BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 01/22/2020

Thiel: What NFL’s richest guy needs: One second

Critics of Pete Carroll’s playcalling say he’s wasting Russell Wilson’s peak years by not relying on him more. Really? The Seahawks need him to do less, not more.

Russell Wilson nearly got it done at Lambeau Field, but a fourth long TD drive escaped him. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Apart from game outcomes, the most remarkable team feat so far in the NFL playoffs was the 285 yards of rushing the San Francisco 49ers laid on Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship. In the days since, it resonates a little more in Seattle because numerous post-mortems about the Seahawks have lamented that the 49ers’ rushing success will encourage the worst instincts in Pete Carroll next year.

The fear is that the Seahawks coach will squander another of Russell Wilson’s peak seasons by continuing to resist the  makeover from Fred Flintstone to George Jetson. The theory is that Wilson is so good at what he does that the Seahawks need him throwing (and running) more than they need Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny running and injuring.

NFL analytics point to pass plays per attempt being more productive than runs, as well as Wilson’s efficiency reducing the pass-risk factor. The facts were buttressed this week when Pro Football Focus anointed him as its Most Valuable Player, based a WAR calculation similar to baseball. That’s right — better than wunderkind Lamar Jackson.

The case is hardly unreasonable, but it overlooks some stuff.

The reason Wilson is so valuable for Seattle is because he is so much better than any other Seahawks weapon. He also is paid much more than anyone, creating a payroll bulge that has negative down-roster consequences under the salary cap.

After Wilson signed his extension making him the game’s highest-paid player, skeptics said the Seahawks can’t win a Super Bowl that way, which Carroll took as a direct challenge. The skeptics are right so far, but Carroll came a lot closer than many imagined, a healthy RB here or an inch there and they would be taking their talents to South Beach.

Nevertheless, the payroll decisions to accommodate Wilson hurt. To cite one obscure but relevant example, the slot cornerback position is never a big deal until a team doesn’t have one.  They had a good one in Justin Coleman, but he left in free agency for Detroit, which gave him a four-year deal worth up to $36 million, with $17.9 million guaranteed.

It’s hard to say directly that Wilson’s salary forced out Coleman, but it’s easy to say the Seahawks never backfilled that spot. They brought in free agent CB Jamar Taylor on a one-year, $805,000 deal and convinced themselves that LB Mychal Kendricks was good enough in pass coverage that they could play their base 4-3 defense more than any team in the NFL, working around Coleman’s absence, and get away with it.

They couldn’t. Kendricks got beat a lot, Taylor was fired after week 10 and rookie CB Ugo Amadi, who may become a good player, found himself toasted by Green Bay star WR Davante Adams on a critical third-down pass completion late in the fourth quarter that helped end the Seattle season.

Not saying they shouldn’t have paid Wilson, but the inability to afford Coleman was a little-appreciated reason the Seahawks defense was often so crappy this year. That’s how choices work under the salary cap.

Wilson’s out-sized value to the franchise is a reason NOT to subject him to more payload responsibilities. In the second half of a cold night at Lambeau Field with a wounded line, a kid tight end and an old running back not long off the couch, he took the Seahawks on three long touchdown drives to get back in the game, and a fourth was thwarted by a drop and a sack, neither his fault.

And he’s supposed to do more?

“It gave us a shot to go win a game on the road in a situation where it didn’t even look like it would ever be possible,” Carroll said after the game. “I say all that because that was us this season. That was this team.”

Indeed, it was the 2019 Seahawks — way too dependent on one guy. Damn straight he was MVP. Jackson was operating an offense designed for him. Wilson was operating an ice rink for deer.

Getting back to the 49ers win over the Packers, there was some irony in that rushing total — 285. Guess how many yards 49ers QB Jimmy Garappolo threw for in their 26-21 win over the Seahawks Dec. 29? Yup, 285.

Sure, it was coincidence, but it conveniently illuminates the greater point regarding Carroll’s playcalling preferences. He wants an offense like he had in 2012-14, and like the one the 49ers have now — balanced, so that they can win however the matchups, health and conditions dictate.

Wilson is at his devastating best — throwing precision long balls into tight windows better than any QB in the NFL — when the defense has to respect the threat of the running game, which buys him the extra second.

That’s how a team should treat the highest-paid player in NFL history: Give him something that he can’t give himself.


YourThoughts

  • Effzee

    Schneider definitely needs to find better players. But it does seem kinda like they’ve totally customized this thing to Russell’s needs. They’ve changed the offensive coordinator, O-line coach and philosophy, QB coaches, all of the RBs, WRs, and TEs have been turned over… Injuries are a part of the game, so, injuries aside, what is it going to take for them to perform consistently on offense? They can’t keep putting the defense on the field and leaning on them like its 2012-2013. Wilson sucking up a huge portion of the payroll definitely has an effect, too. But that was a known going in to the situation. Which made getting sure-things in the draft extra important these past couple of years. Instead, they keep wasting their top picks by reaching for players who do not contribute as rookies if at all. If they drafted better, there would not be the need to make the mid-season trades that leave them without draft picks so that they have to perform zany draft day shenanigans. The whole thing needs to rely on something more solid than personality alchemy and magical two-minute drills.

    • art thiel

      Sometime this off-season it would be worthy to hear Carroll/Schneider say how significant was the absence of Britt, and replacement Hunt playing with a stress fracture. The substandard play at center is one of the hidden factors that that kept the offense from a real slash/burn season. They still finished 9th in points, but as we saw, finishing 6th-7th would have had them on South Beach.

      • Effzee

        Agree. Then, why Hunt? Of all of the backup linemen in the league, why the little guy? Money? Is he cheap, like Prosise, and they have to have compensate for Russ’ salary? Or is it just one of those things where they love the little guy and just want him to be their backup center, and that’s it? Just another chip on the shoulder guy who’s a great story, etc.? Seems kinda like more toiling in the alchemy of team chemistry, ie: more reliance upon intangibles, crossed fingers and magic outcomes. The model of just believing that since they had been there before and seen it before, that it was just going to happen (as Pete and Russ have said repeatedly since the Green Bay loss) is not sustainable. Most of the people on that team have not actually seen it work out very often with their own eyes, so they are being asked to live up to something they can’t even comprehend.

      • 1coolguy

        Seattle Prep was #1 in the State my senior year and the week before the final Wesco championship our all-league center had an appendectomy. Our running game came up short and the passing game suffered, ending in our 1 loss of the season in a close game to arch-rival Blanchet.
        The center runs the offensive line, making calls and adjustments. Without the starter, the entire line suffers, unlike subbing in a receiver, for instance. Pointing out Britt is quite an insight Art – keep it up!

        • art thiel

          It’s harder to diagnose the consequences of a center’s absence, but Hunt several times has been bull-rushed onto his butt. I get why Carroll doesn’t want to talk about it, but Britt’s injury was truly significant.

          • Effzee

            Lots of backup linemen in the league. Gotta wonder why they went with the smallest of them all as the backup to such an important position? Was the chip on Hunt’s shoulder just the right size? Was this another case of falling in love with his story? Does Schneider see a little of himself in Hunt? Maybe they knew that if it came to playing a backup center, it would stand to reason that something had gone horribly wrong and they’d be a doing a bunch more passing, so they needed to get a guy Russ could almost see over?

  • Kevin Lynch

    Good points, Art. Too much reliance on Russ. They need to shore up the defense this off season lest that defense be “the gift that keeps on giving” and Russell has to keep playing from behind. That’s how he’ll break Peyton’s record for 4th quarter comebacks and that’s how Manning set the record in the first place. He was often behind, usually courtesy of an average to below average defense or the lack of a steady running game. Balance is everything.

    • art thiel

      The Seahawks’ goal on defense shouldn’t be to replicate LOB, just be NFL average. With Wilson, that should be enough for top-four NFC.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    Spot on with your assessment of Wilson being paid Neiman Marcus dollars for possibly the best QB in football, but has relegated the Hawks to having to shop at the dollar store for down ballot players. The Hawks do have a nice wallet full of cap space dollars to work with, put those together with “better” draft choices and voila the future looks bright.

    • art thiel

      Fixing draft mistakes via free agency is always possible, but seems to have a poor rate of return in Seattle, as well as nationally. Hitting for a high percentage in the draft keeps the FA need manageable. As in life, emergency spending is always expensive.

  • WestCoastBias79

    Ice rink for deer… killed me. I’d posit the more devastating thing about devoting so much of the cap to one player is that your bench is razor thin. You basically have to be lucky with injuries, and this team was very much not. The fact they made it as far as they did as injured as they were was pretty incredible. Aside, really wish they pulled off that first round trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick since they haven’t had a good first round pick since Earl Thomas.

    • art thiel

      The woulda-shoulda list on the Seahawks first-rounders is remarkable for a team that has had so much success.

    • Husky73

      Yet, New England does it every year, working around Brady’s contract

      • WestCoastBias79

        They’re also in a perennial poop heap of a division. Buffalo has been feisty lately, but they’re basically the Mariners of football. Unfortunately the Seahawks are in one of the best.

        • art thiel

          It’s a fair point. For years, NE starts 6-0 over its division. I realize there’s 10 more games, but rivals in other divisions mess up each other more than the Pats’ clown show.

  • jafabian

    IMO the loss of Britt and the patchwork O-Line for the last month of the season cost Wilson the MVP award. Knowing Russ he’d rather have a Super Bowl ring. The MVP award tends to favor players who on a contender and have flashy stats so I’m not sure if the award is in his future. But a return to the Super Bowl may be.

    As much as they missed Justin Coleman the Hawks could really use a #3 receiver. That was going to be Will Dissly but at this point he may be damaged goods. The other WR’s are inconsistent. I’d like to see a pass catching FB in the lineup but since Michael Robinson retired that position doesn’t seem to be a priority in the Seahawk offense.

    Considering their mixed success in their drafts in recent years and the fact that they’re ranked 9th in cap space a free agent signing or two might be in order though they’ll have to give up compensatory picks if they do.

    • art thiel

      The TE situation is probably a bit more urgent, given the unknowns around Dissly’s health. Hollister tried hard, but he was overmatched, as expected for a fifth-stringer.

  • 1coolguy

    As you said previously Art, put Sherman, Clark, Dissly and Carson in the lineup and this team is off to the SB, no doubt.
    Now unfortunately, Clark and Sherman’s of the world don’t grow on trees and are the result of great drafting and coaching, and I don’t see these players on the roster today. So realistically, the Hawks need to get very lucky in the draft, finding another Metcalf-like phenom in the draft and picking up a free agent. They just are not far away from the SB, and frankly, if Dissly and Carson were in the Green Bay game, Hawks win.

    • art thiel

      They weren’t far away, but the end of each season is different because of injuries/expiring contracts. For example, since they didn’t pick up Ifedi’s fifth-year option, he may get a better offer in free agency, creating another hole to fill. Maybe it’s Jamarco Jones, but this year’s roster is automatically diminished by default.

      Plus, they could bring back the same roster and be 8-8, given the bounces in a fumbled football.

  • Mícheál Mac Cionnaith

    As always, Art, you are insightful and an enjoyment to read. But *HE* (RW3) has to see it and be willing to take less on behalf of the good of the team, as Brady has done.

    • art thiel

      I’ve heard that the Pats have used non-cash ways to compensate Brady, which would break the CBA rules, but after Deflategate, I doubt Goodell has the stones for another fight with the game’s premier franchise.

  • Chris Alexander

    WAR has always been an interesting stat to me. Doing the calculations, PFF is essentially saying that the Ravens – thanks to the weapons afforded them with Lamar’s rookie contract (and a Top-10 defense) – would have won 11.5 games with a league-average quarterback whereas a league-average QB would have only won 7 games in Seattle.

    I know that Lamar is going to run away with the vote for the “official” MVP trophy, but …..

    We all know who the real MVP is.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art! Great article. You are so right, especially in not overusing Russell.
    A team has to go into a game with margin, or excess capability, in order maximize the chances to be successful. When plays break down, injuries occur, that margin gets used up. Russell’s amazing capabilities can be considered margin. (Earl Thomas was similar in giving you margin – was like having an extra half or more player in your side, but you saw that every play on defense, where offense you don’t want to have to). The game plan should never be to use up all of your margin. Take care of Russell, give reason the the D to spread out, and Russell will see to it that great things happen.