No pressure for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. But the future of the franchise may be hanging in the balance over the next three weeks.
OK, that may be a bit overdramatic. Carroll is signed through the 2025 season, so he’s not going anywhere. But the Seahawks have reached an organizational crossroads, with star quarterback Russell Wilson injured for the first time in his career and his future murky.
The Seahawks are struggling at 2-3, Wilson’s relationship with the Seahawks has been strained in recent years, and the next three games could help decide if the Seahawks’ decade of success under Carroll and Wilson will continue, or if Carroll will have to start a new chapter next year with a new franchise leader.
Wilson has exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations since the Seahawks drafted him in the third round in 2012. The Seahawks have been to the playoffs in eight of Wilson’s first nine seasons, won a Super Bowl (and lost another), and their .674 win percentage since Wilson’s rookie season ranks second in the NFL behind the Patriots (.718).
But last Thursday night against the Rams, Wilson suffered a fracture-dislocation of the joint at the top of his middle finger on his throwing hand, and Wilson flew to Los Angeles the next day to immediately undergo surgery.
Sunday’s game against the Steelers will mark the first time since Wilson was drafted that he hasn’t started for the Seahawks, snapping a streak of 165 consecutive starts, including the playoffs. Before injuring his finger, he had played in a remarkable 98.3 percent of snaps for the Seahawks, missing a total of 183 snaps over 165 games.
But Wilson’s relationship with the Seahawks has been strained in recent years, with Wilson’s agent last spring publicly revealing a list of four teams to which Wilson would be receptive to a trade. Wilson and Carroll eventually patched things up in the offseason, but clearly Wilson has been thinking about continuing his career elsewhere.
And now Wilson’s injury raises the stakes. The Seahawks are a mess at 2-3, and the new Legion of Boom has been a Legion of Bust, as the Seahawks’ defense allowed more than 450 yards in four straight games.
“I’m really disappointed that we’re off to a start statistically that looks like garbage,” Carroll said last week. “We’re better than that.”
Carroll said there is no timetable for Wilson’s return, with estimates putting it somewhere between 4-8 weeks. The Seahawks play three more games until their Week 9 bye — at Pittsburgh before hosting New Orleans and Jacksonville — meaning Wilson could conceivably return for Week 10 at Green Bay.
Wilson is doing everything in his power to get back by then. The Seahawks didn’t put Wilson on injured reserve right away last week, allowing him to participate in conditioning drills and walkthrough portions of practice. The Seahawks eventually put Wilson on IR on Friday, and can have him miss the required three games and still have him back by Week 10.
“This is Russ at his finest in terms of competitiveness,” Carroll said. “I mean, he’s doing everything possible to be ready to take advantage of whatever is available to him.”
The Seahawks just need to tread water without Wilson. The man responsible for keeping them afloat is Geno Smith, the former Jets quarterback who has started just two games in seven years — one for the Jets in 2016, and one for the Giants in 2017. Smith, 31, threw four passes for the Chargers in 2018, was out of football in 2019, and has been Wilson’s backup the last two years.
Smith was impressive in relief in last Thursday’s loss to the Rams, throwing for 131 yards and a touchdown and leading a 98-yard scoring drive.
The Seahawks are now Smith’s team for the next three weeks, starting Sunday at Pittsburgh.
“Geno has been practicing with us for this time, waiting for his opportunity to be called upon,” Carroll said. “And we need him now to come through and play great football. He knows that, and this is what he has been preparing for.”
The Seahawks are tied with the 49ers for last in the NFC West, three games behind the Cardinals and two behind the Rams. The Seahawks likely need to win at least two of these next three games to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs when Wilson returns. And a trip to the playoffs could certainly help encourage Wilson to remain committed to Seattle, where he is under contract for three more seasons.
But should the Seahawks fall apart without Wilson, it could put his future in jeopardy. The relationship was already strained last offseason, and will Wilson really want to stick around for a team that can’t play defense and doesn’t seem close to contending for another Super Bowl?
So, no pressure, Pete Carroll and Geno Smith. The Seahawks’ 2021 season, and potentially the fate of the franchise, could rest on how they perform over the next three games.
TIP OF THE ICEBERG
Gruden fallout keeps coming
More on Jon Gruden’s resignation and the fallout for the Raiders and Washington Football Team:
⋅ Gruden’s resignation is increasingly feeling like a hit. Someone wanted Gruden out, and it was executed swiftly.
It was widely assumed that Roger Goodell and the league office were behind the well-placed e-mail leaks to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. But that theory is looking shakier after Thursday night, when the Times and Journal both published near-identical scoops detailing e-mails from the NFL’s No. 2 executive, attorney Jeff Pash, to the former Washington team president, Bruce Allen. You’ll remember Pash as the guy who stomped the Patriots’ Spygate tapes so the evidence could never be found, and who consistently butted heads with the Patriots’ legal team during Deflategate.
Pash’s e-mails aren’t in the same ballpark as Gruden’s in terms of inflammatory content, but they are embarrassing and portray a top league executive who disagreed with many of the league’s initiatives into social justice and gender equity and was far too cozy with one of the NFL’s 32 teams.
It’s possible that Goodell and the NFL are behind this, but it would be extremely out of character to publicly shame one of their top executives. Instead, it’s looking like someone — perhaps a rogue attorney, or someone connected to the workplace environment investigation into the WFT — got his or her hands on the 650,000 e-mails, and is meting out his or her own brand of justice, one person at a time.
Grab your popcorn, because this feels like it’s just getting started.
⋅ If it is the NFL controlling the flow of e-mails, it’s a little unsettling how much power Goodell can now potentially wield over anyone else who popped up in the 650,000 e-mails. Gruden can’t be the only one found to have used sexist, racist, or homophobic language. Goodell and the league certainly have a sharp cudgel to dangle over anyone’s head.
⋅ Raiders owner Mark Davis didn’t seem thrilled at having to force Gruden’s resignation. “Ask the NFL. They have all the answers,” was his brief comment to ESPN — but he has to be even less thrilled at the damage this incident does to his team’s brand.
The Raiders have long been being one of the NFL’s more progressive franchises: They had the first Hispanic quarterback and head coach (Tom Flores); the first female CEO, decades before it became a league initiative (Amy Trask); the first Black head coach in the modern era (Art Shell); and, most recently, the first team to have an openly gay player (Carl Nassib).
Now the Raiders have to fight the perception that they embraced a sexist, racist, homophobic head coach.
⋅ What happens with Gruden’s contract? He signed a 10-year, $100 million deal with the Raiders in 2018, and it is not known if Gruden received a settlement. But Gruden’s resignation was almost certainly for cause, and he may not get more than the rest of his 2021 salary, if that.
Gruden’s contract was also “significantly” back-loaded, with Gruden having received less than 30 percent of the $100 million contract through four years, per a league source with knowledge of the deal. The big money hadn’t kicked in yet.
⋅ Another season of dark clouds for the Washington Football Team. The outrage is intensifying that owner Daniel Snyder hasn’t been properly punished for overseeing a toxic workplace culture for two decades. The team’s trainer is being investigated by the DEA for possible disbursement of prescription drugs. And Thursday night, Washington president Jason Wright apologized to fans for the team’s hasty announcement last week that it will be retiring the beloved Sean Taylor’s jersey this week.
Oh, and the team is 2-3 and faces the Chiefs on Sunday.
Ron Rivera must be wondering what he has gotten himself into.
⋅ As for Snyder, it continues to amaze that the investigation into his team remains private, and that he hasn’t received just punishment for overseeing a team awash in sexual misconduct for two decades.
The owners forced former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson out of their club in 2017 when he was engaged in a similar situation. Snyder must have some incredible dirt on the NFL for Goodell to let him get away with a $10 million fine and an informal, token suspension.
The NFL should do the right thing and release all 650,000 e-mails from the Washington investigation and let the chips fall where they may.
Lamar Jackson still thriving
Lamar Jackson had a great answer in August when told that a few unnamed NFL executives told ESPN that this would be the year that the league figured Jackson out.
“I doubt it,” Jackson said. “I strongly doubt it.”
If anything, Jackson has figured out the NFL in his fourth year. Jackson is fifth in the NFL in passing yards (1,519) and eighth in rushing yards (341), giving him 1,860 total yards — or more than 18 teams have gained so far.
Jackson, the 2019 MVP, isn’t just a fantasy football machine, either. The Ravens are 4-1, and Jackson pulled off a miraculous comeback win over the Colts last Monday night, overcoming deficits of 22-3 in the third quarter and 25-9 in the fourth quarter to win in overtime.
Jackson completed 86 percent of his passes and threw for 442 yards and four touchdowns, the first QB in history to hit 85 percent and 400 yards in a game. And he earned a fan in Colts owner Jim Irsay.
“Lamar Jackson’s performance last nite may have been the single greatest performance in NFL’s/100 yr. history,” Irsay tweeted.
With the Rams and Chargers both at 4-1, here’s a fun what-if to ponder: What happens if both teams end up hosting a conference championship game? Since they share SoFi Stadium, there’s no way that the NFL could host both games in one day, especially when considering the stands need to be cleaned and there’s usually confetti on the field.
Goodell was actually posed a similar question in 2015 when asked what would happen in a similar situation for the Giants and Jets, who share MetLife Stadium. Goodell said on WFAN in New York that one game would be held on Sunday afternoon, and the other would be moved to Monday night. Since the Super Bowl is two weeks away, the team that plays on Monday wouldn’t be at much of a preparation disadvantage.
The NFL continues to suffer defeats in a St. Louis courthouse over the relocation of the Rams, with several owners — including Robert Kraft — now facing four-figure fines over a failure to disclose financial information as ordered by the court. More pressing, the lawsuit filed by the city and the state of Missouri threatens to expose more internal e-mails and cost the NFL potential damages of $1 billion or more. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has vowed that he would cover all expenses, but this lawsuit is turning into a bad headache that the NFL needs to go away.
Which is why one rumor that is making its way around league circles is that the NFL will simply give St. Louis an expansion team to make the city whole. It’s not anything the NFL needs — the league’s structure since 2002 has been perfect, with 32 franchises spread out evenly across eight divisions — but awarding an expansion team certainly is a lot more palatable than cutting a fat check.
Nick Caserio has to be the most unique general manager in the NFL. As he did in New England, Caserio continues to participate in practice as a thrower in drills, and during games he sits in the press box with the coaching staff. Seeing how well prepared the Texans were for the Patriots last week also created the impression that Caserio was heavily involved in the game plan. He really does run the show down in Houston . . . With the Chiefs facing Washington on Sunday, both franchises have finally banned the wearing of Native American headdresses and facepaint inside their stadiums. The Chiefs instituted their policy in 2020 and Washington in 2021. But why are the Chiefs still leading their fans in the Tomahawk Chop? It seems rather crude and insensitive in this day and age . . . Sunday’s Browns-Cardinals game in Cleveland features a quarterback matchup of Baker Mayfield vs. Kyler Murray, the No. 1 picks in the 2018 and 2019 drafts who both won Heisman Trophies at Oklahoma. Murray was Mayfield’s backup in 2017, throwing just 21 passes all season . . . The NFL is looking to play games in Germany as soon as next year, and last week narrowed the list of cities down to Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, and Munich. The Patriots have a huge following in Germany and Sebastian Vollmer broadcasts NFL games in German, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Patriots get the first crack . . . Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore defended six passes in last week’s win over Washington, the most in a game since Kyle Fuller had six for the Bears in 2017. The record is seven, dating to 1994, per Stats Perform . . . Eagles tight end Zach Ertz played Thursday night against the Bucs knowing he would be traded to the Cardinals the next day. The Eagles made Ertz a captain, and he had four catches for 29 yards and a touchdown, his 38th in nine seasons . . . Irsay, whose Colts have made the playoffs in just two of the past six seasons, isn’t being shy about expectations. “Colts Nation, don’t you worry,” he tweeted last week. “We’re gonna get The Horseshoe at least 2 Lombardis this decade . . . as sure as the sun rises and the seasons change, it’s COMING!”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.