Monday, February 28, 2011

Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part VII: Quarterbacks

The seventh, and final, installment of this series on off-season positional analysis will look at the most important position on the field, quarterback. 

No decisions will get more scrutiny, or hear more second-guessing than the ones made by the Seahawks front office regarding the QB position. The team's first, and arguably worst, personnel move last year was to trade the house for a third-string QB that had never taken a regular season snap. Charlie Whitehurst was the source of controversy from the moment he was acquired. The controversy continued all the way through the first round of the playoffs when a loud minority of fans called for him to start over a healthy Matt Hasselbeck, largely due to his "good enough" performance in the play-in game versus the Rams. Thankfully, Pete Carroll was smart enough to stick with his more talented and more experienced QB who then rewarded him with the best game a Seahawks QB has ever played in the playoffs. Hasselbeck had an uneven season. Most people focus on his meltdown games @SF and ATL as proof that he was done. They became Whitehurst fans more because he represented "Not Matt" than because there was any reason to really believe in Whitehurst. What those fans chose to ignore was that Hasselbeck also had his best stretch of football statistically since 2002 @ARZ @NO. He showed that was not a fluke with virtuoso performances against the Saints and Bears in the playoffs. Hasselbeck made some terrible decisions during the season. He made plays your starting QB just cannot make, and should be held accountable for it. That said, he was more than capable of leading the team to the playoffs if given any kind of stability in the offensive line and receiving corps. The trio of Ben Obamanu, Mike Williams and Brandon Stokley played less than five healthy games together all year, including the playoffs. Hasselbeck was also learning his third offensive system and coordinator in three years. Continuity is key for a passing game where level of precision determines the difference between completion, incompletion and interception. 

Whitehurst played enough to prove that he will never be the answer as the future franchise quarterback. If at 29 he still has not learned how to look off a safety, step up in the pocket, or avoid throwing off his back foot, he never will. 

2011 Seahawks Free Agents: QB:
  • QB Matt Hasselbeck
  • QB JP Losman
Seahawks QB Under Contract:
  • QB Charlie Whitehurst
The Seahawks would be wise to dump Whitehurst this off-season since he has no guaranteed money, and re-load with someone who at least has the potential to replace Hasselbeck. The front office should feel somewhat validated that Whitehurst came in and won the division in the last game of the season. That means he was not a total bust, but keeping him any longer would be more about ego than about valid talent evaluation. 

Re-signing Hasselbeck makes a lot of sense. He wants to be here. He's a leader on the team. He started to develop chemistry with the receivers. And he proved he can still be a winning playoff QB. Hasselbeck represents a bridge to the future. He is not likely to ever lead the team back to the Super Bowl, but he can play with any QB in the weak NFC West to keep the Seahawks in playoff contention until the next guy is ready. There are fans who will forever now be off his bandwagon, and that's a shame. The guy has done everything you could ever ask for in a franchise player both on and off the field. 

There are a number of QB options that are worth looking at. Not all of them are free agents. A detailed breakdown can be found in this older post. There are a few I want to highlight again:

QB Kevin Kolb
Kolb is likely to be traded by the Eagles instead of leaving a year later for nothing while sitting behind Michael Vick this season. He will come at a hefty price, possibly even two first-round picks. He becomes an option if the Seahawks don't re-sign Hasselbeck, but this team has so many holes, they would be ill-advised to give up that many high picks. I wrote a whole bit on him here.

QB Matt Leinart
Many people will wince when they see this name. I think Leinart is exactly the type of player the team should be looking to sign as Hasselbeck's backup. He is better than Whitehurst, will be affordable, and has at least some potential to be future starting QB. I would not sign him to be my starter, but he's an ideal backup.

QB Carson Palmer
Palmer continues to get press regarding his willingness to retire before playing for the Bengals again. His USC ties will always bring up Carroll as a potential match, but don't fall for it. Palmer is a fine alternative to Hasselbeck if he can't be re-signed, but is certainly no better. He has played in one system with one coordinator since he got to the NFL, and never recovered from his last injury. He would be a step backward from Hasselbeck.

QB Kyle Orton
Orton should be available at a low price with Tebow taking center stage. Orton would be my #1 choice as an alternative starter if Hasselbeck cannot be re-signed. He's smart, efficient, and familiar with West Coast-style offenses. 

The draft features at least a half-dozen potential franchise QBs, including local hero Jake Locker. In the ideal scenario, the Seahawks re-sign Hasselbeck, release Whitehurst, sign a veteran backup, and draft a guy to sit for at least 1-2 seasons. That sort of plan gives the team the most chances of hitting on QB.NEXT. Maybe the backup veteran, who should only be 27-28, takes the next step and becomes a legit franchise QB. Maybe the youngster grows up and takes over a few years from now. The point is that holding onto dead weight like Whitehurst takes up a valuable roster spot with a player who has no future value. This team needs to be developing two QBs until they find the replacement. It is not easy to find a franchise quarterback, so give yourself the best chance by re-loading both the #2 and #3 roles. If Hasselbeck does not re-sign, then the team would need to go after a veteran starter like Orton, and draft a rookie. That's the one scenario where keeping Whitehurst makes sense. Changing over all three QB positions would be too costly and unruly. His contract would undoubtedly be re-worked if that were to happen. 

The three rookie QBs that could legitimately be available to the Seahawks, and would have high enough ceilings to get excited about are Jake Locker, Colin Kaepernick, and Christian Ponder. Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert will be long gone. Andy Dalton does not do a ton for me. Ricky Stanzi and Pat Devlin are not future Top 10 NFL QBs. Make no mistake about it, finding an NFL starter is not the goal. If you want to win the Super Bowl, your team needs to be after at least a Top 10 NFL QB, if not a Top 5. Shoot for high ceilings. 

What John Schneider and Pete Carroll do at this position this off-season will define their legacy with the Seahawks. Seem too dramatic? It's not. If they choose the wrong horse to hitch their wagon to, there is very little that can be done to overcome it. Their first maneuver at this position was a bust, and costly one. They cannot afford any more missteps.  

1 comment :

adnguyen1986 said...

I noticed you didn't mention Ryan Mallett on your list of possible quarterbacks we could draft. I know he doesn't have ideal speed and questionable off-the-field baggage but the arm and improvements we've seen from last season to this season have to be taken into account.

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