Sunday, February 17, 2013

2013 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part VII: Quarterbacks

Seattle fans have come to expect a bonanza every off-season since Pete Carroll and John Schneider have taken over. A full 19 of the 22 starters on offense and defense for the 2013 Seahawks will have been added since those two took over. But this off-season will be different. Few starting jobs are up for grabs. Rookies will struggle to make the roster. Free agents will have to fight for playing time. I will be dissecting the roster position-by-position in an eight-part series, culminating in a recommended off-season recipe for the Seahawks.

Part I: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Part II: Defensive Line
Part III: Secondary
Part IV: Linebackers
Part V: Offensive Line
Part VI: Running Backs & Fullbacks
Part VII: Quarterbacks
Part VIII: Summary & Recommendations


State Of The Position
There was a time when Charlie Whitehurst was the big move at quarterback for John Schneider and Pete Carroll. They surrendered more to to get him than maybe any other player currently on the roster. That didn't work out so well. Tarvaris Jackson was the next step. He was a guy clearly brought in to bridge the gap between Matt Hasselbeck and whoever would be the next Big Guy, but if he had excelled, there was a chance for him to take that mantle. Those two players combined to appear in 24 games for the Seahawks in 2010 and 2011. Russell Wilson did in 18 games as a rookie what may have taken 24 more games for the previous two to accomplish.


Wilson gained significantly more total yards, nearly doubled the touchdown output, and threw far fewer interceptions in six fewer games. It is this efficiency that makes Wilson one of the NFL's best quarterbacks after just one season. No rookie quarterback has ever thrown for more touchdowns in his first season. Remember, Peyton Manning never made the playoffs as a rookie. Wilson ended the year with 29 passing scores.

He is a transcendent player that combines unequaled work ethic with uncommon moxie and superior athletic ability. The only quarterback in the NFL I would strongly consider a trade for would be Andrew Luck or possibly Colin Kaepernick. People that limit their evaluation to on-field performance are blinding themselves to a huge part of the game. Wilson's contract-to-performance ratio in unmatched. Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback, but is he really 18X the player Wilson is? Because that's how much more Rodgers will be paid in 2013. I am not sure any player in the NFL is even twice the quarterback Wilson is, and who knows what he will be with a full off-season of practice.

Wilson had a fantastic rookie year, but do not be blinded by the results and numbers. He still has a long way to go as a quarterback. That is a good thing. He can be better, a lot better. Wilson took longer to throw the ball than any other quarterback in the NFL. Some of that was his scrambling, and some of that was his stubbornness to wait for a deep route to develop, but some of it was a lack of anticipation and rhythm. One of the biggest blind spots for Wilson was swinging the ball out to his backs when the primary down-field options were taken away. Many of the sacks he took were due to this shortcoming. Making that check-down automatic will make him harder to defend and keep his offense moving forward more often.

He is greedy in a good way. He wants chunk plays, and trusts his ability to evade the pass rush until those options are available. That confidence is well earned, but defenses will take advantage of rigidity and predictability. It will be much harder to scheme against Wilson if they have to spy on him for scrambling, rush the edges, cover the deep routes and account for the swing pass all on the same play. There are only so many defenders. Repetition should lead to a much more decisive Wilson in 2013.

Matt Flynn handled this past season like few other players in his position would have. The historians will say Wilson clearly beat out Flynn in the pre-season. That simply was not true. He may have equaled Flynn, and some coaches lean toward the younger player in those situations. There is no need to re-hash that fascinating time in Seahawks history, except to say that Flynn did nothing to lose that starting opportunity. He kept his frustrations in the locker room, and according to a number of players, was instrumental in helping Wilson get his head right for the second half of the Falcons playoff game.

Both the team and the player have reason to explore a change of scenery. Flynn is still young, and is better than a number of the starters in the NFL. Seattle would like to reduce the salary associated with their backup quarterback, and get some compensation in terms of draft choices or players. They will not give him away, and will keep him through next season if they do not get offers worthy of the risk associated with revamping that position.

Part of Seattle's strength is the knowledge that they have two players that could lead this team deep in the playoffs at the QB position. Flynn's salary is not so great as to force the Seahawks to make a move. Schneider can afford to be patient.

2012 Seahawks Free Agent Quarterbacks:

  • None

Seahawks Quarterbacks Under Contract:

  • Russell Wilson
  • Matt Flynn

Free Agents
There are a few free agents that could make some sense for the Seahawks to bring into camp. They would be looking for a guy that could potentially offer some of the same things that Wilson does in terms of running, but that is not requirement. Fans seem to think that the backup must be a clone of the starter, but any coach would take a more talented quarterback over a more similar style quarterback. The challenge with a free agent signing is that it could complicate the Flynn trade scenarios if teams assume he will be cheaper to acquire after the team spends more money on a free agent. None of these options are particularly costly, and some would likely sign with very small guarantees that would not cause the team to hesitate if it made sense to release them later, or trade them the way they did with Barrett Ruud last season.

Josh Johnson
This may be the best option of the bunch. Johnson was in the 49ers camp last season and outplayed Scott Tolzien, but was released. There was some speculation that Johnson needed to win the back-up job to stick. Seattle brought him in for a tryout late in the year, but did not sign him. He is just 26, has a good arm and clocked a 4.4. He signed with Cleveland late in the season, but should be an unrestricted free agent.

Chase Daniel
Daniel has been Drew Brees' protege for the last few years, and would likely be looking for a chance to start or at least a spot where the starter is less entrenched than Wilson. Still, he has the competitive spirit, good arm and inventive scrambling ability to be worth a look. He would also make Wilson feel less short. Daniel is only 6'0".

Dennis Dixon - UPDATE: Dixon signed a two-year deal with the Eagles
Dixon is a guy I have brought up the last two off-seasons. He played reasonably well in the pre-season and limited regular season opportunities. He has a good arm, but struggles with accuracy and decision-making at times. He is also a capable runner. He is on a practice squad, but can be signed away to an active roster, something he declined to do at least once last season.

Tarvaris Jackson
A number of folks have brought up the potential of Jackson coming back to Seattle. That ended when he re-signed with the Bills this past week.


Draft
There is only one player I believe is a real option in the draft. If Flynn is really on his way to another team, the Seahawks need a legitimate back-up. Matt Barkley is the only player this front office would trust as a rookie to take that mantle. He is heady, humble and a hard worker. The fact that Barkley is even in the mix is unexpected. He was a likely Top 10 pick last year if he had left school, but he returned and had a less impressive season than most had hoped to see and then was injured late. Many have him getting drafted in the second round at this point. Trading out of the first round could put the Seahawks in perfect position to nab Barkley.

Most will think this is just nuts. Wilson is the franchise quarterback and there are real pressing needs on this roster. Why in the world would the team spend it's first pick on another quarterback? Forget, for a second, the fact that people said similar things about drafting Wilson after spending money on Flynn or taking Kirk Cousins after Robert Griffin III. The reality is the front office is looking for a good match of value-to-cost. Taking a player like Barkley solidifies the back-up role for at least the next 2-3 years, which allows the front office to shift money and picks to other parts of the team. Quarterback is also one of the few positions where investing in a back-up can yield significant returns later. A few stellar pre-seasons for Barkley, and possibly a good spot start here or there, and he could be worth a first-round pick and then some in three years.

It certainly is more appealing than reaching for a need elsewhere. The other guys in the draft just are not advanced enough to feel comfortable taking them with the idea of having them be the back-up right away. Carroll knows what Barkley is capable of. If they spend a later draft choice on a quarterback, it will be because they intend to use one of the veteran free agents in that role, or possibly even keeping Flynn.

Bottom Line
Whew...finally. The Seahawks have been around since 1976, and they have never had a young franchise quarterback of Wilson's caliber. Welcome to the upper crust, Seahawks fans. This is how the other side lives. Wilson can beat teams in so many different ways, that even if he has a sophomore slump, he will still be highly productive. It would be great to see him spend a lot of time with players like Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice and Zach Miller to develop a rapport that he has with Golden Tate. That chemistry will lead to anticipation and will translate to key conversions in tight situations.

This is a player that should lead the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title, possibly as soon as next season. He should be a player that leads this team to multiple championships. He is that good, and should get better.

How the Seahawks handle the Flynn situation will have ripple effects through the rest of the off-season. It would be far worse to leave that role under-manned than to pay Flynn $8M in 2013. The most likely scenario will have the team taking conditional 2014 draft picks in return for Flynn. They do not need more picks this year, and should get higher value by deferring the picks a year.

Bringing in a guy like Josh Johnson could give the team the ultimate flexibility as he has back-up potential right away, but will not cost much to sign. They could still draft a player like Barkley and keep Johnson to allow those two to compete for the back-up spot. The cost of Barkley, Wilson and Johnson will still be less than Flynn.

All options are really on the table for this position after Wilson. The search for a young star QB has been nearly endless. Nearly. Attention now turns to how high this team can climb. The development of Wilson and the quality of the his back-up will play a large role in determining how high they get and how well they are secured should Wilson fall.

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