Russell Wilson. There’s your answer to the headline.
Wilson has done enough at this point to prove himself as a year-in, year-out top-eight quarterback in the NFL. I say “top-eight” to really weed out anybody who has the worthless opinion that Wilson isn’t great while not going so far up the list to leave out folks who think he’s really good but not top-three. But Wilson has all the resume necessary to prove that he’s one of the absolute best at the position.
Over the last three seasons, Wilson ranks fourth in touchdown passes, third in passer rating, fourth in adjusted yards per attempt, and does so while rushing for over 450 yards per year. Behind an offensive line that is the most clowned in the league. The argument for top-five is an easy one, but I’ll be generous to the doubters and say that at the very least, there aren’t more than seven quarterbacks in the NFL who are better.
For me, once you get past Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers, it’s wide open between Wilson and another three or four guys. And these guys very rarely play on terrible teams; that’s sort of why these quarterbacks get paid on a different scale than every other position in the NFL.
Since his first season as a starter in 2002, Brees has played in 16 seasons. Of these, he has posted six losing records: In 2003, he went 2-9 when things fell apart for the San Diego Chargers, and with the New Orleans Saints he’s had seasons of 7-9, 7-9, 7-9, and 7-8. In pretty much all of those 7-9 seasons, the Saints had historically bad defenses. And yet, they “only” went 7-9. That was the power of Drew Brees. The Seahawks may have lost a lot of name players on defense, but they still have Bobby Wagner, Frank Clark, K.J. Wright, and most likely, Earl Thomas. It would be surprising if they were bad, let alone historically bad.
Looking for good quarterbacks who have been on bad teams in recent years, you won’t find many.
Philip Rivers had another solid season in 2015, throwing 29 touchdowns against 13 interceptions, but the Chargers went 4-12. This may be a “doomsday” worst case scenario for Wilson and the Seahawks, but it is rare. The Chargers went 5-11 the next season too and Rivers threw 33 touchdowns, but he also led the NFL in interceptions. In his 12-year career, Rivers has posted just one other losing season, going 7-9 in 2012.
Since 2010, there have been just six other instances of a QB posting a rating of at least 90 while also losing 10 games:
- Jameis Winston went 3-10 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year
- Matt Schaub went 6-10 for the Houston Texans in 2010
- Matt Ryan went 6-10 for the Atlanta Falcons in 2014
- Eli Manning went 6-10 in both 2014 and 2015
- Colin Kaepernick went 1-10 for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016
Of these, only Ryan is on par with Wilson’s proven abilities. The Falcons also went 4-12 a year earlier (Ryan was just a touch under a 90 rating that season), so they did find a floor lower than what a top-tier quarterback can usually hit. But you won’t find a single notable player on Atlanta’s defense outside of Desmond Trufant, who was just beginning his career. And Mike Smith does not deserve the same credit for building a franchise and coaching up a young team that Pete Carroll does.
Rodgers went 6-10 during his first season with the Green Bay Packers. Despite building a pretty poor roster for most of the five years, Rodgers has not posted a losing record. I can’t speak to what Seattle would look like without Wilson, if he got injured, and there’s no point in doing so either. The Seahawks would likely be terrible, as most teams without good quarterbacks are terrible. Green Bay is terrible without Rodgers. I know that Matt Cassel once helped the Patriots to 11-5, but I think they’d be much, much worse off this time around if Brady went away for any reason.
Basically, if you think that the Seahawks are going to be the worst version of themselves with a healthy Wilson, I think you’re looking at a 6-10 team. And that’s me pushing and pulling in reasonable ways to see how bad that team could be, outside of a season where they just lose game after game by 6 points or less in heartbreaking fashion.
In six seasons together, the worst job that Wilson and Carroll have done was 9-7. In the other five, they went to the postseason and won at least one game. Their losses over the last year do include Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson, Jimmy Graham, and Paul Richardson. But over their last seven games, without Sherman, Chancellor, and Avril, they went 3-4 and were quite close to 5-2. To be picking at the top of the draft, the Seahawks would need to win three games or less over the course of 16 games, but they managed to do that in their final seven without a full offseason of preparation to replace those stars like they’ve had in 2018.
So how many “wins” or “losses” are four games of Avril, nine games of Sherman, Chancellor, plus full or near-full seasons of Bennett, Richardson, Richardson, and Graham really worth? Well, they aren’t quarterbacks like Wilson is, so it’s not nearly the same impact. Let me ask you this: How many games would the Seahawks have won last year if they hadn’t traded for Sheldon Richardson? Do you think they would’ve gone 9-7 still? 8-8? How much worse would it have gotten?
Well, how much worse off do you think they are this year without Richardson, and instead getting back Nazair Jones, plus signing Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen and Poona Ford?
They traded Bennett, but what they’re losing is the 2018 version of Bennett (who is 32), not the 2013-2017 versions necessarily. And he could be as good as ever. But how many wins or losses is the 32-year-old Bennett worth vs Rasheem Green, increased playing time for Dion Jordan or Marcus Smith? A whole win? I don’t see the changes outside of Wilson being more dramatic than a couple of wins, and even in the case of what Seattle lost, it’s impossible to quantify what they will gain. The Seahawks didn’t replace Paul Richardson with a Christmas tree at wide receiver. It’s not from one Preach to one Zero. Tyler Lockett could end up playing better in Richardson’s absence. Brandon Marshall or someone else may provide some value and it could still live up to — or surpass — Richardson’s frankly-okay 2017 season.
Let’s not forget that he had provided 599 yards over his first three seasons prior to 2017. Jaron Brown’s had 808 yards over the last three seasons.
All that being said, I don’t know exactly how the current Seattle 53-man roster will stack up to the previous iteration. It could be worse. It might even likely be worse. The strength of schedule is a relative unknown and can change in a heartbeat. It may also be better. It could noticeably better immediately with Duane Brown at left tackle instead of Rees Odhiambo. I don’t really know, nobody does yet, not even a single preseason game has transpired.
But here’s what I do know: franchise quarterbacks matter for a reason. If the Seahawks lose 14 games, I’m confident that it wouldn’t have been with Russell Wilson under center. If they lose 12 games, I’d be shocked if Wilson was healthy. If they lose 10 games, then maybe the worst-case scenario with Wilson has gone down. But more likely than not, this is a .500 team looking for two close games to break in their favor, instead of two close games that go against them. This is not the worst team in the NFL, or close to it.
Not as long as Wilson is taking the snaps.