OK, so who could win the NFL’s MVP award in 2020 might feel like a pretty meaningless thing to think about right now. First, we need to know for sure that there will be a season.
But, let’s assume it all works out and there is, indeed, a 2020 season.
Will this be the year Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson finally gets a vote for MVP? Recently published odds say he’s got a good shot.
According to numbers from TheScore.com, Wilson has the third-best current odds to win the award at 8-1, behind the players who were the last two winners: Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes at 4-1 and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson at 6-1.
Fourth is Houston’s Deshaun Watson at 12-1 in a lineup that, as always, is littered heavily with quarterbacks. The last seven winners have all played that position.
MVP voting was a hot topic on Seattle-area social media this week thanks in part to a tweet from football stats analyst Warren Sharp, who noted that Wilson has never received a vote and that 19 other players in that time have.
Here’s the full list, with the number of votes they have received, since 2012:
Peyton Manning 68.5, Tom Brady 53, Jackson 50, Cam Newton 48, Mahomes 41, Aaron Rodgers 33, Adrian Peterson 30.5, Matt Ryan 25, J.J. Watt 9, Drew Brees 8, Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott each 6, Derek Carr, Tony Romo and Demarco Murray each 2; Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Bobby Wagner and Carson Palmer each 1.
No doubt, it’s impossible to look at that list and not go, “Really? 19 players have gotten a vote since 2012 and Russell Wilson never has?’’
As you can see, even one of his own teammates has gotten one — Wagner, who received a vote in 2014 when the Seahawks had just led the NFL in fewest points allowed for a third straight season on their way to a second straight Super Bowl.
But, as is often the case with these things, reviewing the votes and how the process works gives a little different context than just concluding that the voters are complete dolts.
Worth noting first is that the NFL uses The Associated Press awards as its official awards. The Associated Press has named an NFL MVP since 1961.
And unlike similar awards in MLB or the NBA, the AP asks its voters to just list one name on each ballot; that’s it. There’s no voting for 1 through 10, as MLB does (voting conducted by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America); or 1 through 5, as the NBA does (voting organized by the league itself).
Barry Wilner, a longtime national football writer for the AP who heads up the voting, says the AP has a specific reason for going with just one vote.
“We don’t want an MVP or Coach of the Year or Defensive Player of the Year to be someone who doesn’t get the most first-place votes,’’ he said. “It’s happened in other sports where they do the 1-2-3 voting and someone gets left off a ballot or whatever, so the guy who gets the most first-place votes doesn’t win. We don’t want that. So, we only vote for one person.’’
But as Wilner notes quickly, “that obviously would lend itself to guys not getting votes.’’
Indeed, last year Wilson was a leading candidate for much of the season. He finished second in a year-end MVP poll of eight ESPN analysts.
But by the end of the year, Jackson was a pretty clear favorite, and he ultimately got all 50 votes.
The other inevitable reaction is to just rip the voters as people who don’t know anything about football, or homers who don’t like Seattle or something.
But it’s hard to argue that the AP list of voters fits either category. The 50 voters are all people who work in media, but all are those who cover the league as a whole (or have a long history of having covered the league as a whole). And some are former players and coaches.
Last year’s list of voters (the list can change slightly from year to year for varying reasons) included former players James Lofton, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Rich Gannon, Boomer Esiason, Charles Davis and Michael Strahan, all of whom continue to stay close to the game working in media. Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth also had votes in the last decade.
It was Dungy who memorably voted for Wagner in 2014.
Other voters include longtime NFL exec Bill Polian and longtime assistant coach and NFL front-office man Pat Kirwan. (Among Kirwan’s past jobs was assistant director of pro personnel for the Jets in 1994 when Pete Carroll was the head coach. Carroll later wrote the foreword for Kirwan’s book.)
Other voters include ESPN announcers Suzy Kolber and Chris Mortensen and NBC’s Mike Tirico. The one voter with local ties is longtime ESPN reporter John Clayton, now on ESPN 710 Seattle.
“We want an objective view of the whole league, and I think we get that from our voters,’’ said Wilner. “You look at our list, you see some Hall of Famers (Lofton, Strahan, Dungy) who vote, some former players who vote. I think it’s a very representative group.’’
What’s probably hurt Wilson is that in some of his best seasons there were other pretty clear-cut candidates who ended up getting most or all of the votes, like last year with Jackson.
Since Wilson entered the league, the most contested MVP vote came in 2016, when Matt Ryan won it getting just half of the 50 votes cast and five others getting votes (Carr, Elliott, Brady, Rodgers and Prescott).
But that was the year Wilson labored with injuries and turned in the worst statistical season of his career (career-low 92.6 passer rating, among others).
The one other season since 2012 when a winner didn’t get at least 40 votes was 2014, when Rodgers won with 31. Watt was second with 13 (Murray got two votes that year when he rushed for 1,845 yards, the most anyone has since 2012).
While Wilson was probably far more valuable to the Seahawks that season than those who felt the team was just led by its defense at that time, that prevailing wisdom undoubtedly factored in, as did the fact that he threw just 20 TDs that season, the fewest of his career (though he did run for 849 yards, by far his most).
Wilson played as well as anyone in the NFL down the stretch in 2015, which was his true breakout year as a passer, in terms of raw stats, anyway (24 TDs in the last eight games). But that was the year Newton led Carolina to a 15-1 record and got all but two votes — the others going to Palmer (Arizona went 13-3 that year and won the NFC West while Seattle settled for the wild card) and Brady, who got at least one vote every year from 2013-17.
Wilson’s timing, basically, just hasn’t been all that good when it comes to getting MVP votes.
For the Seahawks, the hope is Wilson keeps playing at such a level that whether he gets a vote remains a yearly debate.