Russell tussle: Bears can celebrate the one who got away

Former GM Ryan Pace’s failed pursuit of QB Russell Wilson is an event Bears fans can celebrate.

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Seahawks coach Pete Carroll reportedly vetoed a potential trade that would have sent QB Russell Wilson to the Bears before the Justin Fields era.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll reportedly vetoed a potential trade that would have sent QB Russell Wilson to the Bears before the Justin Fields era.

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Things could have turned out differently for the Bears.

As Justin Fields gains confidence and respect around the league, plenty of people have jumped out to make sure folks like me give proper credit to former general manager Ryan Pace for identifying Fields’ talent and moving up in the 2021 draft to get him. It’s a valid point, but, remember, it almost didn’t happen. That’s because Pace was obsessed with putting Russell Wilson in a Bears uniform.

Imagine what that world would look like if Pace had gotten his wish. The Broncos made it happen — and they will literally and figuratively pay for it for years to come.

The Broncos continued a season of embarrassment Sunday with a 51-14 loss to the Rams. This is a Rams team whose quarterback, Baker Mayfield, arrived only two weeks ago. Before Wilson exited with an injury, he engineered another nightmare statistical day: 15-for-27 for 214 yards and a late touchdown with three interceptions.

Denver’s new ownership group wasted no time in firing coach Nathaniel Hackett. From the moment the season began, the former Packers assistant looked completely overmatched. Fixing the issues with Wilson will take a magician.

Denver traded multiple draft picks to secure a trade with Seattle to get Wilson. After that, the Broncos worked out an extension worth $242.6 million. Of that, $161 million is guaranteed. What they’ve gotten in return has been Wilson’s worst year. He has connected on only 60% of his passes while throwing 12 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. His team is 4-11.

Because of his résumé, Wilson was regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. To be fair, he has nine Pro Bowl nods in 11 seasons and played a significant role on a Super Bowl-championship team. In 2020, he threw for 40 touchdowns and 4,212 yards. Even last season, he had a 103.8 passer rating.

Wilson is a cipher. He always has seemed too polished, too savvy in interviews. I’m one of many reporters who has gone through an interview session with Wilson, only to listen to my recording and realize that he spent 10 minutes saying words that didn’t amount to anything.

As his failures have mounted, ex-teammates have been vocal about his lack of leadership. Amazon Prime Video’s Richard Sherman, a former Seahawks teammate, has delighted in Wilson’s demise — and he’s not alone in his criticism. Wilson’s leadership style and ability have been disparaged as overblown. His inability to relate to teammates has been dissected almost weekly.

What Tom Brady has done in the NFL and what LeBron James has done in the NBA have given us a false sense of athletic longevity. Forget about the winning, these two men are absolute outliers in that regard. Wilson is 34, and, until Brady came along, that’s about the time when you expected quarterbacks to decline. Wilson’s decline has been steep. He has fallen off a cliff. The idea of signing him to such a long-term deal now seems absurd.

From a salary-cap standpoint, Denver can’t afford to cut Wilson until 2025. That means two more seasons with him being an albatross on your franchise. It’s possible Wilson takes the offseason to rebuild himself and his game, but quarterbacks rarely improve in their age-35 seasons.

I recall plenty about the days leading up to the Wilson trade. The Bears were hot on his trail. The Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley chronicled Pace’s pursuit. It climaxed in a clandestine meeting in Fargo, North Dakota, with Seahawks GM John Schneider. The two discussed a deal. A stack of draft picks and Khalil Mack supposedly were involved. Schneider seemed amiable, but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll reportedly vetoed the deal. Seattle ended up getting more from Denver. And we’re all lucky for that.

Yes, the Bears and Broncos are miles from .500, but having Fields on a rookie contract puts the Bears light-years ahead of the Broncos.

And to think it could have been the Bears staring down the barrel of a disastrous contract. Shout-out to Carroll for saving Pace from himself and Bears fans from football oblivion.

You can hear Laurence Holmes talk Chicago sports Monday to Friday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 670 The Score with Dan Bernstein.

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