SEATTLE – If a coach and a quarterback are the two most vital pieces of any NFL team, then consider the two most vital pieces of Seattle’s run to the Super Bowl title in 2013 now finding themselves challenged as never before in their time with the Seahawks.
For Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, the man who put it all together in the meeting rooms and locker rooms, and quarterback Russell Wilson, the man who had the biggest responsibility for executing those plans on the field, the 2018 season could well determine the course of their Seattle futures.
Each has two years left on his contract, and how much the Seahawks may want them and how badly they may want to stay could be heavily influenced by what happens over the next four months.
Not that there aren’t extenuating circumstances.
It’s difficult to imagine the Seahawks not wanting to do just about whatever it would take to keep Wilson, who in six years has proved himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL – maybe the hardest thing to find in all of professional sports other than a transformational NBA player on the scale of a LeBron James, a Stephen Curry or a Kevin Durant.
It’s also hard to envision Carroll – the most successful coach in Seahawks history – not being allowed to essentially call his own shots on how his Seattle tenure ends, whenever that day comes.
But after an offseason of the most significant coaching and player turnover since Carroll’s first few years, the long-term direction of the franchise looks as unclear as at any time since Wilson arrived in 2012.
Many perceived Carroll’s firing of his top three assistants as the coach betting on himself, taking even more control to reshape the team’s schemes and strategies how he wants them – particularly in reviving the running game on offense.
While some of the major personnel moves were forced on the Seahawks – such as the injury retirements of Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor – others, such as the release of Richard Sherman and the trade of Michael Bennett, were undoubtedly attempts by Carroll to reconfigure the culture of the locker room. (Recall Sherman’s comments about Carroll’s message having grown stale).
Can Carroll again mold a winning team out of a roster that now includes just five players left from the Super Bowl winners?
No bigger question hovers over the Seahawks as 2018 begins.
Some around the team think it’s a challenge that has lit a new fire under Carroll, who turns 67 on Sept. 15.
Carroll spoke often in the preseason of feeling more “juice” due to all of the fresh faces and a feeling of “newness,” which some around the team say reminds them of his early years.
“I think one of the things he is doing is he’s being more of himself,” said receiver Doug Baldwin, who has been with the Seahawks since 2011 “I think that’s just part of what he needs to do for these younger guys. He showed that to us when we first came in as young guys and this being a new, younger team he’s got to do that again, as well.”
If it works, then maybe Carroll puts to rest any talk of his future – recall the retirement rumors that surfaced late last year – and re-up with the Seahawks before the 2019 season.
It’s been Seattle’s routine during Carroll’s tenure for him to sign a new contract before entering his final year. In 2014, he signed a three-year contract entering the final year of his initial deal with the Seahawks, and in 2016, Carroll again signed a new three-year deal that took him through the 2019 season (he’s thought to make at least $8 million a season).
It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks wouldn’t want to avoid a potential lame-duck coach scenario heading into the 2019 season.
Meanwhile, the changes in offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach – the first since before Wilson arrived – were also seen as the Seahawks making it clear to Wilson they don’t want him to feel too comfortable, despite his status as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, particularly after a 2017 season when it was thought he too often went off-script.
As with Carroll, Wilson would also be in line for a contract extension heading into 2019 with Seattle undoubtedly desiring to avoid all the questions that could come with Wilson potentially playing out his contract.
Unlike the situation with Carroll, Seattle has other options with Wilson than just a new contract, specifically placing a franchise tag on him, and it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Seattle lets Wilson walk. But the tag only delays the issue of a long-term contract and wouldn’t be the preferred option for either side.
Wilson will want a contract that approaches – if not matches – the four-year deal just signed by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers that pays him an average of $33.5 million (Wilson’s current contract, signed in 2015, pays him $21.9 million a year, not-so-coincidentally just off the $22 million that Rodgers was getting at the time as the highest-paid QB in the NFL).
A smooth transition into the offense of new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and a feeling that things are heading in the right direction might also mean smoother negotiations on a deal in which Wilson might want more than $100 million guaranteed.
As with Carroll, some of Wilson’s teammates think he has been invigorated by the change, eagerly accepting the new coaching and stepping into even more of a role as a locker room leader in the absence of so many strong personalities from the Super Bowl era.
“You can see the work that Russell has put in,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “He is getting the ball out faster. He’s got a lot of people holding him accountable of things, and that’s kind of the difference I see is the accountability and the work he did in the offseason.”
Veteran linebacker K.J. Wright said he’s also seen a different Wilson in the locker room, one who is more open to his teammates.
“He’s the same guy, but he’s talking a lot more among people,” Wright said. “Which is really good. We have been talking a lot this offseason about ball and about traveling and I’m just glad that he is our quarterback. We know that when Russ is back there that we’ve got a chance and he is going to lead the way. This is his seventh year and he’s got a good running game now, so I believe that we are going to see the best out of Russell Wilson this year.”
If so, then a lot of questions about the future of the franchise could well be answered. If not, then there may only be a lot more questions.