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Matt Calkins: Two months after winning the NFC West, the Russell Wilson-Seahawks rift is widening. Who’s to blame?

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 26, 2021

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson reacts on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Seattle.   (Elaine Thompson)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson reacts on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Seattle.  (Elaine Thompson)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – February is usually the most boring month for American sports. Yes, the Super Bowl is played on the first Sunday, but then it’s a herd of crickets riding on a tumbleweed.

MLB is in the game-free stage of spring training. The NBA and NHL are months from the postseason. College hoops are a month from Madness, and the premier golf tournaments and horse races are at least a season from taking place.

In Seattle, though, this Feb has been fab – primarily because of the Russell Wilson rift we never thought we’d see.

The latest drama stems from a story in the Athletic describing a fracture between the Seahawks and their longtime quarterback. It details Wilson’s frustration with his lack of influence along with feelings of disrespect. It reports that he once stormed out on his coaches, and that his camp broached the brass about a trade.

It’s probably not the narrative most expected when the 12-4 Seahawks won the NFC West just a couple of months prior, but here it is. So who’s to blame? Well, there are two guilty parties.

Let’s start with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Since he arrived in Seattle, Carroll’s No. 1 rule has been “Always protect the team.” But I can’t help but think he violated his own rule during last season’s final news conference.

After the Seahawks lost to the Rams in their first-round playoff game – when Wilson completed just 11 of 27 passes – Carroll said, “We have to run the ball better, not even better, we have to run it more.”

This came several weeks after Seattle had made an obvious shift in its offensive strategy – when a balanced run-pass attack replaced the throw-heavy approach that put Wilson at the forefront of the MVP discussion. It was clear in November that Carroll had lost faith in Russell’s ability to protect the football, but to publicly belabor the need to run more at season’s end felt like an unnecessary shot at his QB.

Even the most positive, team-first athletes have egos. Whether Carroll meant to or not, he insinuated that Wilson couldn’t carry an offense the way other NFL quarterbacks can. After having failed to reach the NFC Championship for the sixth consecutive season, Wilson’s feelings were probably already fragile. His coach telling the world that throwing less was necessary for success likely set them on fire.

Even so, one can’t look at this kerfuffle and let Wilson off the hook.

The Athletic piece stated that, after throwing seven interceptions in a span of four games – three of which were Seahawks losses – Wilson met with coaches with thoughts on how to fix the offense. When coaches reportedly “dismissed” his ideas, he stormed out of the room. I don’t know if “dismissed” means they laughed him off or explained politely that strategy was their department. But I do know the offense wasn’t working.

It’s not a mortal sin for an athlete to react this way. Wilson is a Super Bowl-winning, eight-time Pro Bowler who just wanted his voice to be heard. The thing is, when Seattle coaches amended the offensive approach after that Week 10 loss to the Rams, the Seahawks won six of their next seven games.

I’m not sure Wilson has much to complain about if winning is truly his top priority. This is especially true considering he posted a passer rating over 100 just once in his final six games last season.

The Athletic story also said Wilson, while watching the Super Bowl this month from a suite in Tampa, Florida, texted former teammate Jake Heaps to vent his frustration about not playing in the game. But had Wilson completed more than 41% of his passes in Seattle’s first-round playoff exit, maybe he would have been playing.

It’s hard to watch all this unfold and not think Wilson’s ego is getting in the way. I still don’t know what publicly criticizing his offensive line this month accomplished, other than to distract from his own shortcomings.

The reality is, he is on a team that has won at least 10 games in all but one of the past nine seasons. He’s consistently had the pieces to compete for a title.

It seems unlikely that Carroll and Seahawks general manager John Schneider will try to trade Wilson, or that Russell will try and pout his way out of town. But the three of them do need to get in a room together to squash this tension.

It may be tempting to place all the blame on one party in this situation. The truth is, there’s plenty of it to go around.

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