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Russell Wilson, Seahawks reportedly deeply divided — could he be traded?

Eric Edholm
·7 min read
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Are Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks headed toward divorce?

It’s a thought that not long ago felt absurd to utter. Yet in the wake of offseason reports of tension, now there’s an extensive report from The Athletic that suggests such a chasm might exist between the team and the star quarterback — and few seem to know how that tension will be eased.

According to the comprehensive report on Wilson and the Seahawks, there is a divide between what Wilson believes is best and what the Seahawks — namely head coach Pete Carroll — want to do offensively. Wilson reportedly has voiced his concerns and suggestions to Carroll and others in the organization, with both falling on deaf ears.

The words and actions of Wilson and Carroll suggests that there’s a tug of war in process, between a quarterback who views himself as the centerpiece of the operation and a coach whose long-held football tenets run anathema to allowing that quarterback to thrive unchecked.

Who is right? That’s for others to decide. Ultimately it comes down to Wilson, who holds a no-trade clause in the contract extension he signed in April of 2018.

Would the Seahawks consider trading the quarterback who was an MVP front-runner midway through the 2020 season? It feels like a long shot … until you unravel the years of tension that has been building in Seattle.

Russell Wilson reportedly stormed out of a team meeting last year

The Athletic's story begins with the anecdote of Wilson and members of the Seahawks coaches prior to the Week 11 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Seattle had lost three of four games heading into the Thursday contest, and Wilson wanted to be heard about what needed to change.

The coaches listened. They rebuked his ideas, according to the report.

No quarterback has been sacked more times than Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson since he entered the NFL. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)
No quarterback has been sacked more times than Seattle's Russell Wilson since he entered the NFL. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

That led Wilson to “storm out of the room,” an incident that was viewed as a tipping point in the mounting tension between the two sides.

The Seahawks won that game and lost only once more down the stretch in the regular season. But following their first-round playoff exit, the divide only allegedly grew.

Could Russell Wilson really be traded? And if so, when?

The Athletic report doesn’t break a lot of new ground on this turf. The Wilson trade talk has paled in comparison to the feverish Deshaun Watson speculation.

Here's what’s notable: The Houston Texans have made it clear they have no interest — at this moment, at least — in trading Watson, a young star at the peak of his powers. The Seahawks largely had remained silent on the matter.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Thursday after the Athletic's story was published that Wilson has not asked for a trade.

Wilson, for his part, has not said whether he thinks the Seahawks have any intention of moving him. CBS has reported that a slew of teams could be contenders if Wilson is traded, including the Las Vegas Raiders, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and New York Jets. And following his discussion with Wilson, Dan Patrick later said the situation was “unsustainable.”

The problem here is that trading Wilson in the short term could significantly cripple the Seahawks. Doing so prior to June 1, per Spotrac, would incur a dead-cap hit for the Seahawks of a shocking $39 million and also immediately cause $7 million in additional cap costs. A trade after June 1 this year would spread out that $39 million into split cap hits ($13 million in 2021, $26 million in 2022) and turn that $7 million expenditure into $19 million of cap relief.

So a trade is possible. But if the Seahawks want to figure out who their quarterback is, they’d be doing so after the 2021 draft and well after the initial wave of free agency. It could severely limit the number of teams interested as well as the avenues toward replacing the franchise’s career passing leader and the only QB to lead the team to a Super Bowl victory.

The fact that we’re even discussing such a possibility shows how real this rift appears.

The Super Bowl this year made Wilson angry

Another interesting element to the Athletic's story is how Wilson attended this year’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and seethed watching it. Yes, Wilson wished he and not Brady was playing; that’s understandable for an elite competitor.

But Wilson viewed Brady as the icon who earned his freedom from the New England Patriots, was signed by the Bucs and given major say about personnel and scheme in his new surroundings.

Wilson even reportedly texted people during the Super Bowl to lament how little Brady was getting hit during the game and how that paled in comparison to himself, the most-sacked QB in the NFL since he entered the league in 2012. Over the past six seasons combined, Wilson has been sacked 275 times. The next-closest QB on that list is Matt Ryan, at 224.

Is this what Wilson now is hoping for? A way out — and a new franchise to give him similar carte blanche?

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara talk make a statement after Wilson won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year awards at the NFL Honors ceremony as part of Super Bowl 55 Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara make a statement after Wilson won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award at the NFL Honors ceremony as part of Super Bowl LV. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

We don’t know for sure. A CBS report the day after the Buccaneers beat the Chiefs suggested that Wilson’s “camp” was upset with Wilson’s pass protection. The following day, Wilson — who typically couches his public comments carefully — went on “The Dan Patrick Show” to air those same grievances.

“That’s a big thing that we gotta fix, that’s gotta be fixed,” Wilson said.

On a media conference call later that same day with Seattle media, Wilson doubled down: “I’m frustrated with getting hit too much,” he said.

Is it all the offensive line’s fault?

Critics of Wilson will say that he holds onto the ball too long, which results in some of the inflated sack numbers. There’s truth to that.

There’s also the fact that the Seahawks had more salary-cap freedom to invest in the offensive line prior to his big-money extension, which now eats up a sizable chunk of the team’s available money.

The Seahawks have sunk significant capital into the line, drafting 14 prospects (even if only three were in the top two rounds) since the 2013 draft after Wilson earned the starting role as a rookie the year before. The Seahawks also traded for left tackle Duane Brown, costing second- and third-round draft picks.

The real issue might be deeper than the blockers. It also has a lot to do with the offense’s identity.

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll calls to his team during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll calls to his team during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Rams in late December. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The idea of “Let Russ cook” took off among fans and media, the notion that Wilson had been held back by passive play-calling that was too heavily dependent on Carroll’s philosophical preference to run the football more than many teams typically do today.

At times, Wilson did cook. His numbers put him among the game’s QB elites. But the team too often was passive early in games, sometimes putting them behind the 8-ball — then and only then would Wilson be able to save the day, many argued. Never had it appeared more stark than in the Seahawks’ 2019 divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers when Seattle fell behind 21-3 and lost 28-23.

From that point on, Wilson has pushed back against the Seahawks’ passivity. It has been met internally, according to the report, with dismissal.

But in the eyes of Carroll, Wilson's increased turnovers — he threw a career-high 13 interceptions in 2020, along with four lost fumbles — has been part of the reason for the team's increased reliance on the run game. Although Seattle ranked only 19th in rush attempts last season, it was also only 17th in pass attempts.

The contrasts were far more striking in 2018, when the Seahawks were dead last in pass attempts and second in rushing tries, and in 2019, when they ranked 23rd in pass attempts and third in rushes.

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