Russell Wilson played in the last two Super Bowls, winning one and coming just one play from winning the second. He’s been part of one of the most dominant teams of the last few seasons, a team he helped turn from a joke into a premier club very quickly. Now, his rookie deal is running out and he wants to be paid like an elite quarterback, like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady.
And he might get it, based on those wins and his perceived value. The problem is that he’s an average quarterback.
Shocked? Just look at his yards in 2014. He threw for 3,475, ranking him 15th in the NFL. For those splitting hairs, that is technically above average, but it’s just one spot above.
Then look at the guys who rank near him. Right below him is Andy Dalton, with 3,398 yards. Two spots above him is Jay Cutler, with 3,812 yards. Cutler also threw for more touchdowns (28) than Wilson (20).
Jay Cutler is by no means considered a better quarterback than Wilson—and rightfully so, as that would be absurd. And yet, he generated more yards and more points. Because Wilson isn’t as good as the hype machine makes him out to be.
Now, Wilson does some things very well. He runs for far more yards than a guy like Cutler, and he doesn’t throw nearly as many interceptions. He’s smart with the ball and limits turnovers. He only threw seven picks in all of 2014, compared to Cutler’s horrific 18—tied for the league lead.
We’re getting into weird territory here, though. It seems that Wilson makes good choices and smart throws, right? That’s how you keep interceptions down. While that’s true, there’s another way to do it: Just don’t throw the ball.
Look at Andrew Luck. He had 40 touchdowns and 16 picks. Slightly more than double Wilson in interceptions, but that came with twice as many touchdowns. Luck generates way more points and yards. Yes, he does turn it over more, but that’s just because the ball is in the air more.
If you don’t throw it, you won’t throw picks.
The true mark of an elite quarterback is one who ranks at the top in touchdowns and the bottom in picks. That’s how you know he actually throws the ball a lot and makes smart choices, rather than relying on the running game and limited passes. Exhibit A is Aaron Rodgers, with 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns and just five picks.Wilson has thrived on team that seems built to succeed, with or without the quarterback. They play insanely good, hard-hitting defense. They have arguably the best running back in football.
One of the last teams to play that style and win the Super Bowl was the Baltimore Ravens. They did it with Trent Dilfer, who has now become the cliché example of how a lousy quarterback can win in the right situation.
Wilson is better than Trent Dilfer. He’s way, way better. But the example still hold weight because the Seahawks are that type of team. They don’t need Wilson to do a lot, and he’s excelled at not making mistakes. That’s pushed his stock way up based on wins—but if those wins are team wins, not quarterback wins, is his value really as high as people think it is?
Put Russell Wilson on the Redskins. How many games does he win?
So far, Wilson has not shown he can carry a team. That’s not all his fault; the team is good enough that he doesn’t have to carry it. Still, elite quarterbacks are the ones that pick the team up and win despite its problems, not the quarterbacks who are able to win with elite talent at a lot of other positions.
If the Seahawks pay Wilson like Brees or Brady or Manning or Rodgers, they could quickly find out just how much offense he produces when his contract means they can’t keep the pieces that have made this Seahawks team so good.
On the flip side, that’s a chance for Wilson to show if he’s elite or not, because it will finally be asked of him. Maybe he steps up and plays better than he ever has. But that’s a pretty big risk to take for Seattle, as they’ll have to pay before they know for sure.