history less than one year after these purported discussions doesn’t help, either. People just speculate that Seattle was worried about being able to sign him.

But this doesn’t make any sense. Do you really think the Seahawks seriously considered trading Wilson to Cleveland in 2018, creating rumors rampant enough that two former players now in the media heard it at the time, without any whisper of this being reported at the time? And then – two years later – those two former players, neither of whom has ever worked in a personnel department, offhandedly say, “Oh yeah, I heard that happened,” and this occurs precisely at the moment in which there is nothing of substance to talk about.

But hey, maybe that’s just the way the game is played right now. After all, I’m contributing to the discussion of this trade that never occurred with this article, which brings us back to why the discussion of trades that never occurred may look like journalism, but is actually an activity practiced by the attention mongers and click grifters who ply their trade under the cloak of being media members.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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