Seahawcalypse? Hasselbeck Era Ends, Matt Leinart and Tavaris Jackson Join Seahawks

The next time you see Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle, it will either be for an opposing team or for his induction into the Ring Of Honor. He is the best Seahawk in history. Walter Jones may have been the best player, but nobody approached Hasselbeck’s contributions to building a winner on and off the field. Emotions run high in a transition like this. Paying homage to Hasselbeck will come in a different post. The focus now is on what the moves today mean for the franchise. It takes more than the superficial analysis you will get from national sports coverage to understand what happened today.

Most “experts” will focus on all the wrong places about today’s news. Matt Leinart is a castoff bust. Tavaris Jackson is not starter material. Charlie Whitehurst is no better than Leinart or Jackson. To truly understand how the team got here, you need to strip away the names, and look at what destination the front office is trying to reach. Their goal is to win a Super Bowl. It is not about making the playoffs. It’s not winning the NFC West. Knowing that is the goal, ask yourself, given all of the Seahawks options at quarterback, would any of them made the Seahawks legitimate Super Bowl contenders this year or even next? Are miracles possible? Sure they are. We saw one just last year, but even that miracle ended well short of a Super Bowl victory.

The safe/conventional move would have been to take a QB in last year’s draft, or this year’s draft, or even trade for Kevin Kolb. That would give the front office some air cover to say they are developing a young QB. Pressure would be relieved a bit, at least for a couple of years. This front office is anything but conventional. They will assume risk when they believe the potential payoff merits it.

Strip away the names for a second and just look at these different options:

  1. Sign a veteran QB that has been injured multiple times in the last few years. Guarantee him two full years, and trust that he will be healthy enough to play both seasons. This QB would be your second-most expensive salary option, likely requiring at least $8M/year. He is the surest bet to perform well this year and next if he can stay healthy, but he has been anything but flawless the last few years. 
  2. Trade for a guy who would become your franchise QB. This guy has already proven to one reputable NFL coach that he is ready to start for a good team. Getting him will cost at least a first-round pick next year, which locks you into this player. You will not likely get another chance to acquire a franchise QB. He is also your most expensive option, likely costing $10M/year or more for 5+ years.
  3. Draft a QB in 2010 or 2011. You don’t love the QB talent in 2010, and the market for QBs in 2011 is crazy to the point where almost every QB is being drafted above their talent level. If you use a 1st-round pick to get a guy like Colin Kaepernick or Andy Dalton, you know you are reaching, but the decision would be made and your fortunes would be tied to that guy.  
  4. Create an open competition for the QB position by bringing in multiple players. Sign guys that almost every other NFL team would consider second-rate, making their price considerably less than the other options. You have one QB on your roster who is set to make $4M, but that’s not a guaranteed contract. Keep the guaranteed money among the QBs in camp small to allow for maximum flexibility in 2012. The winner of the competition likely only has a 1-2 year window to start before the true franchise QB is drafted. But, there’s always a chance you strike gold. This option gives you least likely chance to win in 2011/12, but allows you to focus on other holes on the roster.
Carroll and Schneider attempted Option #1 first. They made an offer to Hasselbeck before the lockout. It was not enough to secure his services, and they did not believe it made sense to increase that offer to meet Hasselbeck’s market demand. Why? There are a million possible reasons. The most likely is they realized they needed money to patch other gaping holes on the roster like DT, OG, and possible DE. That caused them to explore Option #2 and Option #4, after the right QB never fell to them at the right draft spot this year. 
If national reports are to be believed, the Seahawks at least made inquiries on acquiring Kevin Kolb. They obviously did not believe he was worth the asking price, which means they were not convinced he was their guy. Remember, Carroll said multiple times leading up to the 2011 draft that he and Schneider are believers in the “Aaron Rodgers” model for finding the right QB. They want to draft a guy who can sit for a few years before becoming the starter. Kolb did that for Philly, but this ain’t Philly. If you are Carroll and Schneider and your career is tied to your choice at this position, taking someone else’s kid may not feel all that comfortable.
That left the front office with an option that was not their first choice, but was one that would free up money to spend on other positions, preserve their 2012 1st round pick which will almost certainly be used on a QB for what should be a great QB class, and gives them the chance to develop a mentor for the kid they draft. For Hasselbeck to be that mentor, he’d have to stay healthy. There’s only so much mentoring you can do when the rookie QB is thrown out on the field because you are injured. Having a healthy veteran next year matters. Cap flexibility matters as well. Jackson and Leinart will compete with Whitehurst, and someone will win the starting job. Three men will enter, only two will exit. Whitehurst will be cut if he doesn’t win the battle, or at least would have to reduce his contract. Guaranteed cash for Leinart and Jackson has not been released yet. It would be a shock if either one got much. They may have guaranteed cash this season, though, which will give them a leg up on Whitehurst. 
Jackson is a guy who knows the offense and will have a big advantage coming in. He also is a guy the players respect. Multiple Seahawks have tweeted as much. Michael Robinson went as far as to say, “I’d go to war with that guy!” Leinart is the most talented of the bunch. He will be the one that benefits most from real competition. He knows this is his last shot. Whitehurst obviously knows a lot of the players, but he’s never run Bevell’s offense. 
Tom Cable will be installing a heavily run-oriented attack. The offensive line is young, and will have an easier time run-blocking than pass-blocking for some time. Having a quarterback that is mobile enough to avoid pressure is a bonus. Protecting the football will be paramount. The player who shows the best ability to pass accurately and wisely will win. My early money is on Leinart, for what that’s worth. Although, being a left-handed means rookie James Carpenter would be protecting his blind side (unless they’d flop Okung).
The Seahawks will not win the Super Bowl in 2011. Crest-fallen? Well, pick yourself up, and pay attention. There are many more decisions to be made this off-season that will have far larger long-term impact on this team’s chances of winning a Super Bowl than the QB one they just made. Put on your Seattle sports fan armor. The slings and arrows will be pouring in from all sides. People will point and laugh and mock. Let them. We are in this for the ring. Arizona can have Kolb. They are a few years from having their championship window slam shut, and Kolb won’t get them one before it closes. Let Jay Cutler tease Bears fans with good-enough-to-make-the-playoffs-but-never-win-the-big-game seasons. Those franchises are farther from winning the big game than the Seahawks because their lot has already been cast with quarterbacks that will never win it all. By the time they realize that, the Seahawks will have drafted a franchise QB and be on the way up as they crash down around them. 
Carroll and Schneider are not going the conventional route. They have earned the benefit of the doubt after last season. 
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