Russell Versus the Seahawks: Dueling Press Conferences and Enough Blame to go Around

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Seahawks coach Pete Carroll tried to hang on to Russell Wilson for as long as he could. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

However little Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson have in common regarding football philosophy, they do share a trait in their public oratory — they love to go on. 

In his first press conference in Denver as Broncos quarterback, Wilson, ever desperate to be liked, began with a 10-minute fusillade in which he thanked by name what seemed like five percent of the Puget Sound region’s population, then insisted that his NFL-rocking trade was a mutual decision.

A few minutes later at Seahawks headquarters in Renton, Carroll topped Wilson by two minutes, invoking a conversation he had with the late college basketball coaching icon, John Wooden. It allowed him to explain how good coaches don’t ever change philosophies, and oh by the way, it was Wilson on his own who wanted out of Seattle.

Who said defense is on a fade in the NFL?

Wilson and Carroll were dug in hard on damage control regarding the steaming crater in the Seahawks’ roster, true feelings disguised by the polite prevarications and mendacity that attended the run-up to the trade, which showed little sign of abating as the NFL’s business year officially began Wednesday. 

Wilson grew tired of trying things Carroll’s way, and Carroll grew tired of Wilson being tired. The pivot point in the narrative slipped out from general manager John Schneider, at Carroll’s side, as he has been for the previous 11 seasons in Seattle. 

Answering a question yesterday about what was known about the Seattle future for Wilson beyond the final two years of his contract, Schneider said, “We were under the impression there would be no extension.”

The problem of Wilson’s 2024 season and beyond is the province now of the Broncos. Good luck with that.

Followers of this saga of the fraying between Seahawks titans could surmise that the drop-dead notice probably came after the contretemps of the previous off-season. Wilson went public in national interviews with his laments about the times he has been hit, and sought a say in personnel decisions. Carroll and Schneider were furious with the public peek behind the Seahawks’ tightly controlled curtain.

Armed with a no-trade clause the Seahawks granted in an earlier negotiation, Mark Rodgers, Wilson’s agent, indicated without saying so directly that Wilson wanted to be traded to a team of his choosing. The Seahawks stood firm, in order to make a final Super Bowl try with him in 2021. 

But as the season fell to 3-8 and Wilson missed the first three games of his career with a finger injury, it became obvious to all in Wilson’s camp and Carroll/Schneider that a trade must be done this off-season to max out his trade value, especially since Wilson had the leverage to choose his team instead of accepting the highest bidder. Nevertheless, Wilson will count $26 million — his guaranteed money for the next two years — against the Seahawks’ $208 million salary cap in 2022.

The chore of putting together the deal is explored in this story Wednesday in si.com by Albert Breer, who wrote, “Wilson would confide in those around him that if the old equation kept adding up to championships, then he’d be fine with it; but with years passing without rings, he wondered if he could do more if the Seahawks would create a more quarterback-centric model. His own personal legacy, of course, was a part of that, too.”

For their part, the Seahawks under Carroll don’t want a quarterback-centric model. They want a run/pass balance with less risk and more team dependence on defense, a unit whose coaches Carroll largely replaced. The trade returns included a 25-year-old quarterback, Drew Lock, who in three years mostly as a backup in Denver, impressed few around the NFL.

As part of his opening soliloquy to appease a disgruntled mass of fans, Carroll’s theme was second chances. He cited Marshawn Lynch, Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams as Seahawks players whose pro careers were revived by a trade to the Seahawks under his watch.

He thinks Lock (6-foot-4, 228 pounds), taken from Missouri in the second round of the 2019 draft, is next.

“We loved him in the draft,” he said. “Our (scouts) were thrilled about him. He goes 4-1 (in five starts) his rookie season. All the promise that you would hope to see in the numbers. The next two years didn’t work out very well.

“Is this a second chance for Drew Lock? It’s absolutely clear. A second chance for him to show us what we knew him to be.”

Added Schneider: “He’s a guy that, in my opinion, the media has beat down a little bit.”

Wilson, of course, was a third-round pick who needed no second chance, starting with the first game of his rookie season. Lock is nowhere near Wilson’s caliber; then again, since Wilson has won only one playoff game the past five seasons, perhaps that level of play isn’t so far beyond Lock’s grasp.

The won-loss record is, of course, a team measure. Carroll and Schneider know the 7-10 Seahawks have slid into mediocrity, mostly because of their misfires in personnel decisions. Freed from most of the burdens of Wilson’s salary, they have acquired Lock, TE Noah Fant, DT Shelby Harris and five draft picks, and so far in the free-agent signing period, re-signed four of their own and brought four newcomers.

That’s a lot of fresh talent. All of which have the potential to collectively have less impact on game outcomes than Wilson and his late-game sorcery. Carroll and Schneider know it. They have to hit on nearly all the new acquisitions to succeed. 

They have never used the term rebuild, not even this week after trading Wilson and cutting defensive stalwart Bobby Wagner.

“We’re right back at it,” Carroll said. ” Everybody that is coming in here is coming in here to do it right now. If you have an approach and a philosophy that you are solidly behind, and can keep going forward, then you just keep moving . . . Guys graduate eventually here.”

Carroll declined to speculate about why Wilson wanted to graduate to Denver.

“It’s not about blaming anybody or forcing the issue in any way in particular,” he said. “Everybody had to agree to this eventually, and we did. It opened up some doorways that we didn’t think existed early at the time.

“He’s seen a lot of great players do a lot of great things by making that move somewhere in their career. Whether it was the quarterbacks that we know of, what happens in the NBA, baseball guys do it. He’s seen that happen. I think it intrigued him.”

Wilson sees himself as an apex player/brand on the level of Tom Brady, Lebron James and Alex Rodriguez, only nicer. And he wants to enhance that profile with multiple championships. So he’s been given a second chance.

Carroll and Schneider have also been given a second chance in Seattle, slate cleaned of the Super Bowl-era talent, because team chair Jody Allen trusted them over Wilson, an almost-certain Hall of Famer. 

Here’s my bet: Wilson is more likely to get the Broncos to the Super Bowl next year than Lock is to get the Seahawks to the playoffs. The year after that, it flips, and Wilson enters free agency.

Then new Seahawks owner Jeff Bezos can bring back Wilson back to the Seahawks. By mutual decision.

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Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at SportsPressNW.com.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Art, enjoying again your sport’s acumen and your ability to opine.
    BUT:
    Wilson’s successes came at a time when defenses did not know how to stop his scramble speed and GREAT long ball accuracy. Plus of course the ‘D’ at that time stopped people. Think your Denver prediction for post season success is based on wanting it to be, not on analysis.
    Jeff Bezos is too smart to get involved with a QB that knows more than he does…………….

  2. Where Wilson has declined is in speed/quickness and willingness to get hit on rushes. And of course, he’s increased his time hanging onto the ball seeking a moon-ball payoff.

    As far as “wanting” a particular outcome, I flushed that notion 40 years ago when I became a journalist. The only outcome I’m happy about is no OT/extra innings. Cuts into bar time.

  3. I don’t believe that the Seahawks wouldn’t have found a way to keep Wilson with the team if he was all-in to being a Seahawk. But since his rookie year he’s always doing something to remind the team that he’s in control of his career and not them. He spends part of his offseason with the Rangers, the Hawks quietly balk at it and he signs with the Yankees instead of stopping his baseball shenanigans. His comments then about the Yankees history came across as a shot at the Hawks. His agent presenting a list of teams to trade with 2 years in a row was obviously from Wilson. And as his career progressed he became more about self promotion and confident enough about his game that constructive criticism wasn’t welcome. Comparing his to ARod works for me. I’m just disappointed that he was so deeply vested into the community but walked away so quickly and easily.

    • Since the SB win, Wilson has always had the faraway look of empire-builder. Much of his non-football time has been spent building his brand and network. I think you’re right that the Seahawks couldn’t keep him regardless; he figured 10 years and two extensions were enough. I suspect that two years in Denver without SB wins will be enough; then he’s into free agency.

      As far as his community investments, his money likely will remain. As far as his presence, he’ll find sick kids in Denver, too.

      • I’m wondering about his sports ownership investments. With the Chris Hansen NBA group, the Sounders, and with the Oregon group trying to bring an MLB team to Portland. There’s people who were counting on him to be around though I imagine they knew this could be a possibility. I’m also predicting he’ll leave Denver after two years, sign a 3 year contract with a team in the NFC because he knows that league better (not the Hawks) and be cut after two seasons due to salary or injury. He’ll only return to Seattle if he can be the undisputed starter and I’m pretty sure by then there will be someone there who can’t be budged.

  4. His glorious moon-ball should fly even farther in the thin air at Denver.

    There are a number of reports that teammates say Wilson “checked out” during last season. Can’t discount the Seahawks’ account for the mutual decision to part ways.

    Are you seeing an uptick in book sales of “Standing Tall” now that he is in a new market?

    • The book is long out of print. As far as the team wanting him gone, there was some of that among players, more among Schneider/Carroll irked by the incessant drama and questions. They’ll never say it, but he wore them out.

  5. Seriously, I can’t see Lock as any more as a backup, although I had never heard of him until the trade.
    Having Wilson return as a Seahawk seems crazy, but so was Griffey’s return to the Mariners.

  6. Carroll has a genuine interest in Baker Mayfield or Matt Ryan as experienced QBs who could deliver a single better season than Lock, who has 21 NFL games. The question is whether the Seahawks can afford either while still filling remaining roster holes.

    • I’d love to see Mayfield here. IMO his 2020 season was solid and a good barometer of his ability as a QB. But there’s a lot a teams who will be bidding for him.

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