Data-driven decision-making is science and art.
- Mar 8, 2010
- Reaction score
- Canton, MA
Wilson wonders if the Seahawks see him as a player who has earned greater control over his situation, his future, his legacy.
By Michael-Shawn Dugar, Mike Sando and Jayson Jenks
Days before a critical home game against the Cardinals, Russell Wilson met with members of the Seahawks’ coaching staff. It was a time of high tension. In Seattle’s previous two games, Wilson had turned the ball over seven times, and the Seahawks had lost both, first to the Bills, then to the Rams. The offense needed to get on track, and Wilson had ideas on how to make that happen.
Instead, the meeting would come to symbolize the divide between Wilson and the organization.
Pete Carroll has built Hall of Fame credentials on what he sees as simple truths about how the game is best played: Run the ball, avoid turnovers, explode in the passing game. “It is not because we just want to knock our head against a wall,” Carroll once explained. “It is because the game is played well when you don’t give the other team the football. The game is played well when you can convert and make first downs. The game is played well when you can explode on offense.”
Carroll believes that formula in his bones, and over and over again he has won while implementing it. In contrast, Wilson believes that Carroll’s conservative philosophy is limiting his production and, by extension, his ambitions to be one of the game’s all-time greats.
But in the first half of the 2020 season — and in a stark break from years past — Seattle unleashed an all-out aerial attack. Throwing the ball early and often, Wilson put together the best statistical stretch of his career and emerged as the clear front-runner for MVP, an award he covets for the implications it would have on his legacy.
“I’m trying to break away, you know what I mean?” Wilson said at one point early in the season, then named the shadows he was chasing: Brady, Brees, Manning, Montana.
The wheels to Wilson’s MVP campaign rattled loose in a 44-34 loss to the Bills on Nov. 8. Wilson turned the ball over four times, the defense cratered, and Carroll sounded shell-shocked at what he had just watched. “I don’t recognize that game,” he said. “It’s a game that I don’t have any place in my brain for.” It was an uncharacteristic performance from Wilson — and an unacceptable one for Carroll, who dedicates a whole day of practice (Thursday) to turnovers.
In response, he pulled back the reins on Wilson and the offense. Statistically, it wasn’t a seismic shift. Through the first eight games, Seattle led the league on the Cook Index — which measures how frequently teams pass on early downs in the first 28 minutes, before time and score influence play-calling — and ranked seventh thereafter. But it was effectively a rebuke of Wilson, and sources close to the quarterback said it upset him.
A week later, Wilson had his worst game of the season, turning the ball over three more times in an ugly 23-16 loss to the Rams. Wilson appeared almost rattled, and longtime NFL writers Charean Williams and Mike Jones both wrote that the game scuttled Wilson’s MVP hopes. In the locker room afterward, Carroll delivered a harsher-than-usual message about accountability to the entire team and coaching staff. “We got to get our act together,” he told the media while restating the importance of a balanced offense that takes care of the ball. Meanwhile, Wilson reaffirmed his self-belief. “I know that I’m a great football player,” he said. “I know I’ve been great, I know I will be great, and I know I’ll continue to be great.”
Carroll wanted to be more careful with the offense; Wilson wanted to stay the course, trusting in himself.
Before the Thursday night game against Arizona, Wilson met with his coaches. For some time, Wilson has sought — even pushed — for influence within the organization regarding scheme and personnel. In the meeting, he outlined his own ideas for how to fix the offense. His suggestions were dismissed, multiple sources told The Athletic — another reminder to Wilson that the Seahawks did not see him the same way he saw himself, as a player who had earned greater control over his situation, his future, his legacy.
He stormed out of the room.
The Super Bowl this year was a trigger. Wilson flew to Tampa to pick up his Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He and his wife, Ciara, watched the game in a suite next to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and as Tom Brady battled Patrick Mahomes on the field below, Wilson seethed. During the game, he texted Jake Heaps, his former teammate and private quarterback coach, to vent about watching the game instead of playing in it.
Wilson later spoke with Carroll, according to a source, to talk about the way the Seahawks addressed the offensive line, an issue that had bothered Wilson for years. He wanted to know the team’s plan, but it wasn’t relayed to him, at least not to Wilson’s satisfaction, the source said. Carroll implored him to have faith.
But after the Super Bowl, Wilson took his message public.
That Monday, CBS’ Jason La Canfora tweeted that “Russell Wilson’s camp” was frustrated with his pass protection and called it “a situation worth monitoring.” The next day, Wilson went on “The Dan Patrick Show” and said he wanted to be more involved with the organization. He was asked about the almost 400 times he has been sacked over his nine-year career: “That’s a big thing that we gotta fix, that’s gotta be fixed.” He brought up Brady, a player whose status he craves, and the play of Tampa Bay’s offensive line in the Super Bowl: “He wasn’t touched really.” Several times he mentioned his “legacy,” as well as his goal to play 10 to 15 more years, just like Brady.
On a Zoom call with Seattle reporters that same day, Wilson was asked if he was frustrated with the Seahawks. “I’m frustrated with getting hit too much,” he said. Ex-Seahawk Brandon Marshall said Wilson was “beyond frustrated” with the team and added that Wilson “is trying to figure out how to move on in a classy way.” Patrick echoed the QB’s desire for urgency and, citing a source, said the “current situation is unsustainable.” By then, La Canfora had even listed possible trade destinations for Wilson: the Raiders, Dolphins, Saints and Jets among them.
Growing up, Wilson’s idols were Derek Jeter and Drew Brees, an interesting contrast. Brees won only one Super Bowl in 20 seasons — and never won an MVP — but he overcame physical limitations to put up record-breaking stats. Jeter racked up World Series titles and clutch plays, his legacy defined by winning. A decade into his career, Wilson hasn’t won like Jeter, and he hasn’t put up numbers like Brees. Wilson and the people around him believe the Seahawks are partly responsible.
“The reason that we’re here is because he’s on pace to be the most sacked quarterback in the history of the NFL,” said Robert Turbin, Wilson’s former teammate and a groomsman at his wedding.
Others see the situation differently after Wilson had the worst stretch of his career in the season’s final eight games, ranking 28th in yards per attempt, one spot below the Cincinnati Bengals’ Brandon Allen.
“He’s finally catching heat,” one person told The Athletic. “That’s the main reason for all of this. … People are talking and holding him accountable because he’s one of the highest-paid quarterbacks, he says he wants to be the greatest, so now people are holding him to that standard.”
“It’s a PR game,” that person added. “He’s trying to protect himself.”
Another source agreed: “What he’s trying to do is save face.”
Wilson and Carroll have won at least nine games in each of nine seasons together. They have made the playoffs every season but one, won a Super Bowl and lost another. But the Seahawks haven’t reached the NFC Championship game since 2014, and Wilson’s frustration has escalated to the point that his camp has broached potential trade destinations with the Seahawks. According to sources, those teams include ones mentioned in La Canfora’s column the day of the Super Bowl: the Dolphins, Jets, Saints and Raiders. (On Thursday, Wilson’s agent told ESPN’s Adam Schefter the quarterback would only consider going to the Saints, Raiders, Bears or Cowboys in a potential trade.) Some people around the league think a trade could happen, if not this offseason then sometime in the near future.
“It’s a great story,” a coach from another team said. “There is a lot there — money, greed, power and control.”