BY Art Thiel 05:56PM 02/09/2021

Thiel: Wilson is testing his limits with Seahawks

Russell Wilson stepped out from behind anonymous leaks to speculate on a non-Seahawks future. The wild QB market could accelerate the schism between Wilson and Carroll.

This sack, Sept. 9, 2016 in Los Angeles against LB Alec Ogletree that injured Russell Wilson’s knee, is the sort of thing the Seahawks QB is weary of. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The business of the franchise quarterback is the most compelling personnel theater in the NFL. By extension, it’s the most compelling non-game theater in sports, even more than a similar drama with the NBA.

In basketball, superstars dictating their desired employers, and hustling up a superstar buddy or two to join him, has become standard operating procedure. But the smaller number of players makes positive outcomes far more likely in hoops, because football requires 22 starters and 53 total, and has separate units for offense and defense.

Yet the QB looms over all team sports, because it has the most influential tasks and is the hardest job to master. But the pre-draft assets critical to success are often indeterminable by the most savvy analysts. Any fan who scrolls through the draft’s first couple of rounds over the years in the era of free agency (begun in earnest in 1994) will discover lost causes that can be stacked like firewood for an entire winter.

In the NFL, the consequences of QB mistakes are compounded by the hardness of the collectively bargained salary cap, at least compared to the squishiness of the NBA’s cap. Recent case in point: A year after giving young Jared Goff a monster contract commensurate with a franchise QB, the Rams felt compelled to quit on him, sending him to Detroit for Matthew Stafford, 33, and including two first-round picks and a third-rounder as compensation to the Lions for taking on the bloated contract.

That trade rocked the NFL world and was felt in Seattle.

Not because the Seahawks were attempting to deal Wilson — he has a no-trade clause in the four-year extension he signed in April 2019 — but because the Rams’ willingness to do the almost unimaginable had the effect of knocking down assumptions about any player on any team.

The seismic shift was behind a report from the NFL’s media organ Monday that the Seahawks had fielded calls from teams about Wilson’s availability, but were turned down. Also stirring the pot were two national media appearances Tuesday by Wilson in which he was politely but provocatively critical of parts of the Seahawks operation, something he has almost never done.

Those remarks followed similar unhappiness conveyed in the post-mortem following his worst career playoff performance in the 30-20 loss to the Rams that ended the season.

The net effect is, by either anonymous leaks or direct attribution, Wilson allowed the rest of the NFL to be fully alert to a schism between Wilson and coach Pete Carroll. The fracture is not a media fabrication, because it already caused a change at offensive coordinator.

Wilson said this on Dan Patrick’s national radio show:

“The reality of professional sports is things happen, things change. I’m not sure how long I will play in Seattle. I think hopefully it will be forever. But things change, obviously, along the way. You focus on what you can control every day and try to be the best version of yourself.”

Asked by Patrick whether he believes teams have called the Seahawks, he said, “Yeah, I definitely believe they have gotten calls, for sure. I think anytime you are a player that tries to produce every week and has done it consistently, I think people are going to call, for sure. It’s part of the process.’’

Are you available? “I’m not sure if I’m available or not — that’s a Seahawks question.’’

On a Zoom call with reporters, for the first time in his career, he was blunt about how sick he was of being sacked.

“Like any player, you never want to get hit,” he said. “That’s the reality of playing this position. Ask any quarterback who wants to play this game.

“I’ve been sacked almost 400 times, so we’ve got to get better up front. I’ve got to find ways to get better, too.”

Asked if he was frustrated with the Seahawks, he said, “I’m getting hit too much. I’m frustrated at that part of it.’’

Wilson’s 47 sacks were third-most in the NFL regular season, and in 2019 his 48 were the most. He has 394 for his career. Another 40 next season will put him 11th in NFL history.

However, according to Pro Football Focus, 16 of the sacks in 2020 were attributable to Wilson. He told Patrick that he does hang on too long to the ball sometimes. Then again, his moments of patience are often why he’s the game’s most successful thrower of the long ball.

“It always starts up front — offensively, defensively — it always does,” he said. “I’ve always put my trust in the Seahawks in trying to do whatever it takes to win. Hopefully, that will continue. I think part of that is how we go about the protection part of it.”

Therein lies the rub.

At the moment, with only four draft picks in April, and being just $4 million under the salary cap that is estimated to drop $19 million to about $180 million because of financial losses from the pandemic, the Seahawks are in a relatively weak position to respond to Wilson’s request for help. Among the few ways forward would be to do something drastic, like trading LB Bobby Wagner and his $18 million salary for picks and cap relief.

But playing more-than-armchair GM is something else that appeals to Wilson.

“I think if you ask guys like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady — I think that you saw this year how much he was involved in the (player acquisition) process — I think that’s something that is important to me,’’ Wilson said.

Brady pushed the Bucs to sign guys he wanted, such as TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Antonio Brown. The duo caught the first three touchdowns in Tampa’s 31-9 win over the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

Obviously, it worked out for the Bucs, but a GM in any sport will say that there is large danger in allowing players into decision-making, because they may be too wrapped up in creating a personal legacy at the expense of the team.

What seems to be happening here is Wilson, perhaps emboldened by peers such as Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who helped get coach Mike McCarthy fired in Green Bay, seeks to find the limits of his influence.

If he doesn’t like what he finds, and indeed is ready for a change, the primary way to influence a positive outcome is during an unusual amount of potential movement in the QB marketplace, like right now, that would come closer to making the Seahawks whole at the position in the event of a trade.

Wilson will be 33 in November, which means, like Stafford, he has still has plenty of tread left. His $35 million average annual salary during a season of cap shrinkage means he takes up a bigger percentage of the payroll that at the moment may not be able to afford pending free agents such as CB Shaquill Griffin and RB Chris Carson.

Is the market tumult an accelerator for the separation of Wilson and the Seahawks?

Based on degree of difficulty, especially with issues around the salary cap, I’d guess no. But I never would have anticipated the Goff-Stafford deal. Nor did I think that Tampa Bay would go from 7-9 to Super Bowl champs with Brady. Nor did I forecast that the 49ers would go from 4-12 to NFC champions to 6-10 and be looking to unload Jimmy Garappolo.

If you’re a Seahawks fan into non-game sports drama, you might want to figure how best to position yourself to comfortably grip your butt, clench your teeth and hold your water  while the QB market sorts out its high drama.




  • LarryLurex70

    I’ve felt for years that “knocking down assumptions about any player on any team” should’ve been standard thinking after Gretzky was traded. Just in case anyone was still unsure whether or not pro sport is big business more than anything else. If HE can get moved – regardless of the reasons why – then, no player should be/feel safe.

    I’m all for players exerting their influence and taking control of their own career path – Russ specifically mentioned LeBron – but, I’m not entirely sold on how it’s being done nowadays. Especially when it comes to star players under contract contract pouting their way out of an organisation until they’re traded to another. I’m curious what RW’s end game is with regards to having more input on player personnel decisions. Specifically, if he’s planning on honouring the remaining term of his contract, what will his next move be if John doesn’t welcome that before it expires?

    • art thiel

      No fan is going to like the hometown superstar player leveraging his way to what he thinks is a better deal. Using your good Gretzky example, Canada nearly collapsed.

      Regarding player personnel, sometimes management pretends to listen to players, but no good club allows that. If anyone deserves it, it’s Aaron Rodgers. Remember who GB drafted in the first round last spring?

      • LarryLurex70

        The media loves making excuses for and giving passes to Rodgers more than most. He’s been really good, but, he’s not “that dude”. I’ll never be convinced that the 2020 draft is why the Packers watched the Super Bowl from home like the rest of us. It didn’t seem to be an issue during the regular season, which saw him awarded the MVP that the “12’s” think is so important in regards to Russ, did it? And, didn’t Green Bay dump their Head Coach a couple years ago and bring in another fall guy just to appease him?

  • Seattle Psycho

    Kills me that he is complaining about protection when he hasn’t figured out how to throw the ball away in his 9 year career. Can’t just launch it into the stands like he does the few times he does try before taking a sack. Remember two games at least this year where his inability to do so cost us big time.

    He likes to talk legacy and wants better people around but from what he keeps saying, doesn’t seem like he is going to be willing to take a little less than he is worth like Brady did in New England. Pete is signed until 2025 I believe, trading Russ for picks and more this year would give him four seasons to take a young QB on a rookie contract to the Super Bowl, just like he did with Mr Wilson

    • art thiel

      I’ve always believed Brady got non-cash compensation from NE that allowed him take less.

      And 69-year-old coaches don’t take on rookie QBs.

      • DJ

        Yeah, that’s what I’ve thought also – part ownership, Gillette stock…Maybe only time will tell, but Brady is like a son back in NE

  • jafabian

    I’ve wondered if at some point Wilson will go down the path that we saw Richard Sherman, ARod, Junior, Gary Payton and Jack Sikma travel down: that they’ve accomplished everything that they can in Seattle and wonder in the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I’m not sure if I can blame him because they haven’t had the same success at drafting after the Super Bowl win as they did three years prior. And the free agent acquisitions and trades have been mixed overall. The contracts of Wilson and Wagner are a big difference between then and now. I’m wondering if Wilson would actually suggest trading BSwag behind closed doors?

    I’ve yet to see any active player display any decent player personnel decision making acumen. Heck, Michael Jordan used to undermine Bulls GM for years but has yet to show any success as an NBA executive. So it seems as though Wilson has taken that leap to the next level. Where he will land is the question.

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    • art thiel

      It’s pro sports. Heroes come and go. Nine years is a long time for a star. New teams can look good to a player who has done all he can in one place.

  • Will Ganschow

    Different columnist, same byline.

    • art thiel


  • Husky73

    Will Russ retire as a Seahawk? Few do. His wife (who is from Atlanta)
    is an entertainer, so Los Angeles or New York may be future destinations.

    • art thiel

      I’d throw in the Las Vegas Raiders. Easy trip Ciara to LA, where they have a beachfront home.

      • Kevin Lynch

        What about Barstow? Even quicker to the Malibu beach. I understand the Barstow Blue Devils have an up and coming squad. Not sure about their cap room.

        • Husky73

          “Well I headed for Las Vegas. Only made it out to Needles.”

  • tor5

    Could it be a little premature to declare a “schism” between Wilson and Carroll? Russ expressing frustration and asserting his power is newsworthy because it’s a little un-Russ to do that. But I’m not sure that Pete is going to disagree with anything Russ is saying. Pete has demonstrated his willingness to listen to players, and would surely listen to Russ. Why would he not also want a better OL and bring Russ more into the process? Maybe there’s more to it, but a schism? I don’t see it.

    • art thiel

      Wilson is speaking some truths, but the fact that he went public in separate national interviews can’t help but piss off Carroll/Schneider. And the issue in-house about playcalling has rankled Wilson since mid-season.

      This is not mere venting after a bad loss. But I’m also not saying its irreparable. No one can know that now.

  • Mark Stratton

    Russ had the best offensive line he’s had in 6-7 years, and still got sacked 47 times. That’s partly due to a combination of poor play calling and him holding onto the ball too long.

    He got the OC he wanted. Maybe this is his preemptive way of telling Pete to stick to the defense.

    • art thiel

      No. Wilson wants a more dynamic offense. Waldron I think is a step in that direction, but the O-line must be upgraded, and I don’t think that can happen in a single off-season with the resource imitations the Seahawks have.

      • Mark Stratton

        Not sure where we disagree. Going for la bomba when defenses were playing cover 2 was a contributor to both the stalled offense and additional sacks, whether caused by Schotty’s playcalling or Russ’s stubbornness. The O-line is better, but not good enough and whatever resources the Seahawks have this offseason need to be spent to improve it.

        My point is that Wilson got some of what he wanted with the Waldron hire, and better playcalling should contribute to less sackage, hopefully while remaining explosive. Maybe he’s just trying to tell Pete publicly to leave Waldron alone to do his job.

        After publicly throwing his O-line under the bus he might get sacked 60 times next season no matter what plays are called.

      • pilewort

        you misspelled immitations.

  • WestCoastBias79

    I don’t fault the man for not wanting to get hit, but he needs to look in the mirror too. It’s to the point when I throws it away, I get genuinely excited. Also, where does he think pastures will be greener? They’re not going to trade him to another NFC team. The only trade that makes sense from the Seahawks standpoint would be Watson (I’d take that trade in a heartbeat), but Russ isn’t going to that dumpster fire. It seems the best solution for both parties would be to make nice. He’s got two of the best receivers in football and the OC he wanted. Simmer down.

    • art thiel

      That’s a nice dad answer for fights between young brothers, but this is a business deal with lots of stakes. There would be plenty of suitors for Wilson, places he would like (the Vegas Raiders?), but the $39M cap hit for the Seahawks in a trade is punitive in the extreme.

      • WestCoastBias79

        The problem is Russ married a mere millionaire lower level pop star instead of a supermodel billionaire like Tom Brady, so he can’t take the pay cut for the cap like Brady has all these years. It all goes back to Ciara.

        • Husky73

          Blame the woman…..

          • WestCoastBias79

            I thought it obvious that I was joking, but the fact that Giselle did basically subsidize the Patriots dynasty is one of the reasons I don’t think it’s going to be repeated. In a capped era, you apparently need a GOAT contender QB that already has island buying eff you money, a great coach who is also a sociopath GM, two first round byes, and a historically inept division.

        • art thiel

          Wow. You don’t know your pop stars. Then again, you may well be using the sarcasm font.

  • Bruce McDermott

    So if you subtract the sacks which PFF pins on Wilson from his total, how does that total compare to other QB’s totals, when you perform the same subtraction for each of them? Where would Wilson rank in sacks after you do that? For last year, overall, or anything in between?

    • art thiel

      Bob Condotta wrote that PFF has graded 104 sacks as Wilson’s responsibility, so about one in four. I wish I had the time to research other QBs, but I will guess Wilson is well above average because he takes more risks with his legs to extend plays (not just for ground yards). Wilson will argue that’s what allows him the extra second to launch deep balls.

      • 1coolguy

        RW needs to get hip and realize Brady, Montana, Brees, Manning, etc learned how to operate from the pocket, dumping the ball off on routes 15 yards or less, and if there is nothing there after 3 seconds, to throw it away – Over the heads of the receivers or out of bounds.
        In 20 years in NE and 6 SB wins, Brady had ONE deep threat, Moss, and that was for ONE year and ended in a SB loss. All his other 19 years he threw short, quick routes to Gronk, Welker, Edelman and Amandola. The long pass was only when the D made a mistake.
        I’d lock him in a room to watch these QB’s and maybe it would sink in.

        • Shanahan

          Well said. Brady’s made a career out of the short game, 10 to 15 yards at a clip, and it sure has served him well.

        • LarryLurex70

          That’s all true. But, I’m still scratching my head why fans and media are so obsessed with elevating Brady’s legacy as an individual for executing plays for 20 years within a system designed for him by Belichick and his coordinators. Does he still become Tom Terrific in a different system under a different Head Coach? People acting now like Belichick had little-to-nothing to do with anything over the last 20 years. Apparently, they’re unfamiliar with his coaching resume and tree.

          • 1coolguy

            Can’t argue with success – I didn’t think anyone would displace my guy Montana but Brady has with 7 SB wins and longevity. What ALL the players, past and present say about Brady, is the guy elevates everyone’s play, even the defense guys I’ve heard interviewed say this. The guy just has “it” and players will do anything for the guy because they all want to go to the SB and Brady is the proven path.
            For what it’s worth, without Brady, Belichick has a career losing record.

          • LarryLurex70

            I agree you “can’t argue with success”. But, it’s a team sport. As an individual, Belichick has hoisted the Lombardi 6 times as an HC, and, twice as a DC, and has had more longevity in the NFL than Brady does. I think he’s more than proven that he, too, knows the way to the Super Bowl. I’m by no means a Belichick fanboy, but, the sudden change in narrative that he was just along for the ride is ridiculous. Let’s not confuse him with Jack Haley.

  • Tim

    Maybe Russ hangs on to the ball too long but what he says about taking a beating over the years is true and we’ve all witnessed it, not to mention the holding penalties that come as a result of being manhandled. The O line in terms of pass protection has been bad to mediocre. It’s only due to luck that he hasn’t missed time due to injury. And, it is absolutely inexcusable that we lost to the Rams in the manner we did. Yeah, it’s cool winning all those regular season games, but the playoffs have left a lot to be desired since 2014. If we lose Russ, we lose what has made this team truly special and classy over the years.

    • art thiel

      As the Mariners did with Griffey. As the Sonics did with Payton.

      • 1coolguy

        Did the M’s lose Griffey or did he simply want to go home and play for Cincinnati to finish his career? Didn’t he leave after Johnson and ARod left?

        • Seattle Psycho

          No, Griffey left after the ‘99 season after they opened Safeco. A-Rod left after the 2000 season.

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  • DJ

    Thanks Art! Well, the ink is barely dry on the contract for the new OC – or rather the vehicle which will lead to freeing Russ. Employment of schemes that cater more to Russell’s strengths, can also help protect him. Roll-outs, quick screen passes, many mystifying moving parts, along with a decent O-line will do wonders to keep him from being vulnerable prey. How it is news that he’s sick of being hit? Only because he finally said what we’ve all been saying for years.

    The Rams divisional playoff loss was a wake-up call because of its devastation. But consider the inept reaction in play calls to the one defense that had the right folks up front, and knowledge to best contain and snuff Russell. Active and smart play calling, first to cater to offensive talent, then in the chess game with the defense, will have the great byproduct of preserving Russell. It’s not rocket science. The new OC is the horse, the cart is a disadvantaged offense which gets the QB sacked a lot. Russell saying that he’s sick of being sacked is putting the cart before the horse.

    Who knows – I’m almost guessing that the decision to make a statement on sacks was made before the OC move, and no one bothered to tell the speech writer that circumstances have changed.

  • Shanahan

    The offensive line has been a problem in Seattle for years now. Amazing that Wilson hasn’t missed any games from all the hits he’s taken since he got here.