The money makes it different.
Maybe it doesn’t change Russell Wilson. I don’t know if his $87.6 million contract has changed his habit of being the first one in the building studying films every day.
I don’t know if the separation remains in the preparation … or in the attainment.
Should his Twitter name go from DangeRuss to ProspeRuss?
He’s always seemed a genuinely squared-away guy, so maybe he’s putting in the same amount of work that earned him the big money in the first place.
He’s earned the benefit of the doubt for a while, having played as well as he did during his bargain rookie contract.
But one change regarding the nouveau-riche Seahawks quarterback is indisputable: The way we all evaluate him.
His success has lifted the expectations for production. But it’s the money that invited the critical scrutiny.
What was not to like during the last three seasons? Wilson was the lovable third-round underdog who led the team to two Super Bowls. He was accurate and versatile and surprisingly durable.
Besides, he was a Pro Bowl quarterback playing for millions less than his veteran backup.
Yes, he had the occasional yip, or tendency to try too hard to make plays. Heck, that was admirable, and he was undeniably the best young quarterback they’ve ever had.
But with the Seahawks struggling at 3-4, Wilson has five interceptions in seven games — just two off his total in all 16 regular-season games last season.
He’s been sacked 31 times, just two fewer than his entire rookie season.
His protection has been putrid. But sometimes he’s holding onto the football too long and self-sacking, or throwing into coverage. Under heavy pressure, he tries to do it all himself. It worked for a while. And can still work much of the time. But the costs are adding up.
And in the process, opponents are learning him. They’re professionals at the business of football, too. Wilson used to get so many easy completions or rushing yards with the naked bootleg. Defenses would bite down hard on the play-fake to Marshawn Lynch, and Wilson would pull it out and head against the current with a run-pass option.
Now, those backside defensive ends are staying at home, and so often Wilson is immediately thrust into scramble mode with no blockers.
The read-option play, where he either hands it to Lynch or keeps the ball, killed defenses in the second half of 2013. They’ve gotten wise to it, too.
On pass plays, blitzers and rushers used to get greedy, and crash hard off the edges, which opened the way for Wilson to duck and spin out into the open flat. Now, defenders get upfield, fence in the pocket, and then collapse in on Wilson, eliminating his escape routes.
As the defenses learned and adapted to Wilson, Wilson and those who shape the scheme have to learn and adapt to them.
It’s common. Most quarterbacks, even those at the Pro Bowl level, go through career plateaus. Wilson has been a gem, as a quarterback and leader. And he’s not halfway through his fourth season yet.
The really good ones figure out ways to stay ahead of defenses, to evolve and mature and expand their repertoires.
Specifically, Wilson will flourish when he senses the balance between standing and delivering with spinning out and taking flight. It has to be hard when he’s not sure from play to play which bad guy will be trying to crush his spleen.
He will learn that the hits are cumulative, each extracting a toll and subtracting time and effectiveness off a career.
If Wilson plateaus and continues at this level, he’ll still probably be the best long-term quarterback the Seahawks have ever had.
But if he can polish off a few rough spots, maybe we’ll look back at this fourth season as the one where he learned how to get to the next level.
If not, we might see this as the point where his trajectory flattened out, and he will be known as a very, very good and admirable quarterback.
One who became extremely wealthy in the process.