With the playoffs now just a win away, most people are focused on the future of the Seahawks this season, but the 21-7 win over the Vikings on Monday night offered some major food for thought about the future beyond this season.
Bobby Wagner and Frank Clark led a thundering defense that dominated Minnesota for nearly the entire game — a stellar performance by the duo that reinforced the idea that the Seahawks need to pay their two best defenders next offseason.
Meanwhile, Russell Wilson continued a rollercoaster season that proves he does not deserve to be the NFL’s top-paid QB next year.
Wagner and Clark were everywhere as their defense held the Vikings to 2 of 10 on third downs and 276 total yards — just the fourth time the Hawks held a team under 300 this season.
Wagner tallied nine tackles and a QB hit, and Clark recorded four tackles, one for loss, a sack and two QB hits. Wagner went over 100 tackles for the seventh straight season and Clark hit a career-best 11 sacks in the same game his likely contract aspiration, Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter, reached 12.5.
After the game, Wagner and Clark continued to lead with their words. Responding to a query about Richard Sherman’s diss of the Seahawks last week, Clark said, “This is my team now. This is my defense.”
The big question: Will it remain so next year? And will Wagner continue to help lead it, too?
We’ve previously addressed both players’ futures, saying Clark has earned market value and Wagner should be extended (or else, less preferably, traded). Their performances Monday night were just further evidence that they should be paid.
But what about Wilson? What’s he really worth now?
He went up against $84 million man Kirk Cousins and played one of his worst games — his running was his only real contribution (61 yards) as he hit just 10 of 20 passes for 72 yards and an interception. It certainly wasn’t a good argument for a Cousins-style fully guaranteed deal next offseason — or being the best-paid player in the NFL.
In fact, Wilson’s entire season has raised questions about whether or what the Hawks should pay him. This is different than the argument some fans have made about simply getting cheaper at quarterback so Seattle can pay other players. The Hawks can afford to pay him. The question is whether he is worth what he will want.
As with Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright and Wagner, we had long assumed the Hawks would pay Wilson a second big deal. After all, Seattle will have the cap space to afford Wilson and their top defenders next year.
But the Hawks eschewed second extensions for Thomas and Wright and might do the same for Wagner. And now, with every shaky game, there is rising doubt that they will do a long-term deal with Wilson.
We think Pete Carroll is in it for three more years beyond this season, and he definitely will want a veteran QB to finish it out with him as he tries to win at least one more title. That vet still might be Wilson, who is signed through next year and could be franchised in 2020 and 2021, if not extended.
But, there is certainly an argument against paying $35 million a year to any QB who is not consistently elite. And Wilson is not.
For all of Wilson’s great numbers this season (tied for fourth in the NFL with 29 TD passes, career-high 111 rating), he really has had some very rough games: Pick-sixes and a late fumble led to three losses; he has rallied the Hawks to late wins only twice in seven opportunities; and he has played just a handful of completely good games all year.
On top of that, the Hawks are 0-2 in shootouts (i.e., each team over 30) — making Wilson 2-6 in such games in his career and 2-13 every time the other team has been over 30. Wilson and the Seattle offense simply do not win shootouts (which is why it’s a good thing Carroll’s defense usually prevents them).
During his seven-year career, Wilson has been both helped and hurt by Carroll’s philosophy. In 2012, the Seahawks needed a quarterback to complete the playoff puzzle. Because they already had a great defense and running game, they were able to get away with starting a rookie, and Wilson was good enough to help them nearly reach the NFC title game.
That formula of defense and running worked well enough for three years to get the Hawks what should have been two Super Bowl titles. Wilson contributed with both his feet and arm — turning himself into a top-10 NFL QB even as Seattle’s offense stumbled along in all of those seasons.
But Wilson has steadily been worn down by Carroll’s predictable approach to offense — the poor schemes and coaching over the years helping to create some very bad habits. Ever since his monster second half of the 2015 season, he has not gotten any better. All too often, he cannot find receivers (whether it’s on him, the receivers or the scheme), then holds the ball too long and ends up with negative plays. Wilson has just seemed lost far too much over the past two seasons.
He’s still capable of big plays, obviously. He showed that in the comebacks against Green Bay (a game in which he otherwise was not very good) and Carolina — and using his feet against Minnesota. But he largely has played below average since last December — regardless of what his numbers say.
You can bet John Schneider has seen all of this and is weighing what Wilson is really worth, the team’s options, Carroll’s tenure, etc. Knowing Wilson will want to trump Aaron Rodgers’ league-best contract, Schneider and Carroll should consider whether they really need Wilson that badly. If they can find a cheaper guy who can basically do the same stuff — hand off, hit a couple of deep balls each game, maybe even play with more poise — they should consider it.
Otherwise, they will have to pay Wilson more than he is worth.