Jan 5, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) in action during an NFC Wild Card playoff football game between the Cowboys and the Seahawks at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The height of the NFL offseason usually brings with it the early rumblings of big-money, long-term contract extensions, so when the news broke that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was seeking a new deal, it hardly sent shockwaves through media newsrooms.
Until, that is, we discovered more about the parameters of the negotiation. Per NFL Insider Ian Rapoport, Wilson has given Seattle’s front office a deadline of April 15 — which marks the start of his team’s offseason program — for a new deal to be in place. If no agreement is reached by then, Wilson will still show up, he will participate in all offseason activities and he will play through the 2019 season under his current four-year, $87.6 million contract. However, Wilson’s side has stressed that negotiations will be effectively ceased thereafter. This, of course, would make him a candidate for the franchise tag next offseason, and that has opened up legitimate questions about whether 2018’s sixth-highest graded quarterback will be back in Seattle come the start of the 2020 campaign.
Like with all contract negotiations, reports from both camps should be taken with a grain of salt – but that relatively well-known principle hasn’t stopped members of the national media from unleashing their takes about the six-time Pro Bowler’s value and on-field production. Luckily enough, we at Pro Football Focus have spent the last 13 years watching and grading every player on every play of every game, and we can rely on the data that we’ve collected over that time to effectively measure and rank player performance. We can also use that data to cut through the noise of click-bait soundbites and debunk the results of the eye tests that have been completed with the help of blurred vision.
Wilson is not inconsistent. He is not easily replaced with a second-string quarterback. He’s shown no signs of being past his prime, and he’s certainly not worth trading away for merely a couple of first-round draft picks. Wilson is — and has been for some time — one of the league’s best at the position; he should be Seattle’s number one priority.
[Editor’s Note: Quarterback stats in this story can be found in our QB Annual, which is available to all PFF EDGE & ELITE subscribers. The QB Annual contains detailed profiles, exclusive signature stats, grades and much, much more. If you don’t have EDGE or ELITE, you can sign up here, while existing subscribers can download the QB annual here.]
Even in his 2012 college season, Wilson was a step above the rest, and he should serve as a glowing lesson to all who believe that measurables like height and hand size somehow trump talent and elite on-field production. After Wilson’s final year with the Badgers, which earned the fourth-highest overall grade that we’ve ever given to a college quarterback (93.6), Wilson was lauded for being a stellar passer who possessed the required arm strength and accuracy, and he was praised for his outstanding football intelligence and leadership qualities. Yet, come draft day, Wilson’s 5-foot-11 frame made all 32 front offices look past a player who had, on a snap-by-snap basis, separated himself from the pack. Wilson slipped into the third round of the draft and watched as players like Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler got their names called before his.
And Seattle should thank their lucky stars that he did because Wilson came into the building and did what he had done at Wisconsin just a year before: He picked up the offense in a short time and was named the team’s opening-day starter. Eighteen games later, a stellar rookie season concluded with an elite overall grade of 90.5 which ranked second to only Peyton Manning and is still to this day the highest single-season grade that we’ve ever given to a rookie signal caller. But that was only the beginning of things to come.
His rookie year was a sign of a bright future, and it set the stage for a career that has made even the most competent defensive coordinators lose sleep. Wilson has now graded at 74.0 or higher in all seven of his professional seasons; the only other quarterbacks to do so in that span? Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan – an elite group to be a part of. Wilson’s most recent season, the 2018 campaign, was his best since his infamous rookie season; he finished the year ranked sixth among quarterbacks with an overall grade of 89.2 that was propped up by a third-ranked passer rating from a clean pocket (122.1) and a league-leading big-time throw percentage (8.9%).
Given his year-to-year consistency, it comes as no surprise to see that he’s been as equally as consistent on a game-by-game basis throughout his time in the league. Since entering the NFL in 2012, Wilson has recorded 28 single-game grades of 80.0 or higher, which is the sixth-best mark among quarterbacks in that span. More impressively, however, is that out of the 112 regular season games since his NFL debut, Wilson has recorded just four single-game grades of 50.0 or lower. To put that number into perspective, Ryan Tannehill (6) and Josh Rosen (6) both recorded more sub-50.0 game grades in 2018 than Wilson has throughout his entire career, while Mitchell Trubiksy, Blake Bortles and Sam Darnold — all of whom were top-five picks — matched as many sub-50.0 game grades in 2018 as has Wilson has had in seven years of play.
Since 2012 (including the postseason), Wilson has received a negative grade on just 7.1 percent of his offensive snaps, which is the second-best figure among the 66 quarterbacks with at least 2000 offensive snaps in the PFF era. His positively-graded play rate of 16.3 percent is good for 10th, and his entire body of work as a pro has culminated in an overall career grade of 92.6 which ranks behind only Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger for the seventh-best mark among quarterbacks over the last 13 seasons.
That is not the resume of a dispensible, middle-of-the-road player that the Seahawks can afford to let go. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
As our analytics team has discussed at great length, a quarterback’s production from a clean pocket is the most stable statistic to use when it comes to evaluating and predicting quarterback performance, and it’s in this precise situation where Wilson has shined throughout his tenure in Seattle.
From the 92.1 clean-pocket passing grade he earned as a rookie to the career-high 92.6 clean-pocket passing grade he earned in 2018, Wilson has produced a clean-pocket passing grade of at least 75.0 in each of his professional seasons, with…