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The Quarterback Cliff vs The Quarterback Cliffhanger: Can Russell Wilson salvage a stalled career?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Wilson had a career season in 2020. His 40 touchdown passes set a team AND personal record, his 68.8% completion percentage topped his previous high of 68.1%, and the Seattle Seahawks finished with their best record since 2014 and won the NFC West. And if you are still reading, I am guessing that you realized this short lived positivity isn’t going to carry through the entire article.

Or is it...? No, it is not. Or maybe it is. The real answer is that this is not a rose` tale of how Russell Wilson is all but certainly destined to return to his former glory, but rather a glass-half-full look towards a nebulous future.

In a time of the greatest uncertainty, I feel I can confidently make the following statement: Russell Wilson will be a starter in the NFL in 2022. But what kind of a starter will he be, and where will he be doing it? Wilson Conn made a starkly compelling case that we may be witnessing the unfortunate but steady demise of one of the league’s most consistent signal callers over the last decade. And he is far from being alone in assessing the decline in performance; Lyle Goldstein detailed how even Pete Carroll is acknowledging Russell Wilson’s flaws in a way that we haven’t really seen before.

And this isn’t without precedent; even the best players have down years and falling outs with their coaches, but the difference is in their response. We have seen talented players such as Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Cam Newton, and others of their ilk churn out periods of great success in careers otherwise mired by mediocrity. But we have seen great players such as Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady respond to reports of their demise by reporting to the field and marching their respective offenses towards new peaks of excellence. And while Russell Wilson is unique from all of these other passers, I think it is fair to say that he has far more in common with the great than he does the sorta-good.

For a proper parallel, I want to focus specifically on the latter two quarterbacks; Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I selected these two in particular for two reasons; (1) both have had either a bad (by their standards) or an “injured/bad” season within the last three years, and (2) both followed up with excellent years, though they each did so in radically different ways. These two polarizing examples of how to salvage a career teetering on the precipice may serve as a lens into what the future holds for Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.

Aaron Rodgers: 2018 and the end of McCarthyism

The Pack goes 6-9-1, missing the playoffs for second consecutive season and third time in Aaron Rodgers’ career, leading to the termination of Mike McCarthy.

Remember this? Because I do. Aaron Rodgers struggled through injuries and all around inconsistent play on the offense, which combined with inconsistent coaching and the rest is history. Green Bay posted a losing record for the second consecutive season and a rebuild looked to be in the works. However, recently promoted General Manager Brian Gutekunst and newly hired head coach Matt LaFleur made a sharp turn to right the ship, and the Packers have been to two straight NFC Championships.

Interestingly, Aaron Rodgers had an even worse season statistically in his first season under LaFleur. However, he is followed that up with a career year in 2020, and is once again having a respectable go in 2021. Below are his stats from 2018-2021.

Aaron Rodgers 2018-2021

Season GP/GS Record Yards Comp % TD INT QBR
Season GP/GS Record Yards Comp % TD INT QBR
2018 16 6 - 9 - 1 4,442 62.3% 25 2 58
2019 16 13 - 3 4,002 62% 26 4 52.5
2020 16 13 - 3 4,299 70.7 48 5 84.4
2021 11 9 - 2 2,878 66.2% 23 4 64.9

Tom Brady: Tennessee Titans take Tommy Terrific to the house, TB12 moves to a new state as a result

Tom Brady caps off his uncanny two decade run with the New England Patriots with his fewest touchdown passes since 2006 (24) and an astonishing 13-20 Wild Card home loss to the Tennessee Titans. Questions abound surrounding his future not only in Foxborough but in the league.

Remember this one, too? Because I do. And I am not going to bother recounting how it all turned out, because this is the nightmare scenario that I run through my head every time I imagine this Seattle Seahawks organization getting their operational heels so deeply dug-in that they push their franchise quarterback right onto another roster. Because Pete Carroll has had moments of greatness, but he is not Bill Belichick. And I wouldn’t take even Belichick over Russell Wilson based on the available evidence.

While the playing styles of Tom Brady and Russell Wilson couldn’t be more disparate, there are some unnerving similarities between the former’s exit from New England and the potential divorce that may be forthcoming for the latter and Seattle. Does the request below sound at all familiar?

As with Rodgers above, below are Tom Brady’s stats from 2019-the current season.

Tom Brady: 2019-2021

Season GP/GS Record Yards Comp % TD INT QBR
Season GP/GS Record Yards Comp % TD INT QBR
2019 16 12 - 4 4,057 60.80% 24 8 55.7
2020 16 11 - 5 4,633 65.70% 40 12 72.5
2021 11 8 - 3 3,403 67.60% 30 9 63.6

In Conclusion... is this the Conclusion?

The sustained consistency of Russell Wilson’s excellent play has been matched only by the consistently different standard to which he has been held through his entire career. But we’ve reached a point where we expect excellence, and for possibly the first time in Wilson’s career, the criticism is almost entirely founded in reality.

But so was the case with the legends and certain Hall of Famers mentioned above. The Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first round. The Patriots spent a season juggling starters before apparently finding their heir apparent in Mac Jones. And herein we can glimpse the divergent paths that lie ahead for Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks; In both the situations detailed above, massive changes needed to occur in order for the respective teams to succeed. In the case of Green Bay, it was primarily organizational; for New England, it was primarily roster building. And if the Seahawks hope to mirror either of these franchises with a comeback season in 2022 or the not so distant beyond, they are likely going to need to choose one of these two paths. And if they don’t play their cards right, they may just end up needing to do both.