Analysis: Was Russell Wilson’s Seahawks trade just ‘a football decision’?

RENTON — What once seemed like the least fathomless thing to happen in Seattle sports — Russell Wilson playing for another team — will soon become a stark reality in view of what for 10 years have been his most ardent fans. .

And as Wilson takes the field for the first time as a Denver Bronco on Monday night at the same Lumen Field where he led the Seahawks to their greatest heights, the question will ring: how did we get here? ?

It’s a development that even those who have witnessed much of the drama still struggle to process.

“I never thought Russell would leave this team,” former Seahawk Michael Bennett said recently. “I thought Russell would be a fixture in this town forever. I think he represents everything that is good about this sport and everything that is good about humanity, his passion and the way he cares and his dedication. So it’s kind of heartbreaking to see that he’s gone.

But as Seahawks chiefs said the day the trade was made, in their view, the reason for the trade was simple – Wilson wanted out.

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“Russell has made it clear he wants this change,” team president Jody Allen said in a statement the day the trade was officially announced, March 16.

Why Wilson might have wanted out is a topic that was inevitably refreshed this week with an uncomfortable reunion at hand, with each account seeming to include plenty of little reasons that have accumulated over the years to eventually become big – with the The importance of any of these seems to depend on the source for a myriad of reasons.

Witness it:

– Wilson has bristled at coach Pete Carroll’s insistence on a running game and defensive philosophy, even despite two offensive coordinator changes since 2017. It’s a complaint that first surfaced after a 2018 playoff loss to Dallas in which Wilson’s team felt the team didn’t count on him until it was too late. As has been well documented, Wilson’s unease about the offensive philosophy reached its highest point at the end of the 2020 season, when Carroll decided to put the brakes on the passing game mid-season after three losses in four games in which Wilson had 10 turnovers.

– Wilson wished the team had done more over the years to strengthen the team’s offensive line and generally provided him with more support, while also wishing he had more say in personnel moves. And as Wilson alluded to this week, hearing that the team was planning on leaving Bobby Wagner and Duane Brown helped convince him that maybe it was time for him to move on, with Wilson not being not sure the team was going to be in a position to return to a Super Bowl anytime soon.

– Wilson chafed that the Seahawks appeared to be exploring other options at quarterback, such as scouting Josh Allen coming out of the 2018 draft, and as reported by ESPN this week, approaching Cleveland about a deal for the No. 1 pick in 2018 (who became Baker Mayfield) and as Pro Football Talk reported this week, apparently approaching Arizona over a similar deal in 2019 for the pick that became Kyler Murray.

But the unraveling of the relationship was far from one-sided.

The Seahawks have grown weary of the drama — the 2019 setting of a contract deadline, or Wilson’s complaints about the offensive line and wanting more of a say in decision-making after Seattle fired Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator and hired Shane Waldron as his replacement.

But as a source familiar with the matter said this week, the focus on some of the more salacious details may obscure the main reason the swap was made.

“It was really just a football decision,” one person in the know said. Far more, he said, than people might want to accept.

After trading Wilson, Seahawks general manager John Schneider said one of the reasons was that the team felt Wilson would not sign another long-term contract.

But would Seattle have wanted to offer one? That’s an unanswered question since the Seahawks wouldn’t have approached Wilson about it until after the 2022 season.

As an ESPN story broke this week, some in the Seahawks organization are wondering just how much Wilson’s game and the mobility that’s always set him apart will age when the quarterback turns 34 in November.

ESPN quoted an unnamed member of the Seahawks front office as saying, “He’s not as mobile as he used to be.”

The Seahawks aren’t the only ones wondering if Wilson’s wild rush days are over.

wrote Football Outsiders in its assessment of Wilson, noting that his rushing attempts per game (3.1) and yards per attempt (4.3) were both career lows: “Wilson is now 33 and no longer runs as before. , so we have to at least consider the possibility that it peaked in the late 2010s.’

The Broncos don’t seem worried, signing Wilson earlier this month to a five-year deal worth up to $245 million through the 2028 season, when he turns 40 (but with no money guaranteed over the past three years).

But the comments the Seahawks have made since the trade are telling, like Carroll’s view that quarterbacks are like point guards.

“Need a guy who plays the game and moves the football to guys who are open,” Carroll said. “Do everything that manages the game so that we can play great football, because we are going to win with the defense, we are going to win with the way we play in the special teams, we are going to manage the football to help the whole thing s fit.”

It was a philosophy the Seahawks used in the three games Wilson missed in 2021 due to his finger injury to stay competitive – two last-minute losses to the Saints and Steelers and a blowout from the Jaguars – with Geno Smith at QB. Smith had a 5-to-1 TD-to-interception ratio and a 103.1 passer rating that was tied with Wilson’s 103.0 for the season.

A source familiar with the situation this week said the Seahawks may have simply decided “it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on a quarterback when the quarterback isn’t the central point of the system.

And that may help explain why the Seahawks explored trade options for Wilson — which Wilson admitted this week, saying he knew the team had tried to trade him “several times” — over the years. previous years for young QBs who would have been rookies. contracts.

Wilson did the Broncos a favor in his new contract, delaying hits. He accounts for just 7.7% and 9.8% of Denver’s salary cap in 2022 and 2023 and 13.8% in 2024 compared to 15.5% and 17.5% in his final two years at Seattle in the part of the four-year contract he signed in 2019 that made him the highest-paid player in NFL history at that time at $35 million a year (and consider Wilson’s dead cap of $26 million for the Seahawks this year means he accounts for about 12% of Seattle’s cap for not playing for them).

So while the frayed relationship played a part, Seattle may just have been making a trade calculation that Wilson wouldn’t be worth it over the years and the Seahawks better try to sell high.

The no-trade clause Wilson secured in 2019 assured him, meanwhile, that he could choose where he wanted to go — with Denver the only option he favored among teams that had a legitimate interest.

And Wilson, whose move from North Carolina State to Wisconsin for his senior year of college proved a pivotal moment in his career, ultimately made his own business decision.

Cold business decisions, perhaps.

But then the NFL is full of them and Seattle had done them with most of the other key players of the LOB era.

In the end, Wilson turned out to be no different, hard as it might have been to believe at the time.

Which way is he right?

Does Wilson still have payday-worthy years of elite play at the top of the QB ladder, as his team believes?

Can the Seahawks find another QB on a smaller contract and build the kind of powerhouse around him like they did around Wilson in 2012?

It will take a few years to find out and will largely depend on which players Seattle pulls out of its Denver draft.

Either side, however, will be more than happy to get a little immediate gratification on Monday night.