It’s hard to know which list is longer: The Seahawks’ NFL-leading penalties, or the club’s off-season to-do list. Now, league-wide developments have added emphasis to an issue that didn’t seem to be much of a question before December’s seasonal fade:
What to do with QB Russell Wilson?
Matters internal and external have worked together to ratchet up the uncertainty around many things inside team headquarters in Renton.
We know that despite earlier speculation otherwise, coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider remain at their posts and fully engaged in an emergency overhaul after an abrupt fall-off in performance combined with an equally abrupt rise in the quality of NFC West competition, including new coaches for all three division rivals since the end of 2016.
But the marketplace for quarterbacks has abruptly disrupted planning across the NFL, and the ripples are splashing against the VMAC.
Despite being harassed more than a lame sheep at a wolfpack’s birthday party, Wilson led the NFL with 34 touchdown passes last season. He accounted for approximately 233 percent of the Seahawks offense, and could have had more if he’d had the guts to insist on kicking field goals. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson was the first QB in NFL history to account for 100 percent of his team’s passing yards and at least 30 percent of his team’s rushing yards in a single season.
Yet Carroll, despite knowing that Wilson’s 238 career sacks taken leads the NFL over his six-year career, found the guts to jump on Wilson’s case at halftime of the must-win final game against Arizona to get him to do better. Not long after that, Carroll fired two of Wilson’s supervisors, coaches Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable, in some part because they weren’t getting Wilson to do the right thing with sufficient frequency.
And with both coordinators fired, it is reasonable to presume that a majority of the 25 coaching positions the Seahawks had last year will change hands.
Jimmy Garoppolo, a quarterback with an impressive but minimal record of seven wins in seven starts, signed the past week a $137.5 million deal over five years with the suddenly robust San Francisco 49ers. It was the largest deal in NFL history (although in the NBA, that money would get a team a seventh man from eastern Europe who averages six points and four rebounds).
But that benchmark likely will eclipsed as soon as March 14, when free agency commences. Kirk Cousins, 29 (three months older than Wilson), is expected to land a larger contract than Garappolo’s because of his resume that includes 57 career starts. Despite receiver injuries on a mediocre (7-9) Redskins team, he had 27 TD passes last season and has rushed for 13 scores over his past three seasons. He finished 2017 with a 93.9 passer rating. Wilson was 95.4.
Wilson has two years remaining on his current contract, whose total value is $87.6 million, a handsome sum by any reckoning but barely enough to cover the tab for Garoppolo’s pool boys. According to Spotrac, Wilson’s contract ranks 10th in the category of overall value, remarkable considering that two years ago he seemed to have signed a deal that might have allowed him to purchase a small European principality.
Additionally, the emergence of Philadelphia’s Nick Foles as Super Bowl MVP behind wunderkind Carson Wentz, and the surplus in Minnesota, where Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford are all more than competent NFL quarterbacks, health permitting, suggests that some version of 52-card QB pickup will be underway.
Coupled with the pre-draft speculation that Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen could all be among the first 10 picks, suggests that potential game-changing levels of talent are in rare abundance.
Already the Kansas City Chiefs delivered a shocker, trading QB Alex Smith, 34, to Washington, where he was given a four-year contract extension worth a bit more than Wilson’s deal. That put second-year QB Pat Mahomes in charge at KC and sent Daniels into free agency.
So, with many internal changes within the Seahawks, and many external marketplace alternatives, it’s at least plausible to consider whether the Seahawks are giving thought to doing something besides the conventional wisdom for 2018 with Wilson under some new management, then starting talks for a contract extension ahead of 2019.
The issue is not about dissatisfaction with Wilson, because his relatively small number of problems were more a function of a poor offensive line and no running game. The issue is the sudden number of roster holes exposed by the three December losses, and whether the Seahawks dare try to survive in 2020 with Wilson eating up close to $30 million annually under the salary cap.
We all understand the virtue and value of a franchise quarterback. But the greatest successes under Carroll came when Wilson was very affordable under his third-round rookie contract, which allowed the Seahawks to spend more generously on the defense and O-line.
But with so many core players on the defense aging, injured or expensive, having no picks in the second or third round in April, and without much room under the salary cap, Carroll and Schneider are in a bind. They have to fix the defense and the running game simultaneously with the disadvantage akin to taking a knife into a gunfight.
In his season-closing presser, Carroll, unsolicited, itched to dispute the contention that the personnel decisions in 2017 reflected a final push to win it all with the core players, because the re-set button would have to be hit in 2018.
“We’re trying to go for it every time we go,” Carroll said. “There’s not a year where it’s, ‘OK, let’s sit back and wait until next year.’ There’s not a week, there’s not a day, there’s not a moment that we think like that.”
So falling back in one season to move ahead apparently is not an option.
The ability of Foles to do what he did for the Eagles evoked surprise similar to what surrounded Wilson in his rookie year. Certainly, some things are different, but the larger point is that there seems to be available this spring, via draft or trade, an unusual number of above-average QBs who potentially could do well in Seattle.
Moving on from Wilson is hardly a must-do for 2018. But events unknowable ahead of the 2017 season have caught up to the Seahawks. And Carroll said there’s not even a day the Seahawks think about not contending for a season.
If the Seahawks aren’t at least thinking about it, in the wake of Foles’ play, Garoppolo’s deal and the pending free agency of Cousins, Carroll isn’t being true to his words.