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Larry Stone: Seahawks can’t afford to waste many more of Russell Wilson’s best years

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 19, 2020

Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson gets away from Green Bay Packers' Kenny Clark during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (Darron Cummings / Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson gets away from Green Bay Packers' Kenny Clark during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (Darron Cummings / Associated Press)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Coach Pete Carroll told a poignant story about walking back into Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., last Sunday, long after the Seahawks’ 28-23 loss to the Packers had ended. The stadium was empty, snow was falling, and he was the lone soul in sight. The scene Carroll described was both serene and surreal.

“You see the Lambeau sign is up there. It looks like it’s in the sky. It looked like it was floating up there.”

To Carroll, the anecdote accentuates the deep pain of the Seahawks’ sudden departure and the yearning he felt to make sure they get further next year.

“To just recognize we were so close to doing something really extraordinary,” he mused. “Man, it was just hard to walk out of there and leave, leaving that opportunity behind.”

The question now, of course, is how to accomplish that extraordinary achievement to which he alluded. And there is a growing sense of urgency to figure out the answer, as quarterback Russell Wilson continues to travel the north side of 30. The Seahawks’ quest now is to not let the prime of one of the great QBs of his era slip away without another serious run – or more – at a title.

Specifically, Wilson will turn 32 during the 2020 football season. That’s not to imply he’s slipping in any fashion. Quite the opposite. This was by many measures Wilson’s finest season, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t maintain this elite level in 2020 and beyond.

But primes don’t last forever, even for someone as supremely gifted as Wilson. His consistency, playmaking and durability have all been extraordinary. Once again, Wilson played every offensive snap for the Seahawks in 2019. In eight seasons, Wilson has not only started 123 out of 123 Seattle games, including the playoffs, he has missed just two snaps that weren’t in garbage time. And he has missed just two practices – both to attend funerals.

Eventually, though, time is going to take its toll, as it always does, unless Wilson really is superhuman. When he first came into the league, Wilson said he wanted to play until he was 43, which would match the 20-year career of his idol, New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter. Last year, Wilson amended that target age to 45, which is three years beyond where the eternal Tom Brady is now.

If anyone can do it, it’s Wilson, who prides himself on using nutrition, fitness and mental training to keep himself in optimal condition. But there should definitely be a mission to maximize Wilson’s presence while he is at the peak of his game.

Mind you, getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it is not a guarantee, or a birth right, even when gifted with the greatest of quarterbacks. Only two can make it each season, and just one will walk away with a title.

That may be too obvious to even mention, but a substantial percentage of people seem to regard a playoff ouster short of the big game as an abject failure. Brady and his six titles (in nine Super Bowl appearances) have skewed the perception. Aaron Rodgers, who led the Packers to a title in 2011, is in his ninth season since that lone Super Bowl XLV appearance; Drew Brees has gone 10 years without making it back since winning Super Bowl XLIV. Lamar Jackson, this year’s anointed breakout QB prodigy on a Baltimore team widely projected to go all the way, didn’t even get a playoff victory. And so it goes. Heck, the Titans’ Ryan Tannehill could win it all this year.

Yet even with the fickle nature of the NFL, the Super Bowl should be the overriding, all-consuming goal, especially with a quarterback such as Wilson on hand. Both Carroll and Wilson commented, in the wake of their loss at Green Bay, how this Seahawks team feels similar to the 2012 Seahawks, who used their agonizing ouster in the divisional round by Atlanta to propel them to a Super Bowl triumph the following season.

Sorry, but that’s a stretch – one that I recall being uttered in some form after every Seattle elimination since 2014. That 2012 team was teeming with young, superstar talent on defense, including the foundational Legion of Boom. The sense of pending greatness was palpable.

The current Seahawks have a defense with significant trouble spots. The same goes for their offense – with a huge exception, of course, being the man who stands under center.

Carroll and Schneider need to take their considerable salary-cap space and use it judiciously to fill holes, most conspicuously on the offensive and defensive line (translation: re-sign Jadeveon Clowney) and in the secondary. They need to use their bounty of draft picks – a projected 12 – to do the same, and not have a top pick who’s a virtual non-entity, as defensive end L.J. Collier was.

It’s probably fruitless to expect Carroll to radically change his philosophical adherence to run-oriented, ball-control football. But it’s pretty clear that works at an optimal level only when they have the sort of elite defense that carried them to back-to-back Super Bowls, and has steadily waned ever since.

Only pure stubbornness would prevent Carroll from taking even greater advantage of Wilson’s transcendent skill set – and not just turning him loose when the Seahawks need a miracle second-half comeback. Which they always seem to do when they reach the divisional round without home-field advantage. With Seattle, Carroll is 0-5 in such games and the Seahawks have been outscored 112-13 in the first half.

The Seahawks won’t have peak Wilson forever. Their offseason challenge: Maximize the chance that Pete Carroll isn’t making another wistful walk after another playoff ouster next year.

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