We have reached perhaps the bleakest crossroads of the Pete Carroll coaching era in Seattle.
The Seahawks stand 2-3, already three games off the pace in the NFC West. The only sub-.500 seasons in 11 years under Carroll were his first two after inheriting a five-win team — and in one of those, they made the playoffs and got a win.
They have the worst defense in the NFL, statistically, and just like in the first half of last season, are threatening to set unwelcome records for yards allowed.
Their shrewd drafting, which set into motion the Super Bowl runs of 2013 and ’14 and fueled the playoff teams that followed, has been notably less astute in recent years.
And the 2020 trade for Jamal Adams depleted their stock of high draft picks while yielding a player who is still struggling to fit into the Seattle system.
Now comes the most ominous development of all — the first significant injury in the career of franchise quarterback Russell Wilson, whose ascension as a third-round pick in 2012 has coincided with the most storied era in Seahawks history.
With Wilson under center, the Seahawks have won a Super Bowl, lost another on an ill-fated play call in the last second, and made the playoffs in eight of his nine full seasons.
They are averaging 11 wins a season during his reign, after having just two seasons of at least 11 wins in the franchise’s preceding 36 years.
But as Wilson faces an extended absence following Friday’s surgery on his right middle finger, it’s fair to wonder where the team, and Wilson, go from here.
It’s not accurate to proclaim this “the end of the Wilson era” — but you might be able to see it from here.
Though the surgery, which included screws to stabilize the finger, has been estimated to have a six- to eight-week recovery time, Carroll proclaimed Wilson “one of the great healers of all-time.”
You know he’s going to aim to beat that timetable.
The Seahawks’ statement on the surgery said, “It is highly anticipated that he will return to play later this season.”
But even if Wilson were to make it back on the field in 2021 — and I have no doubt he will — that doesn’t mean that the season is salvageable.
And it’s not hard to envision a scenario where the frustration that emerged from the Wilson camp last offseason resurfaces this year — with the possibility of a different outcome this time.
Remember, at this point last year, the Seahawks were 5-0 and Wilson was the consensus leader in the MVP race — and it still fell apart.
This year, they were already struggling mightily before Wilson’s injury.
His replacement, Geno Smith, showed Thursday that he has the potential to run the offense competently, but with the defensive struggles on top of a quarterback switch, it’s far easier to see the Seahawks dropping out of the playoff race than surging back in it.
If their struggles continue, it’s not hard to envision the question of trading Wilson coming to the forefront again.
He’ll be 33 in November, and wants more than anything to carve out a legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
That requires more championships.
With the clock ticking and the Seahawks facing a possible downturn, he might not see it happening in Seattle.
The issues Wilson raised last year, and the friction that was revealed, were not a media fabrication.
And when it gets to the point, as was reported in February, that his agent presented the Seahawks a list of teams to which he would agree to be traded (though no trade demand was ever issued), it’s reasonable to think it could happen again.
Especially with the potential for the 2021 season to keep going south in a hurry.
It’s important to point out that by the time training camp started this year, Wilson was in a positive frame of mind and seemingly on board with the direction of the Seahawks.
Nor has he publicly expressed any discontent this season.
Wilson had a hand in the hiring of new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, and by all indications they are in sync on offensive philosophy.
But if Wilson doesn’t see this as a place where he can prolong his legacy as the winningest quarterback through 10 seasons in NFL history — and if the Seahawks don’t want to go through another extended period of speculation and innuendo — this offseason would seem to be a much better juncture for a trade to happen.
If they had done so last year, the Seahawks would have had to take on a $39 million cap hit, with zero savings.
If they trade him next year before June 1, they would take a $26 million hit in dead money, but would get $11 million in cap savings.
After 2021, Wilson will have two more years remaining on the four-year, $140-million contract extension he signed in April 2019.
So if the Seahawks were going to wait another season to explore a possible Wilson trade, it would be complicated by the pending end of his contract and the need to start renegotiating.
In other words, if you’re going to trade Wilson — which admittedly would be a monumental decision, yet one that doesn’t seem as unthinkable as it once did — it would be much more favorable, cap-wise, after this year.
The Catch-22 in the NFL is that it’s very hard to stay competitive with an elite quarterback taking up such a disproportionate share of a team’s salary cap.
But it’s even harder to compete without an elite quarterback — and those can be incredibly hard to find. Just ask the Bears or Jets about that.
The Seahawks have been blessed to have one for a decade. But as Wilson heads to injury rehab and an uncertain future in Seattle, you have to wonder how much longer.