On this week’s Monday Night Football, the curtain began to fall on this era of Seahawks football, and in some ways it was a fitting result. In a 17-15 loss to the Washington Football Team, Seattle offered most of the bizarre trappings Seahawks fans have come to expect from their team. There were strange plays: The Seahawks scored on a defensive two-point conversion that resulted in an injury to opposing kicker Joey Slye. They also successfully recovered an onside kick with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give them a chance to kick a game-winning field goal, only to have the play negated because a Seahawks player on the opposite side of the formation lined up illegally inside the hash mark. The game also featured inexplicable play-calling, resulting in much consternation over where the football was going on offense: Quarterback Russell Wilson did not target receiver D.K. Metcalf until the third quarter and did not complete a pass to him until the end of the game. One significant feature of Monday’s loss was different, though: It likely ended Seattle’s playoff chances and put the team among the worst in the NFL. The Seahawks are 3-8. Only four other NFL teams—the Lions, Texans, Jaguars, and Jets—have three wins or fewer through 12 weeks.
Seattle is not used to this kind of company. The Seahawks are on their way to a losing season for the first time in a decade. They have made the playoffs in eight of the past nine years and have won a Super Bowl in the past decade, a run powered by the current triumvirate of Wilson, head coach Pete Carroll, and general manager John Schneider. The shock and frustration at this unusually difficult season for the team were obvious on Monday: Several players, including Wilson and safety Jamal Adams, were glassy-eyed when they spoke to reporters after the game following a team meeting in the locker room.
“I haven’t been in this situation before like this, but what I do know is, I know there’s only one way to respond,” Wilson said.
Seattle can go down fighting, but it is nearly impossible for the Seahawks to crawl out of the hole they have dug for themselves in the standings. FiveThirtyEight gives them a 1 percent chance of making the playoffs. It’s time for Seattle to figure out who among the current core of this roster and who within the organization will stick around for the rebuild.
From the triumvirate mentioned above, the most likely to depart seems to be Wilson. Carroll and Schneider are under contract through 2025 and 2027, respectively, and both have track records strong enough to get through a bad season without landing on a hot seat. Wilson is signed through 2023 but was already the subject of trade rumors last offseason when it was reported that he would waive his no-trade clause and accept a deal that sent him to a selection of teams—at that point, the Cowboys, Saints, Raiders, and Bears.
If Wilson does get traded after the season, it will likely be because he pushed for the deal. He has struggled this season—his total QBR of 46.2 is 11 points below his previous career low in 2016—but he is still only 33 and carries one of the best track records for a starting quarterback in the NFL. He’s also still recovering from an injury. Wilson dislocated and ruptured his pinkie in Week 5 and came back in Week 10, a rapid return from an ailment that normally takes six to eight weeks to heal.
Carroll and Wilson himself have repeatedly said that he’s OK to play, but it’s hard to watch the Seahawks offense since his return and not think he is somewhat limited. Wilson hasn’t been taking snaps from under center, presumably to protect his hand. Through Week 5, he had a 65 percent completion rate and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions from under center, according to data from Sharp Football Stats.
Even if Wilson’s very best years are behind him, it’s not certain whether the Seahawks could find a quality replacement through the draft or on the veteran market, even with the return on a Wilson trade in hand. Since the Seahawks already paid Wilson’s signing bonus, they would still carry $26 million in 2022 and $13 million in 2023 in dead-money salary-cap charges if they traded him on his current deal. (The flip side of this is that Wilson would be more affordable for an acquiring team, who would owe him only $24 million in 2022 and $27 million in 2023. That means more potential trade partners and likely a bigger return for the Seahawks.)
If Wilson does want to leave, Seattle will be forced to reckon with how depleted the roster around him has become. The Seahawks’ personnel moves over the past several years have often been viewed through the lens of what the team is doing to support Wilson and the type of team and offense he wants to be part of. But the story of the past several draft and free agent classes is simpler than that: The team just hasn’t added very many good players.
Schneider built Seattle’s 2013 Super Bowl team through the draft by specializing in finding players who fit their needs. Richard Sherman, for instance, was undervalued by other teams who were concerned about his timed speed, but Schneider thought he would fit well in Seattle’s secondary. The Seahawks returned to the Super Bowl that following season, but since then they’ve spent too many draft picks, especially top picks, on players who don’t play premium positions (first-round picks like running back Rashaad Penny in 2018, and defensive lineman L.J. Collier, who doesn’t rush the passer, in 2019) and others who simply didn’t become significant contributors (second-round picks like Malik McDowell, Ethan Pocic, Christine Michael). Free agent signings have arguably been worse. The Seahawks have a tendency to sign big-name players who are past their primes (Eddie Lacy in 2017, Greg Olsen in 2020) as well as former top picks, usually hyper-athletic ones, who haven’t had much NFL success (Barkevious Mingo in 2018, Ezekiel Ansah in 2019, Phillip Dorsett in 2020).
Even one of the Seahawks’ better moves—signing safety Bradley McDougald in 2017—has become difficult for fans to take pride in because of how it turned out. McDougald played all but one game over the course of three seasons in Seattle and performed well, but was then traded to the Jets in 2020 as part of the compensation for acquiring safety Jamal Adams. The rest of that compensation package, of course, included two first-round draft picks, one in the 2021 draft and another in 2022. Something the Seahawks likely did not consider was that the 2022 pick could wind up being near the very top of the draft. The Seahawks are currently tied with the Jets for the fourth-worst record in the NFL, but because Seattle has had the weaker strength of schedule, its pick would come first. If the season ended today, the Jets would get the no. 4 pick from Seattle, then pick again at no. 5 on their own, um, merits.
So Seattle will be down an asset when it goes into this offseason, whether or not the purpose of that offseason is to find ways to improve the supporting cast around Wilson—including a defense that’s currently no. 32 in the NFL in yards allowed—or to start from scratch without him. In either case, the Seahawks are probably not getting back to where they want to be without improving their track record of personnel moves. The Seahawks who brought you the BeastQuake, “You mad, bro?,” Wilson’s connection with Tyler Lockett, and the Legion of Boom defense were constructed by good drafts and solid trades. If we are nearing the end of one of the most successful decade-long runs in modern football, what built it will also be what undid it in the end.