For the last 10 years, when the Seattle Seahawks began their offseason review of their roster, one position they never had to bat an eye about was quarterback.
As the Seahawks enter the second decade of the Russell Wilson era, is that still the case?
The guess here is that, despite some chatter about Wilson’s future, he isn’t going anywhere in 2022. And the way he played at the end of the season also seemed to indicate that his game is still there.
It barely needs repeating that this was the strangest season of Wilson’s career, as he first suffered the first injury of his career requiring him to miss games (a dislocation and ruptured tendon in his right middle finger), and then suffered through his first significant losing streak — three in a row after he returned, dropping Seattle out of realistic playoff contention by the beginning of December.
The injury broke a streak of 149 straight starts, the sixth longest in NFL history.
Wilson’s last two games (a 7-to-1 TD-to-INT rate in wins over Detroit and Arizona) helped make most of his conventional stats look pretty similar to his career numbers and appear to calm any fears about whether he could still play at an elite level.
To cite one, he finished with a passer rating of 103.1, better than his career mark of 101.8 and not far off the 105.1 of 2020 when he set a franchise record with 40 touchdown passes.
But more advanced numbers painted a somewhat different picture. Wilson’s QBR (or quarterback rating metric used by ESPN to assess a quarterback’s overall play) was the lowest of his career at 55.0 due in part to Wilson rushing for a career-low 183 yards, with a career-low 3.1 average rushing attempts per game and 4.3 yards per rushing attempt, second lowest of his career other than the 2016 season when he battled a slew of injuries.
And the low rushing numbers weren’t solely due to being more cautious once he returned — he had 58 yards rushing on 16 carries in the first four full games before he was injured.
That led some to wonder if Wilson will be as effective going forward. Some also wondered if Wilson came back too soon, returning after five weeks from an injury that many estimated as a six- to eight-week recovery. But Wilson said he was ready, the team is paying him $35 million a year, and NFL lore is littered with players performing heroically following injuries.
Geno Smith played ably in Wilson’s absence, with Seattle going 1-2 in his two starts, losing twice by three points. But he also took 13 sacks in three-plus games (a sack percentage of 12 compared to Wilson’s 7.6), resulting in a QBR of 45.9. The view here is it’s hard to fault the Seahawks for throwing Wilson out there if he said he was ready to go.
Seattle picked up Jacob Eason, a former UW and Lake Stevens QB, in October as a developmental prospect, releasing Jake Luton. But Eason did not see action.
To reiterate, while there figures to be talk of Wilson’s future this offseason because of what happened last year — and because that’s how the NFL offseason machine works — all indications are that Wilson is staying put for 2022. And it’s next year, when his contract has just one year remaining and it will be clearer if the Seahawks are still a Super Bowl caliber team or are in need of a rebuild, when things might come to a head.
But getting past the date when the team owes Wilson $5 million if he’s on the roster should end any speculation for good (for this year).
As for the backup spot, Smith played last season on his third straight one-year contract with Seattle but indicated he still hoped to find someplace he could compete to be a starter. His recent arrest on suspicion of DUI might further complicate whether he would be back in Seattle (as this is written, there has been no decision made on whether Smith will face charges).
While the Seahawks like the potential of Eason, they will undoubtedly bring in someone to compete if they move on from Smith.
Carroll, though, did speak enthusiastically of Eason at the end of the season: “Everything is out ahead of him, the whole future for Jacob is really out there. It’s an exciting prospect for the long haul. Remember that he was considered the most talented quarterback in the country coming out (of high school) when he was a sophomore. I think when he declared that he was going to Georgia he was a sophomore, I can’t even fathom that decision being made when you’re 15. He is a talented player and we have to see if we can bring all of that to the front and let him show what he can do.”
But given how Seattle in 2021 came face-to-face for the first time with what life is like without Wilson, maybe this is the year the Seahawks get more aggressive about signing a backup.
There is no lack of big names set to be free agents who might be intriguing targets as a backup, including Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, Jacoby Brissett, Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, Mitch Trubisky, and if the Seahawks want to get a cheap vet who has shown he knows how to win in Seattle, Colt McCoy.
The draft is not regarded as being as strong at quarterback as in 2021, and with just six picks at the moment, Seattle may want to address other needs. Conversely, if Seattle really thinks that it might have to prepare for a Wilson-less future in 2023, then you never know.