RENTON, Wash. -- Russell Wilson plopped his sweaty body into a low, well-cushioned lounge chair outside the locker room at the Seattle Seahawks' plush training facility and flashed a self-satisfied smile, an expression befitting a 30-year-old quarterback who recently became the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Having just completed a typically impressive practice at last Wednesday's OTA session at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Wilson looked drained, but his optimism was unrestrained. The eighth-year veteran discussed the arc of an already stellar career virtually no one saw coming -- one which began with him seizing the starting job as an undersized third-round draft pick, continued with a pair of Super Bowl trips that left him two feet away from hoisting back-to-back Lombardis and, in 2018, saw him spur one of the sport's most stunning rebuild-on-the-fly success stories in recent memory -- in a manner that portrayed his entire body of work as a mere launching point.
"I feel like I'm just getting started," Wilson said, his voice rising with excitement. "That's the scary part. That's the most exciting part. That's really where I believe that I am right now: I'm just getting started. And I believe this team is just getting started. So, I think that we can do anything that we set our minds out to do."
Relentless positivity is standard practice for Wilson, but he seems to be in a headspace of unprecedented happiness. His high-profile marriage to R&B singer Ciara has exposed him to the joys of fatherhood -- they have a two-year-old daughter, Sienna, and Wilson is a stepfather to five-year-old Future Zahir Wilburn, Ciara's son from a prior relationship with rapper Future. His off-the-field ventures, which include a clothing brand, a recently launched production company and a charitable foundation focused on youth empowerment, appear to be thriving. And the remaking of the Seahawks, a process which removed a slew of decorated veterans with big personalities from the locker room, has left Wilson as the obvious and unchallenged leader of a young team looking to build on last season's surprising playoff appearance.
So yeah, if Wilson feels like a million bucks -- or, in this case, $140 million over four years -- he has his reasons. The quarterback, in a sentiment he shares with head coach Pete Carroll, also feels a lot like he did at the end of his revelatory rookie campaign, a bold comparison which should grab the rest of the league's attention.
Six-and-a-half years ago, a couple of minutes after Wilson's Hail Mary fell short in the Seahawks' 2012 Divisional Round defeat to the Atlanta Falcons, he famously stood outside the visitors' locker room at the Georgia Dome and exclaimed to his downcast teammates, "Hey, don't even worry about it, cause we're gonna be so (damn) good next year, it's ridiculous. Remember how this feels. Remember this when we're working all offseason. Because we're going to be right back in this situation again and again, and next time, we're gonna finish it."
Now, five months after the new-look 'Hawks suffered a 24-22 first-round playoff defeat to the Dallas Cowboys, Carroll and Wilson envision another booming breakthrough.
"We all know that's right there for us," Carroll said after last Wednesday's practice. "We're so close to being a really good football team. We can all sense it. We're having a great offseason. We're really happy with our draft class. Everybody's bought in.
"That's what it feels like -- the way it did (after 2012). I don't think anybody else thinks that. But I do. We'll see if we can deliver."
Wilson, too, thinks the 2019 Seahawks have much in common with their 2013 forebears, a defense-driven ensemble that featured brash stars like cornerback Richard Sherman, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. All have since departed, as have iconic running back Marshawn Lynch and pugnacious receiver Doug Baldwin, but Wilson sees the potential for a new generation of difference-makers to emerge.
"First of all, I think our draft class has been exceptional," Wilson said. "Guys are ready to roll; they look really great. I think the transition between guys going from their rookie year (in 2018) to their second year has been really, really impressive to see. And the offensive line looks really strong, really stout. I'm fired up about the offensive line.
"So yeah, we believe that (there are similarities to the 2013 team). We really do. We really believe that we can be as good as we want to be. And we have to create that energy, that passion, that fire every day. But there's nothing we can't do."
Two seasons ago, after falling short of the postseason for the first time in Wilson's career, Carroll and Seahawks general manager John Schneider decided to reshape the roster, retaining Wilson as the offensive centerpiece and perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker Bobby Wagner as his defensive counterpart. A tumultuous offseason began with an overhaul of Carroll's coaching staff, with Brian Schottenheimer replacing Darrell Bevell as offensive coordinator and Ken Norton Jr. displacing Kris Richard on the other side of the ball.
Seattle then parted ways with Sherman, Bennett and Avril, placed Chancellor (who has since retired) on the reserve/physically unable to perform list for the season and absorbed a contract holdout from Thomas that lasted until four days before the regular season opener. (Thomas was carted off after suffering a broken leg in the fourth quarter of a Week 4 victory at Arizona, and the final image of him in a Seahawks uniform was of the frustrated safety flashing a middle-finger salute toward the Seattle bench, seemingly for Carroll and Schneider's benefit. He signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens in March.)
Wilson absorbed 12 sacks in those games, as the Seahawks struggled to contain elite pass rushers Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Khalil Mack, among others. In that 24-17 defeat to the Bears on "Monday Night Football," Wilson threw his first pick-six since his rookie season. Early Tuesday morning, toward the end of the 'Hawks' long flight home to Seattle, Carroll turned to Schottenheimer and said, "Let's go home, get a couple of hours sleep and then talk about how we can fix this."
Their subsequent heart-to-heart featured an appeal from Carroll to shift to a run-heavy attack that could set up play-action passes for Wilson and reduce the burden on Seattle's young defense.
"Pete was awesome," Schottenheimer recalled. "He's such a positive person, and he was able to communicate his thoughts in such a constructive and unthreatening way. Russell's like that, too. He was great with it. He said, 'Whatever it takes.' He's all about winning. It doesn't matter how we do it."
Following what Schottenheimer calls "The Facelift," the Seahawks proceeded to win 10 of their next 14 games, narrowly dropping a pair of high-scoring clashes with the Los Angeles Rams, who would beat them out for the NFC West title for the second consecutive year. Second-year running back Chris Carson (247 carries, 1,151 yards, nine touchdowns in 14 games) led a revived rushing attack that thrived behind a physical ensemble of blockers, which responded to the coaching of newly hired veteran offensive line coach Mike Solari.
Wilson, who had his fewest pass attempts since 2013, nonetheless put up some very impressive stats, completing 65.6 of his throws for 3,448 yards and a career-best 35 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions. He had his highest-ever passer rating of 110.9, which boosted his career mark to 100.3 -- second only to the Packers' Aaron Rodgers on the all-time list. His 67 rushing attempts, a career low, produced another 376 yards.
"I think last year was exciting because everybody said that we couldn't be successful," Wilson said. "I knew that we were gonna be a really good team, 'cause of our coaching staff, because of the players that we have, the young guys and the work ethic. It wasn't gonna be easy. But we were willing to put the work in. We had a great culture, everybody was really fired up about it. But we didn't get to where we wanted to go."
Said Carroll of the 2018 team's run to a wild-card berth, Seattle's seventh playoff appearance in his nine seasons: "I wasn't (surprised) at all. I was disappointed we started lousy. The first two games, we sucked. Once we got going, we were pretty good."
Now, if all goes according to plan, they'll get better -- beginning with Wilson, whose aspirations are astronomical. After being selected in the third round of the 2012 draft, Wilson's initial goal was to play 12 years and win multiple Super Bowls. Now? He's expanded things a bit.
"Seven years has gone by so fast," Wilson said. "You think about just turning 30 years and what I have for the rest of my career -- for the next 10-15 years -- I'm just fired up about it. You think about some of the best quarterbacks of all time, guys like Drew (Brees), guys like Tom (Brady), who (are playing into their 40s). I really look up to those guys. There's so much more to do."
Did Wilson say 15 years... meaning he plans to play until he's 45?
"Yeah, yeah," he replied. "That's the goal. I'm just fired up for it."
Wilson, who abides by strict dietary and training regimens, insists that he has not yet reached his prime. He likens his projected career trajectory to that of a hockey stick -- the first seven years having proceeded at a slight incline, mirroring the shape of the blade, and the years to come following the vertical ascent of the shaft.
"It's kinda like, 'OK, boom, now it's time to take off' -- and that's really where I want to go," Wilson said. "I guess what I mean is, I feel like I'm just getting started."
On a psychic level, Wilson's road to success has never been so free and clear. For all his obvious intangibles -- work ethic, intelligence, competitive fire, etc. -- the quarterback has at times been stigmatized from within his own locker room. Because of his strong relationships with Carroll and Schneider, some teammates viewed Wilson as a teacher's pet. Additionally, there have been complaints that he is too image-conscious. There was also the infamous 2014 Bleacher Report article suggesting some Seahawks felt Wilson wasn't "black enough," along with the 2017 ESPN story detailing various forms of internal resentment toward the QB.
Now, most of the strongest-willed Seahawks from that seven-year stretch of bombast and brilliance have left the building, and Wilson's leadership is virtually unchallenged. From Schottenheimer's vantage point, it's hard for Seattle's offensive players not to follow their quarterback's lead.
"He's a great leader," Schottenheimer said. "He's probably the most optimistic player I've ever been around. When the game's in the balance, he believes that somehow, some way, the game's gonna work out -- the team's gonna pull it out. We can be down 14 points with three minutes to go, and he'll be on the sidelines like, 'I've got this. Don't worry.' That marries him to Pete. And he can draw back to so many experiences when that faith was rewarded.
"As far as his preparation, he's the only quarterback I've ever known who makes his own detailed scouting report about each week's opponent. He gets that done on Tuesday and then has it waiting for the other offensive players when they come in Wednesday morning. And it's a good scouting report. I mean, we do our own as coaches, but if for some reason we couldn't do it one week, it would be fine, because his would be a legitimate replacement."
Wilson is also allowing himself to be a bit more vulnerable than in the past, both in terms of his public persona (as evidenced by some recent social-media posts) and within the fabric of the team. Never was that more obvious than in April when Schneider and Wilson's agent, Mark Rodgers, narrowly beat a player-imposed deadline to hammer out an agreement on a contract extension; otherwise, Wilson had told his bosses, he would play out the final year of his deal and force the team to apply the franchise tag (not a sustainable long-term solution), trade him or allow him to test the free-agent market.
After Wilson, who had fallen asleep, took a 12:20 a.m. phone call from Rodgers and signed off on the deal, the shirtless, chain-wearing quarterback and his wife revealed the news to his social-media followers via a selfie video shot while they caressed in bed. Hours later, Seahawks teammates Tyler Lockett and D.J. Fluker spoofed the video via an entertaining reenactment in which Fluker played the role of Ciara.
When Wilson reported for OTAs at the Seahawks' facility later that morning, he walked into the auditorium where a full-team meeting was about to begin and was greeted by celebratory yelps.
"The best part was just the teammates, us celebrating together," Wilson said. "As soon as I came in the room, everybody just said, 'Let's go!' and was fired up. Then, when we had our offensive meeting, and they flashed that video (of Lockett and Fluker) on the screen, I was dying laughing. That was epic. It may have been the best part of it."
Getting a contract of that magnitude meant something else to Wilson: "I'll say this: I think about how much hard work you have to put in to being in the fortunate position I am today -- of being able to start in this league, to be one of 32 men in the world -- and also to be doubted this whole time, from an outside perspective, but to be able to know that I feel like I'm just getting started ... and know where I think this team can go."
If Wilson and his head coach are right about this hunch -- that a recently overhauled Seahawks team can elevate its play to a championship level faster than virtually anyone believed was possible -- well, it will be a testament to each man's faith and follow-through.
Unless and until that happens, there will be doubters, presumably including some with first-hand knowledge of that faith.
"Those guys that aren't here (anymore) would say, 'No way,' " Carroll conceded. "But I love our core, and it's got the makings of a really good team."
Wilson doesn't seem to be expending much mental energy worrying about the ghosts of the Seahawks' recent past.
"I think we've had a lot of great players in the past," he said, "and hopefully we'll have a lot of great players now."
This much we know: The 2019 'Hawks will have a grateful quarterback, 30 going on 45, who believes he's just getting started.