Over the past week there have been rumors floating around the NFL that the Seattle Seahawks both shopped Russell Wilson to the Cleveland Browns in 2018, and that the Hawks could eventually trade Wilson to another club. Whether there’s any validity to the idea that the Seahawks shopped Wilson a couple offseasons ago is largely irrelevant, and the more pertinent question is how much longer can Seattle fans realistically expect Wilson to continue to produce at a high level.
In his early thirties, Wilson is undoubtedly in his prime. Certain of his physical tools, specifically the speed he showed early in his career, appears likely to have begun to wane, but the leaps in his understanding and mental processing of the game have more than made up for that over the past couple seasons. Now, as Wilson is set to turn 32 this fall, he shouldn’t be in danger of his physical tools falling apart over the next couple of seasons, however, father time remains undefeated and at some point he will come for Wilson as well.
In order to address this question, first here’s a look at the number of season in which an NFL quarterback has started 12 or more games in a season since 1978 distributed by age.
According to this chart, it would certainly seem that Wilson is likely closer to the end of his career than to the beginning, as the peak is seen between ages 24 and 30, before a steady decline sets in and things typically come to a complete stop once the player reaches their late thirties.
The first thing many fans will point out about this is that Wilson is better than many of the quarterbacks out there, so it’s not representative to lump him in with mediocre quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel, Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers. This is, of course, true, so then filtering the seasons to remove lower caliber quarterbacks results in the following.
Limiting the results to quarterbacks with a passer rating of just 85 or more did not create a vastly different chart. The peak is still in the 25 to 30 range, though it did remove the 24 year olds who were given a chance to start but couldn’t deliver quality results. Taking it another step further and using a higher floor on the quarterback’s rating at 95 rather than 80, this is what it looks like.
This filter brings up a chart with a peak in the same age range, the late twenties into the early thirties, and then largely the same gradual decline through the late thirties. In short, even for those who produce at a high level, there is a good probability of decline at the age at which Wilson is set to play in 2020.
That’s not to say that the wheels are bound to fall off at any moment, just that the possibility exists at any moment. It’s no secret Wilson has battled through multiple injuries during his career, and there’s no doubt he’ll do everything he can to battle through any injuries that may come up. Thus, while in all likelihood Wilson will continue to be at the helm for the Seahawks for the foreseeable future, the idea that the team could move on from him one day is not exactly outlandish. Fans of the San Francisco 49ers never thought Joe Montana would wear another uniform, and it’s likely that fans of the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots never expected to see Brett Favre, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady wear the uniform of another team. (Author’s note: Phillip Rivers would have been included in this list, but since the Los Angeles Chargers don’t have any fans, it seemed to make more sense to exclude him.)
So, while it’s unlikely that Wilson is anywhere but Seattle in the coming seasons, the idea that he could end up with another team eventually is not completely outlandish. Many of the greatest quarterbacks of all time finished their career with a second team, and many of those who did not - such as Troy Aikman and Steve Young - saw their careers brought to a halt by injuries rather than through their own choice.