Russell Wilson? The best he has ever been.
It is a most frightening no-brainer in modern NFL business, handing over gobs of money to a franchise quarterback. Teams can’t manage the salary cap easily with them; they can’t win without them. So they must pay and then pray. It’s almost accepted now that a franchise must do all its ascending when the quarterback is young and making a digestible salary. When it’s time to pay him money that resets the ever-robust market, the next phase is more about sustaining a lower level of success. It is about leveraging the quarterback’s talent to build a consistent winner that, while lacking a high ceiling, still tries to compete for a championship by hanging in and hoping to be in the right place at the right time.
The downgrade is from “anything is possible” to, hopefully, “we’ll always have a chance because of our franchise quarterback.” This is better than starting over because it is so hard to find a long-term solution at the most difficult position to play in team sports.
It doesn’t always have to feel like settling, however. As evidence, we present Wilson, the 30-year-old Seattle Seahawks quarterback, who is off to the best start of his career a few months after signing his third and most lucrative contract. His team is 4-1, which matches the best start in franchise history. On Thursday, the Seahawks outlasted the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, 30-29, on an emotional and taxing night in which they inducted their late owner, Paul Allen, into their ring of honor.
In five games, Wilson has staked his claim as a legitimate MVP candidate. If not for Patrick Mahomes’s extraterrestrial talent, Wilson would be the talk of the NFL. His statistics are a ridiculous testament to productivity and efficiency. The numbers to know: 1,409 yards, 12 touchdowns, zero interceptions, 126.3 passer rating, 9.0 yards per attempt, 73.1 percent of his passes completed.
According to the NFL, Wilson is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw for at least 1,400 yards, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions through his team’s first five games. On Sunday, Mahomes will have the chance to match the feat. But no one in the NFL does as much with so few passing attempts as Wilson. He makes everything count.
On Thursday, Goff threw 49 passes and amassed 395 yards.
But Wilson stole the show and willed Seattle to victory by completing 17 of 23 passes for 268 yards
and four touchdowns. He was a creative genius, escaping danger and slinging the pigskin all over CenturyLink Field, exhibiting a rare combination of aggressive, let-it-fly performance and flawless ball protection.
Wilson made at least a half-dozen plays, with his arm and with his feet, that no quarterback should be capable of, not even someone with his history of Houdini highlights. All of his touchdowns were gems. But the first score, a 13-yard strike to Tyler Lockett,
left a stadium and an entire national television audience in awe.
It felt like a 73-yard pass, considering all that Wilson did to make it happen. He was flushed out of the pocket, sprinted to his left and then released a pass while on the run as defenders chased him. From the angle he threw, there seemed to be no chance for a completion.
“I thought he was throwing it away,” center Justin Britt said.
Wilson doesn’t give up on plays, though. He was actually throwing the football to Lockett in the corner of the end zone. It required arm strength and touch and accuracy while on the move. There were only a few inches of space to make the completion. Wilson made the throw, and Lockett caught it and stayed in bounds with an epic toe-tap.
“When he threw it, I knew he was throwing it to me,” Lockett said. “I knew he was giving me a chance.”
For all of Wilson’s accomplishments, this season might end up being considered the ultimate breakthrough. In his eight seasons in Seattle, Wilson hasn’t had a losing year. He won the Super Bowl in his second season and advanced to another the next year.
He has been to five Pro Bowls. But there has always been an assumption that he had at least one more gear. That’s why the Seahawks had no choice but to make him the highest-paid player in NFL history in April.
His four-year, $140 million contract breaks down to $35 million per season. It includes $107 million in guaranteed pay, which forces the Seahawks to make some hard roster decisions and perhaps cut a few corners to comply with the salary cap. But, interestingly, his rising salary isn’t anchoring the team to mediocrity.
Right now, they’re still in a good-not-great phase, but the
trade for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney improved their top-end talent. They expect to have 10 draft picks in April and a cap situation in which they could re-sign Clowney and pursue another major piece in free agency. They still have work to do, and even though they’re 4-1, they aren’t overpowering. Three of their victories have come by a combined four points.
“Our record could definitely be a lot different than it is now,” Lockett admitted.
But it’s not. They’re winning because Wilson won’t let them lose.
And if it continues, the Seahawks could be an anomaly in a league that often requires teams to pay extraordinary money to a quarterback just so they can be ordinary.
“Write it down: The Seahawks are back,” Britt said, before repeating a favorite Wilson line. “Why not us? With Russell, we have that unwavering confidence.”