The Bears are in a perfect position to end Russell Wilson’s Seahawks career
The quarterback believes the team he has been a part of for his entire career is holding him back. If he wants out, now is the time to strike Russell Wilson has been to two Super Bowls with the Seahawks. Photograph: Elaine Thompson/AP Russell Wilson is the latest franchise star to put himself forward for this offseason’s game of quarterback musical chairs. Wilson, his agent has been at pains to point out, has not officially demanded a trade from Seattle, but he has – in a delightfully passive-aggressive, Wilson-esque way – made it clear to the team’s decision-makers that he is unhappy with the direction of the franchise and that he would prefer to leave. According to a detailed report in The Athletic, Wilson is unhappy with the team’s roster construction, the style of head coach/chief decision-maker Pete Carroll, and the Seahawks’ offensive system. At the center of the rift are two practical elements. First, Wilson’s desire to play in a modern, pace-and-space system similar to that which the Kansas City Chiefs have built around Patrick Mahomes, with everything flowing through the quarterback. Second, Seattle’s awful offensive line, one that has ranked dead stinking last in pressure rate in three out of the past five seasons. Carroll is an old-school, pound-the-run, play-solid-defense, don’t-turn-the-ball-over, coach. That served Wilson and the Seahawks well during the early years of the duo’s partnership. Behind an all-time defense, a bulldozing run-game led by Marshawn Lynch, and the playmaking brilliance of Wilson, the team went to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning one and losing the other. But as Wilson matured into one of the most well-rounded quarterbacks in the game and the roster around him disintegrated, Carroll did not evolve. He freed up the scheme and catered the system to Wilson in part, but the foundations remained run-first and risk-averse. Whereas Wilson looked in the mirror and saw Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning – quarterbacks with the freedom to change the play at the line of scrimmage and who had near-complete autonomy over the system – Carroll looked at his quarterback and saw a fantastic cog in his machine. The scheme still won out. All the while, Wilson was taking a beating – no quarterback has been hit more since he entered the league, and no quarterback has been hit at the same rate over a three-year span as Wilson has between 2018-2021. There was a change in philosophy last season though. After a three-year drum beat of #LetRussCook, an online movement that began to infiltrate the locker room – shorthand for Let Russell Wilson Pass More – Carroll handed Wilson the reins to the offense. Still: the quarterback was seen as a player, not a collaborator. He was not offered the kind of quarterback-coach partnership that Rodgers, Manning and Brady had at the peak of their powers, the kind that Wilson believes he has earned over nine years. “I know that I’m a great football player,” Wilson said last season. “I know I’ve been great, I know I will be great, and I know I’ll continue to be great.” And Wilson was great at the start of the 2020 season. Behind’s Wilson’s excellence, Seattle averaged four-and-a-half touchdowns per game over the first half of the season, the kind of total matched only by the Brady led Patriots of 2007, Manning’s 2013 Broncos, and the 2000 Rams – widely regarded as the best offensive teams of this century. It was a stunning rebuke of the Carroll doctrine. Wilson had finally been allowed to cook, and he proved to be the best chef in the game. Through eight weeks, he topped the MVP charts; even Mahomes could not keep pace. Wilson was able to maintain all of the efficiency that has defined his game with even more explosiveness. And then he cratered. After his best start to a season, Wilson flatlined over the final eight weeks. For the first time in his career, he finished outside the top 10 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, a measure of a quarterback’s down-to-down efficiency (Wilson has been a demigod of DVOA over the span of his career). In a blink, Carroll returned to the Seahawks’ style of old. When Wilson tried to offer some input into the gameplan in the middle of last season’s decline, he was rebuffed by the coaching staff. Wilson stormed out of the meeting. Like any great drama, Wilson’s real beef is not about how the team does things. It’s about respect. He wants to be a partner, a part of a decision-making board, not an employee. “The most important people in the building,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider told reporters back in 2018, “are the head coach and the quarterback.” Wilson wants to hold him to that. And then there’s his need for external respect. For all of his excellence, for all of the plaudits, Wilson has still never received a single MVP vote. By throwing more, by posting the kind of numbers he did over the first half of last season for 16 games, he thinks he can finally get his hands on the MVP – that stuff really, really matters to Wilson. At the most important position in the sport, Wilson has been the game’s most consistent performer for the better part of a decade, and this despite the sense that the Seahawks system has held him back. Seattle’s rebuttal is an obvious one: Wilson has been good because of the system and its risk-averse nature, not in spite of it. When the handbrake came off, it proved to be unsustainable. The eye test – which often involves Wilson running here, there, and everywhere to avoid pressure – does not jibe with the team’s assessment. Tired of getting hit. Tired of playing in a plodding system. Tired of not being the sole focus of the franchise, Wilson appears to want out. Like another unsettled quarterback, Deshaun Watson, Wilson has a no-trade clause in his contract, arming him with a ton of leverage over the Seahawks – he will have more say than the team on where he plays in 2021 and beyond if he does move. His agent told ESPN that while Wilson will not demand an official trade, he has made it known to the Seahawks hierarchy the teams he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to move to the Cowboys, Saints, Raiders, or Bears. Dak Prescott’s new bumper deal rules Dallas out, while it seems increasingly likely that Drew Brees will return for one final ride with the Saints. That leaves us with the Raiders and Bears. Chicago make the most sense. The only way for the Bears to improve this offseason is to trade for a game-changing quarterback, either Wilson or Watson. The Bears have two paths heading into 2021: they land a franchise-altering quarterback and are a playoff team with holes on the roster; or they improve marginally at quarterback – either with Mitchell Trubisky developing or by landing another option in free agency – and they fall short again. It’s impractical for Chicago to think their defense can hold up at a high level for another season. Wilson knows how quickly elite defenses age. They’re great, then they stink. A good defense is never as a reliable as a good offense: a defense requires 20 talented players, an excellent scheme and a savvy play-caller; an offense can thrive with a great quarterback and a couple of talented pieces. There are very few deals that the Bears should turn down. Hand over the roster sheet, ask the Seahawks what they want, and include whatever picks are needed to flesh out the deal. Put the pressure on Seattle to turn it down and on Wilson to say yes or no. Has this offseason noise been hot air? Are the Wilson comments and leaks about airing grievances, about politics, about public relations? Or is he really looking for a change of scenery and a better shot to win an MVP and a championship? The Bears are the ones who can force the issue. It’s a small window, but it’s one the Bears and Wilson should both try to take advantage of. Wilson has spent much of his career as a polished professional. On a team that was infamously loud and outspoken – a loudness encouraged by the coach – he was the quiet one, to the point where his teammates questioned his motives. Now, in the era of quarterback empowerment, when Watson is talking of early retirement to force Houston’s hand and Matthew Stafford was able to force a move out of Detroit, Wilson has a chance to make his move. For a man who cares so much about his legacy, how he leaves a place appears to be essential. It’s why he’s playing footsie with other teams while Watson chose to hit the burn-it-all-down button. To force a move out of Seattle, Wilson may have to follow Watson’s lead. Will he?