Russell Wilson is on a mission

This offseason, he was nearly a Chicago Bear. Now, this future Hall of Famer is primed to have the best season of his career.

Publicly, it was all smiles. Right there at the podium, all three parties were lovey-dovey to Hallmark Movie proportions.

You saw the press conference. Pete Carroll was speaking at the mic when, suddenly, both Russell Wilson and GM John Schneider swooped in. Wilson said “I just wanted to let everybody know we’re still friends,” Schneider dropped a peace sign and Carroll added a cringy “Get out of here. You had your press conference.”

While their message was clear — Nothing to see here! — the reality was much different.

If fans knew how unbelievably close the Seattle Seahawks were to trading Wilson to the Chicago Bears, their heads might pop. We touched on this during the offseason — right here in a takeout on the Bears’ QB odyssey — but it bears repeating: Chicago thought this was a done deal. Chicago was convinced it was acquiring Wilson. I couldn’t dig up the exact parameters of the deal but Bears GM Ryan Pace was willing to part with just about any amount of assets and believed he had himself a trade.

Schneider was ready to move on. Schneider and Wilson’s agent have a poor relationship and this is a GM who does not operate in fear. He was willing to move on for hefty compensation while also getting Wilson’s contract off the books without too much dead money. It’s also true that all GMs dream of building a winner around a quarterback on a cheap deal — Schneider, for a moment, was also able to warm Carroll up to the idea of life post-Russ.

Wilson hopes to play until he is 42 to 45 years old. So the idea of building something new elsewhere didn’t scare him, either.

Yet right when Chicago was sure it was adding the eight-time Pro Bowler, the deal… crumbled.

For starters, Wilson and Carroll were able to sit down and hash things out about the state of the team and where its going. That relationship stayed strong and that relationship has been the heartbeat of the franchise since 2012. Wilson became very encouraged that the offensive scheme would — once and for all — move in a positive direction under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron.

And it’s also important to note that Wilson had some control over the situation with a no-trade clause. One source in the know credited Wilson’s personal quarterbacks coach Jake Heaps for his role in everybody coming together, too. Wilson trusts Heaps, a former Seahawks QB himself, as much as anyone in his inner circle and the two had some long conversations about the entire situation. Wilson could see the benefits of staying put in 2021.

Finally, Seattle realized it flatly could not trade a Hall of Fame-level talent like Wilson.

So, Russell Wilson remained a Seahawk.

Now? He’s on a warpath. There’s a reason you saw Wilson slotted in as the 2021 NFL MVP pick here. A player legitimately obsessed with going down as one of the greatest winners in NFL history took his preparation to a whole new stratosphere this offseason. Unlike Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, this dust settled early in the offseason. And once those three played nice for the cameras, Wilson continued to ramp up his training.  

Who knows what 2022 holds? In 2021, everyone would be in for a treat.

A quarterback who’s been loitering around the MVP conversation on and off throughout his career is determined to have the best season of his life.

And that’s exactly what we saw in Week 1. Against a loaded Indianapolis Colts defense — on the road, with fans back in the stands — Wilson completed 18 of 23 passes for 254 yards, four touchdowns, no picks and a sterling 152.3 passer rating. Waldron’s scheme matched beautifully with Wilson’s skill-set. Sure, Wilson was an MVP frontrunner the first half of the 2020 season. Problem was, that offense was feast-or-famine. The Seahawks hit on its big plays for a while, yet once defenses caught up to what they were doing? Good night. They had zero answer, faded down the stretch and lost to the John Wolford-led Los Angeles Rams in the Wild Card.

In Indy, Russ was cookin’ better than ever and everyone should expect this offense and this QB to stick all season long.

On third and 6, pressure in his face, Wilson lobbed a deep shot to Tyler Lockett right down the middle of the field for a 23-yard score.

There was the perfectly schemed, 69-yard moon ball to Lockett for another touchdown. The ball traveled 60 yards in the air alone.

And then there were a pair of bullets over the middle to Gerald Everett and DK Metcalf in the red zone for scores.

For a decade, Seattle’s best offense was the scramble drill — when the play called from the sideline broke down and Wilson had to freestyle. Finally, everything seemed to come easy within the play design itself. It’s not like Seattle was facing a patsy secondary, either.

Thinking that Heaps might’ve played the role of savior in this all, I got in touch with the private QB before this season began. It should be noted that he does not want to be labeled a peacemaker at all — Heaps prefers to stay in the background and is correct in saying there were many factors at play here. Above all, Heaps essentially predicted a season opener exactly like this. Arguably no one knows Wilson better than him, too.

“I would expect fireworks from Russell Wilson,” Heaps said. “I’ve been around this guy for quite some time now. I’ve been able to see what he can do over the last six years. Russell Wilson’s in his prime right now. I think if you can match his talent with the system Shane Waldron’s bringing in and that offense can reach its potential with the weapons they have? There’s no reason why they can’t have a special year. Last year, he was on pace to throw 50 touchdowns. I fully expect him to get to that mark this year.

“The one thing I know about Russell Wilson is you should never bet against this guy. He’s going to make you pay for it.”

And Heaps assured Wilson was “been balls to the wall” all offseason long.

You may recall that the relationship between this team and this quarterback got ugly.

Wilson appeared to be pointing the finger at his offensive line on the Dan Patrick Show and make no bones about it: He wanted more of a say in personnel. Then, of course, Wilson made it known that if Seattle were to trade him his preferred destinations were the Raiders, Bears, Saints and Cowboys. As we noted, the desire to be an owner one day was on Wilson’s mind, too. One source indicated Wilson is the type of businessman who’ll turn down appearances that’ll pay him six-figures but will try to put himself around billionaires for free. Just to pick their minds, just to build that rolodex. Off the field, Wilson sees the forest from the trees. Both he and his wife, Ciara, are very rich.

On the outside looking in, Wilson sounded like a player who wanted out of Seattle by any means necessary.

Heaps is quick to note that the “if” part of that statement dominating sports media got lost in translation. While there was friction, he calls any notion that Wilson wanted out of Seattle “completely untrue.”  

He also knows that Wilson was pointing a finger at himself through the offseason.

“Russell is obsessed with finding ways to make himself better,” Heaps said. “He is always willing to look at ways he can improve his craft and I think this offseason was another example of it. Russell really is the gold standard of how you want your quarterback to prepare. He invests so much time and resources into himself and into his body. He has a state-of-the-art facility at his own house for goodness sake. So the investment in himself is out of control. And the dedication to his craft — whether it’s the offseason or in-season — is unlike anybody I’ve ever been around. And I also am very plugged in with what goes on with other guys in the league.

“Russell is very unique. And Russell is viewed by many of these guys — especially the next generation of quarterbacks — as the gold standard of how you get to the top.”

This past offseason, Wilson added Tim Grover to his team, the legendary trainer who worked with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in the NBA. He also added longtime football coach Dana Bible who, with Heaps, created a system “unique” to Wilson. As the 2021 season neared, Heaps assured Wilson was easily in the best shape of his life.

Acknowledging that everybody says that, he assured it was the real deal here.

Then, we all got a taste of what’s to come against the Colts. He was nearly flawless.

Fireworks will boom in the NFC West all season, too. Anyone could realistically win this division.

The union between Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford looked scary in the Rams’ 34-14 obliteration of the Russ-less Chicago Bears. The San Francisco 49ers’ juggernaut offense hummed right along with Elijah Mitchell at running back. No, Kyle Shanahan doesn’t give a damn if any of us drafted Trey Sermon in fantasy. And, hello, Arizona! Do not forget about Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive mind in this division. He’s been putting Bill Belichick-like hours into this profession for a while and the Kyler Murray/DeAndre Hopkins connection may be the best in the league. The Cardinals embarrassed a team with Super Bowl expectations, 38-13.

The Seahawks needed a counter of their own.

After three seasons, the conservative Brian Schottenheimer had to go.

Enter Waldron, who was pulled straight from McVay’s system.

The thinking was that Waldron’s X’s and O’s would unlock a new Wilson, so both Carroll and Schneider deserve credit for admitting things have been very good since Seattle was in the Super Bowl six years ago… but not great. Not what it could be. Waldron’s arrival will fully maximize weapons like Lockett and Metcalf, too. As defenses started shutting down those bombs deep in 2020, Schottenheimer very rarely got either receiver rolling in the short-to-intermediate game.

Sunday’s win highlighted everything this new Seahawks offense can be.

It wasn’t like Waldron had to completely abandon Carroll’s beloved ground game, either — Seattle actually ran (27 attempts) more than it passed (23).

“The chemistry between Shane and I was great, was terrific,” Wilson said afterward. “It’s been great all offseason. We spent a lot of time really working on the game and working on what we want to do. We have a great mixture of all the great things we’ve done in the past. And then, also, all the things that Shane has done around the world. He was with the Patriots, he was in the Shanahan tree, he’s been with Sean McVay. So I think he has a great understanding of the game. He’s so knowledgable.

“He’s like the wizard. And I have a lot of control at the same time, so we’re all working together. It’s a beautiful thing. It was a great game, against a really great defense, too. That defense is one of the best in the league. … I thought we played with great tempo. We were able to control the game, yet still be explosive and still get the ball out quick and do the pleathora of things we can do. It starts with the offensive line — they did a great job tonight — and, from there, we have a lot of playmakers.”

A much different tone from that Dan Patrick interview long ago.

Friction can lead to good things. And unlike in Green Bay, a resolution in Seattle was found early. Wilson didn’t hold his team hostage for six months like Aaron Rodgers. Those three smiling for the cameras engaged in tough conversations, figured it out and genuinely banded together for at least one more season before the NFL Draft hit.

Of course, it was draft night when that Rodgers bombshell dropped and Rodgers realistically considered retiring all the way up to the start of training camp.

What we saw on Sunday cannot be a coincidence.

There’s a good chance the Packers right the ship (they usually do), but their Week 1 was utter disaster. Whereas Seattle cruised against a playoff team, Green Bay was annhilated by one. If a quarterback were to throw the ball into the dirt every play, his passer rating would be 39.6. And in this 38-3 loss to the Saints, the reigning MVP Rodgers had a passer rating of 32.8.

One quarterback appeared determined to have the season of his life.

One quarterback appeared disinterested.

The season is a marathon. We’ll see if Wilson and Waldron and the Seahawks can keep this up and if Rodgers snaps out of whatever funk he’s in.

Unlike last season, this sure feels solid and sustainable in Seattle. All weapons around the quarterback will be schemed into advantageous matchups. There’s no receiver built like the cartoonish Metcalf, and Lockett? He’s been one of the most underrated players in the NFL for seven years. With a scheme that’ll actually use both properly, look out. Give me this over anything Shanahan, McVay and Kingsbury are cooking up.

Because, No. 1, Russell Wilson is determined to have the best year of his life.

Heaps is right: Don’t bet against him in 2021.

Nobody should be surprised if the three people running this team are on a much different podium come February.

No Huddle

  • Bills/Steelers wasn’t nearly as aesthetically pleasing as expected but that’s probably just how Mike Tomlin likes it. This resembled the Steelers of 1995 and 2005, a team fully capable of winning with defense. The last time Josh Allen looked this lost was when he was a rookie project out of Wyoming. He missed throws but a lot of this was Pittsburgh’s doing, too. TJ Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick are stars who single-handedly wreck games.

    Up front, Melvin Ingram also had a field day. It’s crazy to think Pittsburgh spent all of $4 million for this edge rusher. Back in the spring, we wrote why signing a veteran at the No. 1 position of need may be best for Buffalo. This is why. You know what you’re getting, instead of gambling on more first- and second-rounders who may or may not pan out. (What a spin move this was on Dion Dawkins.)

  • Jameis Winston has been waiting for this moment and he did not waste it. This five-touchdown, zero-interception debut as the Saints starter was no aberration, either. The Saints’ defense is loaded and, with or without Michael Thomas, there’s more than enough ammo on offense for this team to score 30-plus points consistently. Sean Payton knew what he was doing all along. The head coach took a full season to rebuild one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league. It’s clear his playbook only opens up with a quarterback capable of throwing it deep, too.

  • The Bears really need to get behind Justin Fields. There’s no logical reason to trot Andy Dalton out there. The Jaguars and Jets aren’t looking back and neither should the Bears. Sunday night’s loss to the Rams was more of the same from a regime that easily could’ve been let go back in January.

  • Good for Tyrod Taylor. It’s been a rough few years. After getting benched for Nate Peterman in Buffalo (and ending the playoff drought, anyways)… after a concussion knocked him out in Cleveland… after his own team doctor punctured his lung in Los Angeles, the veteran QB got another shot in Houston and did not disappoint. Against the Jags, Taylor completed 21 of 33 passes for 291 yards, two scores, no picks and another 41 rushing yards. How many quarterbacks pull this off, too? Maybe the Texans are a mess, but it’s easy to root for Taylor.

  • It’ll be impossible to predict which running back and which wide receiver go off, week to week, but I think we can count on San Francisco scoring at will through the 2021 season. In a 41-33 win to start the season, Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel did the damage. Trey Sermon? The back we all thought would blow up in this offense? He was a gameday inactive.

  • No, it’s not time to declare the Packers’ season lost. One year ago, the Saints blasted Tampa Bay by the same 38-3 score in the middle of the season and Tampa Bay, of course, went on to win it all. Still, Aaron Rodgers hasn’t looked this bad since the 2018 season that got his head coach fired. The Packers sure put up with a lot of nonsense all offseason long. They were A-OK being publicly humiliated for drafting Jordan Love one year prior. You all know how I feel about this — Green Bay missed a golden opportunity to score an unlimited supply of picks and players to rebuild for a new era. I’m not quite sure how much this team will get in a trade next offseason for a quarterback who plays like this.

  • OK, fine. We’ll bring up Patrick Mahomes. How can we not? He has conditioned us to expect ridiculousness every Sunday. Was there really any doubt he’d erase Cleveland’s double-digit lead with throws like this 75-yard touchdown across his body? He’s still a human cheat code and the Chiefs are still the standard in the AFC.

  • Were we all wrong about the Philadelphia Eagles? Wow. Maybe so. They obliterated the Falcons. Jim Monos and myself have certainly poked fun at Howie Roseman on the podcast yet, in Week 1, Roseman looked like a smart man. Quarterback Jalen Hurts was dominant in the 32-6 blowout with 264 passing yards, 62 rushing yards and three scores. Keep an eye out for an in-depth conversation with one veteran on this Eagles team soon at Go Long. Maybe we shouldn’t have been sleeping on this team.

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