Russell Wilson voices his complaints with a smile and an air of civility, peppered with positive asides.
That means it takes a little longer to register that he indeed has them.
It may be a stretch to say the Seahawks quarterback is disgruntled, but he’s definitely not gruntled. This isn’t Deshaun Watson going scorched earth, but one has to be willfully obstinate not to recognize that Wilson and his camp are celebrating Festivus a little belatedly. These past few days have seen the Airing of Grievances via news leaks, radio appearances and Zoom calls — a seemingly calculated campaign to let the world know that all isn’t sunshine and lollipops in Wilson’s world.
The Seahawks need to take heed. This isn’t going to lead to the trading of Wilson, no matter how much that juicy possibility is chewed, gnawed and regurgitated on social media and elsewhere. And no matter how forcefully opposing teams, sensing a chance to steal away a franchise quarterback, push the issue.
But the last thing the Seahawks want, the last thing they need, is a bitter, disenchanted quarterback.
The good news is that Wilson doesn’t seem to be close to that characterization. One thing we’ve learned over this past near-decade is that bitterness is not in his DNA. On Tuesday’s Zoom call, which was supposed to be limited to questions about Wilson’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award but inevitably branched out into other areas, Wilson skillfully walked a fine line. He exuded enthusiasm about the future while pushing his talking points.
He managed to let it be known, again, that he is not happy about the 47 sacks he absorbed last season, bringing his nine-year total to 394.
Asked if he was frustrated with the Seahawks, Wilson replied, “I’m frustrated at getting hit too much.” Earlier in the call, he had said, “I think that the reality is that I’ve been hit, been sacked, I don’t know, almost 400 times. And so we’ve got to get better. I got to find ways to get better, too.” That’s on top of this tweet by CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora on Monday: “I’m hearing Russell Wilson’s camp has grown increasingly frustrated by the Seahawks inability to protect the 8 time Pro Bowler. … This situation warrants serious monitoring.”
There’s definitely a good-cop/bad-cop vibe going on here, with Wilson’s “camp” anonymously airing some sterner gripes while Wilson says things such as this Tuesday: “I came to play this game to win championships. So if you asked me about the trust factor of it all, I mean, I’ve always put my trust in the Seahawks, and trying to do whatever it takes to win. Hopefully that will continue.”
The crux of this situation is that the Seahawks have the most crucial element to winning in the NFL: an elite quarterback. And yes, despite some hiccups in the second half of the 2020 season, Wilson is indeed elite. Most of the league would kill to have No. 3 on its side.
It’s a paradox of NFL finances that the downside of landing an elite quarterback is eventually having to pay him so much that it severely hinders a team’s ability stay below the salary cap and build around him. The Seahawks are in that place. They navigated it skillfully enough to win 12 games last season, but it’s an open question whether they are currently equipped to win a title.
Whether that leads to a tweaking of Wilson’s contract to make it more cap friendly, a la Tom Brady, is a discussion for another day. But the solution here is not to start thinking about getting rid of Wilson. The solution is to start working on ways to assuage his concerns.
Based on the words of Wilson and his camp this week, it seems there are three primary areas of concern:
1. He wants a better offensive line.
2. He wants more say in personnel decisions.
3. He wants to spruce up the play-calling so it doesn’t hit another rut like it did in the second half of the season.
Those hardly seem like deal breakers. The Seahawks have spent years trying to augment their offensive line, and it got better last season. It’s easy to see them spending their limited draft capital or a significant portion of their free-agent dollars on boosting the line even more. Wilson has also acknowledged he has a role in the high sack numbers, too, by virtue of trying to extend plays. It’s one of his strengths but has a downside, too. Perhaps a new offensive coordinator will help Wilson find a happier medium.
As far as having a say in personnel decisions, Wilson has reached the career stature where that’s not an unreasonable request. That doesn’t mean he’s making the final calls, but getting input from Wilson so he feels he’s more invested in the formation of the roster seems like a good thing.
Finally, the direction the Seahawks offense takes under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron is one of the great unknowns of 2021. I suspect the result will go a long way toward determining if Wilson tilts more toward contentment or dissatisfaction at the end of the year.
It will require a master’s touch by Waldron — a first-year coordinator — to incorporate all the elements at play. That means reconciling Pete Carroll’s desire for more balance with the run game with Wilson’s desire for a less-passive offense. The Seahawks want a quicker, shorter passing game, partly to minimize those sacks — but Wilson’s great strength is his long ball. And he happens to have at his disposal one of the greatest weapons in the NFL, DK Metcalf, who is better than almost anyone at being on the receiving end of them. So the big strike has to be a part of their package as well.
If Carroll, Waldron and Wilson can make that click, I suspect that any disgruntlement will vanish in thin air.