2021 NFL Preview: Russell Wilson's displeasure leads to a critical year for Seahawks

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Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

The Seattle Seahawks are a weird team.

Every year, their preview is one of the toughest to write because they make unconventional moves, operate in what would appear to be a sub-optimal way given their generational quarterback, and yet every year they’re back in the playoffs and often in title contention. What they do is odd, but it works.

But Russell Wilson seems to be growing skeptical of it. 

Wilson is one of the last NFL stars you’d expect to cause controversy, but he did so with some strategically pointed words about the way the Seahawks go about their business. He mentioned a lack of pass protection, but it seemed to be more than that. A story by The Athletic outlined that Wilson had ideas to fix the offense during a midseason slide, and his "suggestions were dismissed." Wilson reportedly wants more input. Wilson confirmed that he provided the Seahawks with a list of teams he was willing to play for, if the team did trade him. It’s all a weird juxtaposition: The Seahawks win, but there’s a notion they can win more with a more aesthetically pleasing style. Wilson seemed to finally come around to the “Let Russ Cook” push (he did trademark the phrase, after all). 

For a half of last season, Russ cooked. The future Hall of Fame quarterback was a centerpiece of the offense, which would be a foregone conclusion for any other team. He was on pace for almost 5,000 yards. He was an easy MVP favorite. Finally we were seeing Wilson operate with the volume most other great quarterbacks are used to. 

Then, the Seahawks had enough.

In his first 10 games of the season, Wilson threw 37.1 times per game, with a 309.9 passing yards average and a 28-10 TD-to-interception ratio. After two turnover-filled losses, the Seahawks scaled back Wilson for the final six games: 32 attempts per game, 203.3 yards, 12 TDs and 3 INTs. He threw only 27 times for 174 yards in a wild-card round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Early-down passing mostly vanished. It was a different team down the stretch. Part of that was defenses taking away Wilson's deep passing. Part was that Pete Carroll wants to play the game a certain way, and it's not passing 37.1 times a game. 

Predicting what happens next is hard because it's the Seahawks. Seattle has a new offensive coordinator, Shane Waldron, and we're searching for clues of what his philosophy will be. 

"It’s been fun having Shane Waldron there," Wilson said in an interview with The Ringer. "He’s been an amazing mind, super collaborative."

There has been talk of a faster tempo, and more complex looks to give the offense options. Maybe there will be more of Wilson passing to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but who knows. 

The Seahawks are doing just fine. They've won 10, 11 and 12 games the past three seasons. The lack of a long playoff run since Super Bowl XLIX is frustrating, but that can happen in a sport that has a single elimination tournament. All a team can do is put itself in the best position during the regular season and hope to play well in the postseason once they're there. Few teams have been better regularly getting to the playoffs than Seattle. 

There's not much left for the Seahawks or Wilson to prove. They've had a great run of success. Yet, there's a question of whether Carroll will ever bend his philosophies to accentuate Wilson and perhaps win even more, and if Wilson will be OK if they don't. 

Russell Wilson was on an MVP pace last season until the Seahawks scaled back the offense. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Russell Wilson was on an MVP pace last season until the Seahawks scaled back the offense. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
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The most significant event of the offseason might have been cornerback Shaquil Griffin leaving for Jacksonville on a three-year, $40 million deal. Seattle might have been smart to sit that overpay out, but Griffin is still a good player and it's a loss. Ahkello Witherspoon was signed from the 49ers to help replace Griffin. There was help for the offensive line, with guard Gabe Jackson coming over from the Raiders in a trade. Tight end Gerald Everett from the Rams could turn out to be a sneaky good signing. Retaining running back Chris Carson and defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Benson Mayowa was important to the team. The draft was dull because the first-round pick was sent away in the Jamal Adams trade, but D'Wayne Eskridge is a second-round receiver whose speed and playmaking could fit nicely. 

Grade: C-

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The Seahawks' worst record with Russell Wilson is 9-7. He has thrown at least 31 touchdowns in five of the past six seasons and averages 500.7 rushing yards per season, including 513 last season. While we can argue about what player empowerment should look like when it comes to input on schemes and even personnel, it's hard to say Wilson hasn't earned some input with the Seahawks. He has been a great quarterback and at age 32 he's as good as ever. The key to the rest of his career could be new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who comes over from the Los Angeles Rams' staff and has been praised for his creativity. 

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The win total for the Seahawks at BetMGM is 10. In Russell Wilson's nine seasons, the Seahawks have failed to reach 10 wins only once, and we have an extra game this season. It won't be easy to win 10 battling in the NFC West, but why would the Seahawks take a major step back? If anything, a new offensive scheme can't hurt. I can't pick the under because Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson are rarely under 10 wins, so let's go with the over. 

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From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "Fantasy managers have two simple nitpicks with Tyler Lockett — he’s prone to streakiness, and he’s not as talented as running-mate DK Metcalf. That’s why Lockett has dropped to a Yahoo ADP of 62.8, an appealing price.

"First off, forget the streakiness narrative. It’s all backward-facing, and generally not predictive, not sticky year-over-year. Wide receivers in general are the most volatile fantasy assets; you could call 90 percent of this position boom-and-bust. It’s not a reason to lay off a prominent player.

"Lockett doesn’t threaten defenses in as many ways as Metcalf does, but no matter in Seattle. The Seahawks have a narrow passing tree, lacking a third dynamic option. David Moore was No. 3 in Seattle targets last year, with a paltry 47. Russell Wilson knows where his bread is buttered. He'll keep chucking the ball to his two primary options, while everyone else fights over the scraps. 

"Lockett is screened by a talented teammate and a flimsy anti-consistency narrative. He’s still on the good side of 30. Enjoy the modest discount, at least this once."

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DK Metcalf put up an 83-1,303-10 line last season. That was an expected step forward from a promising rookie season in 2019. Metcalf is at his best down the field, according to Pro Football Focus. His 10 touchdowns on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield since 2019 is second in the NFL (Tyreek Hill has 14). PFF said Metcalf leads the NFL in receptions on throws at least 30 yards downfield the past two seasons. Metcalf is a physical marvel and he's already in the discussion as a top-10 receiver. If he finished this season in the conversation as the best receiver in football, it shouldn't be a shock. 

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Was safety Jamal Adams worth the cost? 

When the New York Jets traded Adams, an All-Pro safety, they got two first-round draft picks from the Seahawks. Adams had a good season in 2020 but now comes the bad part of trading for a star: Adams needs a contract extension. Those talks have been slow, according to reports, and Adams will probably command $15 million to $20 million a year. He has a lot of leverage, because of what the Seahawks gave up to get him. It's not like they can trade two first-rounders and let him walk. 

Adams is a unique safety. He's used as a pass rusher way more than any other safety, and had 9.5 sacks in just 12 games last season, a record for a defensive back. He plays near the line and had 14 tackles for loss. He's also not a great coverage safety. He has just two interceptions in four seasons. The Seahawks know how they want to use Adams and he is probably more valuable to them than any other team, but it's not like the Seahawks won't pay a fortune for him between the trade and his inevitable contract. 

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We’re to a point in which just about every football fan wants to see what Russell Wilson could do if he’s the focal point for a season. We caught a glimpse last season before Seattle changed course once Pete Carroll got frustrated with turnovers. Wilson having an MVP season and leading Seattle to a No. 1 seed in the NFC is possible. Let’s face it, the best-case scenario is Wilson getting to throw it as often as every other quarterback in his rarified class. Just to see what would happen. 

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If you’ve been keeping track of the rankings (see links below), you know I have Seattle as the third-best team in the NFC West. There are plenty of good teams that play in tough divisions and are a bad break or two from losing out in the game of musical chairs for wild-card spots. If Seattle relies on its tried-and-true formula, a lot of close games are coming again. The Seahawks have been great at winning many of those close games, but that can be a high-wire act. There’s a reason Wilson has been frustrated, and that might grow if a conservative approach leads to a losing season.

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I never know what to make of Seattle. There are so many reasons to talk myself out of them being great, but the track record is undeniable. I don’t think Seattle’s approach will change much. If the Seahawks haven’t opened things up for Russell Wilson by now, I doubt it happens. But we also know that’s a winning formula. It’s hard to be too critical of a team that cranks out playoff appearances year after year. And another one is probably coming.

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32. Houston Texans
31. Detroit Lions
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
29. New York Jets
28. Cincinnati Bengals
27. Philadelphia Eagles
26. Carolina Panthers
25. Atlanta Falcons
24. Las Vegas Raiders
23. New York Giants
22. Chicago Bears
21. Denver Broncos
20. Dallas Cowboys
19. Washington Football Team
18. Arizona Cardinals
17. Minnesota Vikings
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. New Orleans Saints
14. New England Patriots
13. Miami Dolphins
12. Los Angeles Chargers
11. Cleveland Browns
10. Tennessee Titans

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