Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is still in his prime, but he has seen enough, has learned enough, that his mind has caught up with his physical ability.
Act I: The Young Gun.
Scene: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, at a podium, August 2014.
Carroll understands what everyone is asking about his quarterback, Russell Wilson, even when The Question isn’t directly asked: When will Wilson be fully developed?
On this day, before Wilson’s third season, Carroll is asked how Wilson handles the offensive line, the protections, blitz pickups. OK, fine. But he knows what he’s really being asked.
Carroll: “Don’t let me lead you to think he’s not good at that stuff. He is. But he’ll get better and have more control of what’s going on in the game. … I think he’s got a couple more years, maybe three or four more years of continuing before he really reaches it.”
Wilson and the Seahawks made their second consecutive Super Bowl at the end of that season. He continues doing some amazing things on the field: scrambles, late-game comebacks, beautiful touch passes. That kind of stuff. He is still the underdog making good.
But Carroll’s answer to The Question is clear in its own way: Not yet.
Act II: The Real True Vet.
Scene: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, at a podium, June 2016.
Carroll is back. The same spot as two summers before, actually. And The Question, although different in specifics, still hasn’t changed. But the answer has.
Carroll: “You know, I’m kind of happy to talk about it because you guys have asked me, ‘When’s he going to arrive?’ or ‘How long is it going to take?’ And I kept telling you, ‘It’s going to be down the road.’ It takes four, five, six years — you don’t know — for these guys to develop. He’s made a clear step ahead. His command is all-time. His ability to move defenders with his eyes to set up some things — he’s consistently doing that, almost unconsciously, he’s so clued in.”
Carroll had never spoken this way about Wilson. He has praised him and nurtured him, built him up and tempered expectations. It’s just about impossible to find an instance in Wilson’s early years when Carroll was ever critical of him.
But it’s also hard to remember Carroll ever being so direct with the trajectory arc of Wilson’s career.
Carroll: “It’s a culmination of five years, what is it?”
Yes, he’s reminded, this is Year 5.
Carroll: “This is Year 5. It’s taken all of this time to get to this point and he’ll still improve, but you can really see him as a real true vet now.”
It’s weird to think of Wilson as a veteran, but it’s true. He is expected to be polished. Not perfect, but polished.
Act II of Wilson’s career comes with new terms, new expectations, new perceptions. He still says the same things; Wilson is nothing if not consistent in how he talks about himself, his team or football. But everything else is different.
The underdog thing, that doesn’t even come up anymore. Neither does his height. He has defeated both with his play.
But Year 5 is the start of something new, a transition. It continues what Wilson and the Seahawks have been building toward, but it is new.
It is an important transition for Wilson because of all that happened in the past year:
• He played like an MVP candidate in the second half of the season, mostly without running back Marshawn Lynch. Expectations for Wilson are higher than ever. People saw what he could be at his best.
• Lynch hung up his spikes (on Twitter). Lynch had come to stand for everything Carroll wanted from his team: run-first, tough, physical, relentless. You could argue that although Wilson, as the quarterback, was the most important addition, Lynch was the foundation. “He’s the heart and soul of our team,” Seahawks running-backs coach Sherman Smith once said of Lynch. “I truly believe that.” The offense is now Wilson’s, which doesn’t mean the Seahawks won’t run the ball, but the burden is now fully on Wilson.
• He married Ciara in England. He has become everything a modern quarterback is expected to be: rich (with his new contract last season), with a celebrity wife or girlfriend (see: Ciara) and endorsements (Example: Bose commercial with Macklemore).
The second act of a quarterback’s career should, in theory, be his best. He’s still in his prime, but he has seen enough, has learned enough, that his mind has caught up with his physical ability.
“It’s fun when you get to that point in your career, because you feel like you can do no wrong,” said Warren Moon, the Hall of Fame quarterback and Seahawks broadcaster.
“It’s almost like a calming effect,” Moon added. “Before that, you’re always on pins and needles, there’s always a nervousness about you. But when you get to that, you just go to games calm, because you put the preparation in, you have the knowledge. Now it’s just a matter of going out there, and you really look forward to those games.”
Wilson said one of his goals this offseason was to become a “master of protection” — the way he handles and interacts with the offensive line. That’s part of Act II.
“When you think of guys like Peyton Manning, like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, they’re great at it,” Wilson said.
Wherever you think Wilson falls in the quarterback hierarchy — and feel free to debate away — those are the names, the reputations, Wilson is chasing.
He is held to a different standard now, not only in the outside world but also within the Seahawks. Last year, after he struggled in a loss to Arizona, Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell were critical of Wilson publicly in a way that felt different. Gentle still but different.
And in an exhibition game against the Vikings this year, Carroll used his opening comments to say Wilson needed to get rid of the ball quicker, that he needed to help the offensive line.
Those are small but symbolic signs of Wilson beginning his second act.
Act III is still years away. That’s when Wilson’s body will change with age. His mind will become his greatest tool, the thing he has to lean on.
But right now he’s just starting Act II, when he should be at his best, and if nothing else there’s plenty of intrigue to keep people watching.
“I really feel he’s primed to have an MVP-type season, or at least be in the running,” Moon said. “He’s never probably going to throw the ball enough here to warrant that, but he’ll definitely be in the conversation, I think, if everybody stays healthy and he does what I think he’s capable of.”