What's Wrong With Russ?

It's a question that has to be answered before the Seahawks decide what they're willing to do with their quarterback this offseason.

We know what’s wrong with Seattle: It’s the quarterback. Not since he was a rookie and the Seahawks were trying to spoon feed him responsibility for the offense has the offense been this understated. Given the extent to which Seattle’s fortunes now rely upon Wilson almost exclusively, it should not be a surprise that this has resulted in a nosedive.

The more important question: Why? Why has Wilson, one of the league’s best fourth-quarter players, become one of its worst third-down passers in this his third season? Why has this quarterback who has always been able to do so much when it mattered most now accomplishing so little? Why has Seattle – in two different games this season with Wilson at the helm – gone five straight possessions without gaining so much as a single first down before punting? Why did this man post this on Twitter?

Seattle needs to answer this question not so it can blame someone, but because it must decide on an approach to this offseason. Should it hold onto Wilson at all costs even if he requests a trade? Should it do everything it can to appease the franchise quarterback to convince him to say? Should the Seahawks listen to offers if Wilson – who holds a no-trade clause – asks to be moved? Before Seattle gets into any of that, it will have to reach a conclusion on exactly what has happened this season.

1)      He’s just injured.

This is the simplest explanation. This isn’t the first time Wilson has been hurt, but it is the first time since entering the NFL he has missed games because of injury. There was a whole multi-media production orchestrated on his recovery, a press release that quoted the surgeon who operated on his middle finger. But in the three games back, he has been uncharacteristically inaccurate and the offense has been inept. Seattle has scored a total of 28 points in three games – second-fewest in the league in that span. More telling: Of the team’s 31 possessions since he’s back, the Seahawks have had five scoring drives and nine three-and-outs.

Counter: Seattle’s offense was grinding its gears even before the injury. The Seahawks had seven three-and-outs in the Week 4 win game against San Francisco, which Seattle won. The Seahawks also sputtered through the second half of that Week 2 loss to Tennessee. Additionally, coach Pete Carroll had an interesting answer when he was asked after Monday’s game what he made of the fact that Wilson was so uncharacteristically off on some of his throws. Carroll: “The film doesn’t lie, you know. We’re missing some stuff. And I don’t see indications of that in practice as we’re going.”

2)      He hit the tipping point.

We’ve come to expect quarterbacks to thrive not just into, but through their 30s. Tom Brady isn’t just playing into his mid-40s, but pushing the expiration date on elite performance. What we haven’t seen is how this generation of more mobile quarterbacks is going to age. Remember the guys Wilson came into the league with? Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick were drafted in 2011, the year before Wilson arrived. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were drafted the same year as Wilson. That makes you wonder where this is something more than just an injury-induced aberration.

Then let’s keep in mind the difference between the first half of last season and the second half. It’s fair to say that Wilson’s performance has dipped over his last 16 regular-season starts. Kevin Cole, of Pro Football Focus, posted this yesterday, using the advanced measurements of both his site’s grading, and “Expected Points Added” (EPA) to demonstrate the dip.

No one expected Wilson to remain as elusive as he was the first two or three years in the league. The hope was that any loss of mobility would be more than offset by his recognition and understanding of defenses. He wouldn’t have to beat defenses by extending the play because he’d be better able to find openings in the defense. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case on Monday in Washington where the scheme wasn’t the issue. At least not in the passing game. “I felt like we had some guys open tonight with some chances,” Carroll said afterward, “and unfortunately we didn’t hook it up.”

Counter: Wilson certainly didn’t look washed to start last season. In fact, his performance over the first eight games was his best stretch of football since the final two months of the 2015 season, when he was tearing opponents up from the pocket. So if anyone tries to tell you that Wilson hasn’t ever gotten beyond relying upon his elusiveness, that’s a bunch of hogwash. He’s had extended stretches in which he has been as efficient as a passer as any quarterback in league history.

3)      Russell Wilson has an eye on the exit.

It’s not just the elephant in the room, it’s the elephant in the room wearing a tutu while flagrantly ripping nose-singing pachyderm farts. There was clear friction between Wilson and the franchise this offseason, and as much as both sides have minimized it once training camp began, the fact remains that Wilson’s agent went so far as giving ESPN a list of four teams he would accept a trade to last year. If that happened after a 12-win season in which Seattle made the playoffs for the third straight year, what do you think is going to happen after the Seahawks finish with a losing record?

My former co-worker Brock Huard Tweeted on Monday that Wilson has never looked less happy playing football. ESPN analyst Booger McFarland chimed in:

Is this like Randy Johnson in 1998? Johnson started that season with the Mariners and was displeased the team was not interested in signing him to a longer contract. He was 9-10 with Seattle that season with a 4.33 ERA. He was traded at the deadline to Houston where he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA the remainder of the season. After signing with Arizona in the offseason, he won four straight Cy Young Awards. The Mariners chose … poorly.

Counter: Wilson has never done anything in his football career to make you think that he’s providing anything less than his absolute best effort, and he said after Monday’s game, “I love this team.” The second thing is that a whole lot of people smarter than me about measuring baseball performance will tell you that Johnson’s final season as a Mariner was not as ineffective as people like to think when they point at his record.

There’s no right answer to the question of what’s wrong with Wilson. They’re all hunches at this point. But like the Mariners with Johnson in 1998, the Seattle Seahawks are going to have to make a decision on what they’re willing to do with their quarterback this offseason. It’s not entirely their choice. Wilson does have a no-trade clause. The Seahawks will have to decide what to do if he’s willing to be moved, though, at which point it will have to make a decision whether it’s a determination that he should be kept at any cost, that his best days are behind him or that for whatever reason it’s just no longer going to work here in Seattle.

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