Over the past decade, few quarterbacks have assembled more decorated resumes on and off the field than Seahawks star Russell Wilson, who looks to be on a Hall of Fame track entering his 10th season.
Since bursting onto the scene by stealing the starting role away from Matt Flynn as a rookie, Wilson has been selected to seven Pro Bowls, earned Second-Team All-Pro honors in 2019, and shattered Seattle's record books with 33,946 passing yards and 267 touchdown passes. He helped guide the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory and led the team back to the big game the following year. Then last season, he added the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award to his accolades for his commitment to helping others and providing for those in need.
But despite all of those accomplishments, Wilson has still yet to receive a single MVP vote during his NFL career. Even after throwing a franchise record 40 touchdowns last season, only Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs, and Josh Allen of the Bills earned votes and the former third-round pick was once again shut out.
While fans may have been miffed by his omission, however, speaking in Wilson vernacular, the reality is each of the three aforementioned quarterbacks had better overall seasons in 2020. Though Wilson finished second in the NFL in passing touchdowns, he threw more interceptions (13) than Rodgers, Mahomes, and Allen and finished with a lower passer rating and significantly less passing yardage in comparison.
Wilson didn't help his cause by suffering the most prolonged slump of his career during the final two months of the season either. In the first eight games, he was the clear front-runner for the award with 26 passing touchdowns, positioning himself to threaten Peyton Manning's single-season record. But after that point, he threw only 14 touchdowns over the final eight games and threw seven picks, tied for the fourth-most in the league during that span.
Following a turbulent offseason in which Wilson aired his frustrations publicly and trade rumors ensued, what will it take for the star signal caller to break through and win his first MVP award? Or at least receive a vote?
First and foremost, turnover issues that emerged last season must be curbed. Throughout his career, Wilson has been one of the best caretakers of the football in the sport, often being mentioned in the same breath as Rodgers for his lack of interceptions. In five of his first eight seasons, he threw nine or less picks, and on four occasions, his interception percentage came in below two percent.
This trend continued early in 2020, as Wilson was only picked once in Seattle's first three games and it wasn't his fault. Tight end Greg Olsen had a perfect pass slip through his hands on the opening drive in Week 2 and the Patriots wound up returning the deflection for a touchdown.
But after throwing just three interceptions in the first five games, Wilson uncharacteristically threw three of them in an overtime loss to the Cardinals in Week 7. All three picks resulted from poor decision-making by the quarterback, including a telegraphed pass into the flats to Chris Carson at the goal line that was intercepted by safety Budda Baker and nearly returned for a touchdown.
After bouncing back with a four touchdown performance against the banged-up 49ers in Week 8, Wilson turned in two of the worst games of his career in back-to-back road defeats. In a 44-34 embarrassment in Buffalo, Wilson was intercepted twice and also lost a pair of fumbles. The next week, the Rams picked him off twice more and he lost another fumble as the Seahawks lost 23-16.
Therein lies the second major issue Wilson must address. Though he threw only three interceptions in Seattle's final seven regular season games, his confidence seemed to waver a bit coming off those three poor outings. He became indecisive in the pocket, particularly when it came to the short-to-intermediate passing game. Receivers would come open, particularly in the middle of the field, only for him to double-clutch in hesitation and allow the opposing pass rush time to get home.
At times, Wilson seemed to rush out of the pocket when pressure wasn't quite there yet either, reverting back to some bad habits from earlier in his career. In doing so, he put his offensive line in a tough spot trying to protect him as he improvised when he didn't need to.
Those struggles played a key role in the decision to replace offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer with former Rams assistant Shane Waldron. Throughout the offseason, coach Pete Carroll has stressed the need for Wilson and the Seahawks to be sharper in the quick-strike passing game and implement tempo to help prevent teams from scheming away explosive pass plays that dried up in the second half.
Personnel-wise, the Seahawks have made several additions that should aid Wilson in his quest to be more effective in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Reuniting with Waldron, Gerald Everett will provide the team with an athletic tight end capable of winning down the seam and creating yards after the catch. Second-round pick D'Wayne Eskridge brings different elements to the receiving corps as well, possessing the explosiveness to hit a home run anytime he has the ball while also being a YAC monster on slants and in-breaking routes.
With those two weapons joining star receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and the offensive line upgraded with the acquisition of guard Gabe Jackson, Wilson has all the pieces in place at his disposal to post the best numbers of his career and thus emerge as an MVP candidate. But the onus will fall on him to learn from the mistakes that hindered him last year and do a better job of unloading the football in a timely manner to mitigate opposing pass rushers.
If Wilson makes those necessary adjustments with Waldron at the controls, the Seahawks should still be able to take their shots downfield, playing into the quarterback's biggest strengths. The absence of the deep ball down the stretch a year ago without a doubt hurt his MVP chances as well as Seattle's offense in general and though there will be more emphasis on quick passes, hitting on explosives will remain a priority.
While Wilson's own performance obviously will have the greatest bearing on his chances to finally be in the MVP conversation, luck also needs to be considered as part of the equation and he hasn't necessarily had much of it in regard to competition for the league's most prestigious award. Other quarterbacks have simply been better or Seattle's record did him no favors.
Back in 2015, Wilson ended the season torching opposing secondaries with 24 touchdowns and just one interception in the Seahawks final seven games, playing his way into the MVP discussion. But he still didn't earn a single vote, as Cam Newton deservedly won the award after tossing 35 touchdowns and leading the Panthers to a 15-1 record. Tom Brady and Carson Palmer were the only other players to receive votes and both players had more touchdowns than Wilson while playing for teams with superior records.
Then in 2017, shouldering the load for a dreadfully one-dimensional Seahawks squad, Wilson led the NFL with 34 touchdown passes and accounted for all but one of the team's 38 offensive touchdowns. He remarkably accounted for 86 percent of his team's yards from scrimmage, an NFL record for a single player during the Super Bowl era.
But again, team success ended up hurting Wilson in MVP voting, as the Seahawks scuffled to 9-7 finish thanks to an inept running game and declining defense. They missed the postseason for the first time since 2011 and much like two years earlier, players on better teams received the MVP votes. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wound up winning the award for the third time, while Rams running back Todd Gurley and then-Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz also received votes. All three players starred for teams who won at least 11 games and made the playoffs.
Even in 2019, when Wilson threw 31 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions and led the Seahawks to an improved 11-5 record, his performance simply didn't stack up with Ravens dual threat quarterback Lamar Jackson. The ex-Louisville star turned in a historic season to runaway with the MVP award, tossing 36 touchdown passes while rushing for an NFL record 1,206 yards.
In some ways, Wilson has been a victim of his own consistency. Year in, year out, he's guaranteed to throw 30-plus touchdowns and be among league leaders in passer rating, completion percentage, and yards per attempt. But he hasn't posted an eye-popping season quite like the one Jackson did two years ago or Rodgers did in 2020. The fact the Seahawks have only surpassed 11 wins once since 2014 hasn't helped matters either, as team records appear to carry a lot of weight for MVP voters.
As Wilson has stated numerous times over the years, he's far more concerned about winning games and championships than winning individual awards. Or at least that's what he has said publicly. When considering his legacy, while he aspires to achieve both, winning another Lombardi Trophy will always trump an MVP award.
But based on past winners, there's clearly a strong correlation between those two goals. Given the arsenal of weapons around him and an exciting new scheme aiming to maximize on that talent, if the Seahawks are racking up wins in bunches next season, Wilson will likely be at the center of such success and with a little luck on his side, he may finally beat out the likes of Rodgers, Mahomes, and Brady for an MVP.