Much of the wailings and lamentations that followed from Russell Wilson’s complaints in February about the shortcomings of the Seahawks offense were based on the awareness of his age. As if 33 somehow thrust him to the edge of sudden career extinction, akin to the Permian-Jurassic “Great Dying” 250 million years ago.
That seemed to add urgency to the need for upgrades right away, so as to not squander his majestic Seattle career (note to Mariners fans: Similar was said about the careers of Felix Hernandez and Ichiro; indeed, they were squandered).
But as Wilson reminded us Thursday, he is nowhere near the edge of his universe.
Ahead of the seasonal start at 10 a.m. Sunday in Indianapolis against the Colts, Wilson reminded reporters that his frontier is not like those in his audience, whose world often begins and ends with a daily deadline.
“It’s a gift to be able to play this position for this long,” he said. “I’m going into my 10th year, so it’s a blessing. I have a lot longer to go. I believe that I have another 13 years to go, in my head. Maybe more, who knows?”
Wilson has always played the long game; his infinity vision was buttressed by QB Tom Brady winning a Super Bowl with Tampa at 43. But the concern is not necessarily the actuarial tables of quarterback longevity; the rules of the game have been changed sufficiently that quarterbacks these days can talk credibly about career mid-points at 33.
It’s not the number of years; it’s the degree of difficulty.
Wilson is the holder of an obscure, dubious NFL record no one wants to talk about: Most consecutive seasons with 40 or more sacks — eight.
He’s had it for two seasons.
The previous record of six was held by a QB that longtime Northwest sports fans may recall — Neil Lomax.
The native of Lake Oswego, OR., and a record-setting star at Portland State, Lomax was a second-round pick in the`1981 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, where he played the club’s final seven years there, plus the club’s first season in Phoenix in 1988. But he didn’t make it to his age 30 season before a chronic hip injury ended his career, thanks in good part to an average of a hefty 49.3 sacks over his final six seasons, all as a starter.
Sacks were, of course, the easily countable stat when Wilson aired his misgivings about poor pass protection. The career total of 394, 21st all-time already, drew attention. He finished the regular season with 47, third-most in the NFL. When the five from the gruesome playoff loss to the Rams are included, his 52 gave him two more than Carson Wentz, the regular-season leader when he played for the Eagles. Sunday, Wentz starts for the Colts. The Duel of the Downed is upon us.
Wilson’s annual career average is 43.8; the most recent eight seasons average 45.8. He’s a little better off than was Lomax, but his point in February remains valid until disproven: Too much.
Asked Thursday whether his public advocacy produced changes that amounted to a positive result, he declined to go anywhere near the topic.
“I think the whole thing got a little bit confused and everything else,” he said, before returning to the patter of being excited to be here, and was prepared to perform and to win.
What makes the sacks business so intriguing is that it contrasts so nakedly with Wilson’s seminal feat:
He’s never missed a game to injury.
The Seahawks PR department’s weekly release contains five pages solid with Wilson’s single-game, -season and career feats, but no direct mention of that fact. Just a lot of consecutive-starts streaks. His indestructibility is so taken for granted around here that it’s part the cultural woodwork. There’s the Ballard Locks, Space Needle, Ivar’s and Wilson. Boeing aged way worse than he has.
Given his sackitude, Wilson being present for every freakin’ football game is the single most astounding feat of his career.
That doesn’t mean the annual poundings haven’t taken physical and mental tolls. I’ve tended to look at the remarks Wilson made in February, which he declines to re-visit, more as a cry for help than a desire to leave.
Mike Sando of The Athletic, and formerly of ESPN and The News Tribune, does an annual anonymous poll of 50 football coaches and evaluators to create Quarterback Tiers, a well-read feature that ranks starters from the perspective of insiders.
The poll had Wilson in the five-man top tier, behind Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady and ahead of Deshaun Watson. The story also quoted an unnamed offensive coach’s observations about Wilson in 2020:
“When we played him last year, I almost saw, I felt like I saw live, a semi-dropoff in his game. I felt like he looked older, a little bit slower and their offense did not help schematically. Watch him in their last game of the year, they had to win and he was not good. He wasn’t getting away from it as fast, he was missing throws.”
Whether you agree, it’s plausible the Seahawks coaches and even Wilson himself recognize that compensations must be made for the inevitable. Which is why the fresh schemes by new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, and the changes made to the line, are the pivot points of the season.
One way to look at it is that new starting center Kyle Fuller may be the most important Seahawk you barely heard of.
The protection has do better, not just to prevent injury to Wilson, but to preserve his late-game edge. He needs to trust Waldron to sequence the rush and the short-pass game to give Wilson the explosive plays his ego craves, without hanging on to the ball too long. Whether the Seahawks bosses have built the line to make all that happen remains a larger mystery than the identities of the many persons hired to play the cornerback position.
One thing is clear: Wilson is enthralled with Waldron.
“I think he’s a wizard,” he said. “He really understands what he wants to get to. I think he has a great opportunity to be special in coaching this game, for a long time.
“I think that he’s calm, he brings confidence to himself and to the guys. I’m excited to be working with him every day, and all of the coaches, really. It’s going to be a great year I think and we have to go for it.”
If Waldron has the sorcery, and the players, to convince Wilson that doing less is more, no one will be listening for the ticking of his clock.
Prediction: The Seahawks are likely a better team than the 12-4 mark of 2020, but so are the 49ers, Rams and Cardinals. The Seahawks’ marvelous record over the past two seasons in close games has to regress a bit to the mean: 11-6