The Seahawks always knew Russell Wilson was a little weird.
They also knew he was just plain little.
So did opposing defenses. When they schemed to minimize Wilson’s majestic moonballs, he became increasingly reluctant to throw to nearby receivers, or out of bounds, or run on his own.
So the idea that coach Pete Carroll should follow the social media meme and “Let Russ Cook” — a phrase Wilson apparently trademarked and had installed on cardboard cutouts throughout regional grocery stores — was a non-starter. As well as a career-ender for Wilson in Seattle after 10 mostly glorious seasons.
The reasons for giving up a likely Hall of Fame quarterback still near his peak were more numerous, but the Seahawks clearly decided their offense potentially could be better without him, particularly if they could find a trade partner both desperate and naive.
Enter the Denver Broncos.
After six consecutive losing seasons and convinced that adding a top-tier veteran QB was the lone missing piece that would usher in a grid utopia under a new ownership, a new coach, and new assistants, the Broncos offered an offensive scheme that catered to Wilson’s desires for ooh-and-aah. Plus a contract extension worth up to $245 million before he threw a ball in earnest.
Which brings us to this week, about mid-season, with the Seahawks at 5-3 (including a 17-16 win over Denver in the opener) and leading the NFC West, led by Wilson’s backup, the wondrously resolute and 6-foot-3 Geno Smith. They are arguably the NFL’s best football story. The Broncos are 3-5 and arguably the NFL’s worst football story.
Those of us who have watched the NFL for more than a minute know that things can change quickly. What can’t change is the fact that the Seahawks have eight games of proof that their offense is better without Wilson.
Not only does Smith lead the NFL in completion percentage and is third in passer rating, he has opened up the playbook because he is tall enough to see the middle of the field, able to throw to receivers that Wilson either didn’t see, or seek.
A couple of stats are revealing.
The Seahawks in 2021 with Wilson (and three games with Smith as an injury replacement) were 31st in pass attempts and 23rd in yards. In Smith’s eight games this year, the Seahawks are 21st in attempts and 14th in yards. More intriguing is the use of the tight end, the receiving position likeliest to be found over the middle. The trio of Noah Fant (acquired in the Wilson trade), Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson have a combined 53 receptions in 61 targets (86.9 percent). For all of 2021, the trio of Dissly, Parkinson and the departed Gerald Everett had 74 catches in 97 targets (76.3 percent).
This season’s improved offense is due to more than frequent and better use of tight ends. But the numbers help illustrate Carroll’s long-held, often-criticized belief that a balanced team can succeed with a “point guard” at quarterback who can exploit the whole playbook while minimizing errors.
Following the 27-13 home win Sunday over the New York Giants, who entered the game 6-1, Carroll couldn’t help himself. Earlier, as seasonal progress became evident and the forecasts of Seahawks futility began to look bad, he had been confining himself mostly to smirks. Post-game, he got it off his chest.
“All the people that doubt — we run the ball too much, (I) don’t understand football, and (I) can’t stay up with the new game, and all that kind of stuff, that’s a bunch of crap, I’m telling you,” Carroll said. “Look, we’re doing fine. We’re all right. We’re improving day in and day out.”
Well, then. Crap received, crap returned. Keep receipts handy in case of another exchange.
The other notable development following the most significant trade in recent NFL history was a loss for Wilson of another kind: His cover was blown.
Nine seasons of playoffs speckled with a Super Bowl triumph and some truly astounding play created a tolerance in Seattle for his often corny, scripted public persona, as well as his quirky social media, particularly the 2018 tweet in which he self-identifies his alter ego as “Mr. Unlimited.”
Harmless stuff, really. It’s not as if he pulled a Tom Brady and bailed on his wife and kids to keep playing ball when there was nothing left to prove.
Still, Wilson did use his leverage to force his way out of Seattle. In sports, that’s behavior rarely tolerated. Mariners fans told Alex Rodriguez about it for the rest of his career. There are still fans in Seattle who haven’t forgiven Ken Griffey Jr. And when you force an entire team out of town . . . hoo boy, Howard Schultz. You’ll be forgiven for plundering the Sonics the day after the sun goes supernova.
Wilson not only has been derided by fans, former Seahawks teammates such as Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, have joined the pile-on. The morning hosts of the Seahawks’ flagship radio station turned on him too, when they compiled a list of 21 gaffes or missteps he has made as a Bronco.
After the Broncos’ long flight last week to play a game in London, Wilson told reporters there that while his teammates slept, he was doing for several hours “high knees” stretching in the aisles. So that made him a target-rich environment for the rest of the NFL’s players.
Perhaps most galling of all, Wilson has helped invite Smith, a QB who started once in seven years until last season, into the early conversation for Most Valuable Player, the award for which Wilson has long lusted.
I don’t think these things are what Mr. Unlimited meant.