Russell Wilson, almost an Eagle

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson speaks with reporters Tuesday from the Seahawks media hotel in Jersey City. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson speaks with reporters Tuesday from the Seahawks media hotel in Jersey City. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Posted: February 01, 2014

JERSEY CITY, N.J. - It's become the stuff of legend, how close the Eagles were to drafting Russell Wilson.

A year ago that miss looked like a fatal mistake. Now, not so much, even though the second-year quarterback will be playing against the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Eagles have Nick Foles, after all, and the argument could be made that he had a better 2013 regular season.

But the two quarterbacks, both selected in the third round of the 2012 draft, will always be linked. The Eagles passed on Wilson in the second round, watched the Seahawks snatch him early the next round, and ended up taking Foles 13 picks later.

"Yeah, there was definitely tons of interest from the Eagles and several other teams," Wilson said this week. "I had met with them several times and all that. I liked where the Eagles were from. I'm from the East Coast, so it wasn't far away from home."

Andy Reid's affinity for Wilson had been known in league circles before the draft. The Eagles coach divulged to a handful of reporters on the final day of the draft that he had Wilson and Foles rated closely, but that the Seahawks made their decision an easy one.

But former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, in an interview last month, said that Reid had Wilson rated slightly ahead of Foles and he had it the other way. They liked both a lot, but as the saying goes, if they liked Wilson so much why didn't they draft him earlier?

"It's real common for people to say, 'Hey we loved that guy, too,' " Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "And we got phone calls right after that sitting in the draft room from people saying, 'Oh, we were going to take him with the next pick.' "

And then Carroll added a sarcastic, "Who knows?"

The Eagles weren't the only team that reportedly wanted the Wisconsin quarterback but failed to pull the trigger. The Seahawks would have faced the same criticism if some other team beat them to the punch after they selected linebacker Bobby Wagner in the second round.

Seattle general manager John Schneider said he sweated over the next 27 picks, one of which was the Eagles' drafting of defensive end Vinny Curry.

"To a certain extent, quite honestly, I prayed about it a bunch," Schneider said.

Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden had already gone in the first round. The Broncos, who were also sniffing around Wilson, took Brock Osweiler in the second round, 18 picks before the Seahawks plucked Wilson.

"John had it pegged perfectly," Carroll said. "He'd been particularly sweating it out in the second round because he wasn't sure he was right, but he had it nailed."

The New York Jets were also reportedly interested in Wilson, but they held the 14th pick in the third round while the Seahawks selected two spots ahead. When Seattle drafted Wilson there was some surprise because Carroll and Schneider had just signed Matt Flynn as a free agent.

And there were, of course, concerns about Wilson's 5-foot-11 height.

"He's never seen a different way," Schneider said. "Beyond that, he's able to find passing lanes naturally. He moves a lot. He's very similar to Drew Brees in the pocket. You can watch the way he moves and slides and finds lanes. He's very smart with the ball."

After they took Wilson, Schneider, in an April 2012 interview, said: "Two guys I respect called me right after to cuss me out." Reid doesn't curse, but he and Schneider were close during their time together in Green Bay.

Schneider first fell in love with Wilson when he single-handedly quarterbacked Wisconsin past Michigan State during his senior season. The Seahawks were all over him at the Senior Bowl, but so, too, were the Eagles. Reid met Wilson at the combine and was sold.

Reid, wary of Michael Vick, had already flirted with the idea of trading up for Griffin or signing Peyton Manning. The Eagles were one of many teams that brought Wilson to their facility for a visit. The Broncos also did. Manning, who had just signed as a free agent, recalled shaking Wilson's hand upon the visit.

Broncos coach John Fox said he first became aware of Wilson when he was coaching the Panthers and the Richmond, Va., native was starring at N.C. State before transferring to Wisconsin.

"He's a tremendous young man," Fox said. "What he's accomplished in a very short time in our league doesn't surprise me at all - just his makeup, his leadership ability, and just the kind of competitor he is."

It didn't take long before Wilson won the starting job over Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson. He started from Game 1 and finished the season with a 100 passer rating as the Seahawks went 11-5 and reached the second round of the playoffs.

The next season - this one - he upped his passer rating (101.2), Seattle improved its record (13-3), and Wilson is a victory away from giving the Seahawks their first Super Bowl title.

It's pointless to speculate over what might have been had the Eagles drafted him. There are too many variables to consider. Foles could turn out to be the better quarterback.

Maybe it was never meant to be. Wilson said that before the draft he placed the names of all 32 teams in a hat and picked one name out. It was the Seahawks.

"It was a blessing for me," Wilson said. "I didn't care where I got picked. Whatever team picked me I was going to try and make the other 31 teams regret it."

Could one team regret it more than the other 30?


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

|
|
|
|
|