In the last week we’ve been discussing the very likely proposition that Seattle won’t be drafting a quarterback early this year. With options limited in the first round and possibly better value to be had elsewhere in round two, we need to prepare for another twelve months of quarterback game tape study and wondering when this team will end a 20-year drought to draft a quarterback in round one.
Of course, that’s not to say the Seahawks won’t upgrade the position at all this off-season. In fact, I expect they will do somethingwhen free agency and the trade market opens in mid-March. Charlie Whitehurst is out of contract and doesn’t look likely to be re-signed. Josh Portis remains untested and an unknown quantity. It appears unrealistic that this franchise – being built around competition – would drift into next season with Tarvaris Jackson’s only competition coming in the form of a rookie and/or Josh Portis.
When the Seahawks signed Jackson, they were clearly making the best of a bad situation. Matt Hasselbeck’s deal with Tennessee was tough to match given the cost, length and commitment. The Seahawks likely would’ve had to offer a first round pick to better Arizona’s advances for Kevin Kolb (in hindsight, that would’ve been a catastrophic move). Jackson had familiarity with Darrell Bevell and Sidney Rice, he had a point to prove. It was a low-risk gamble. Is there another low-risk gamble to be had this year?
Jackson didn’t do enough during the 2011 season to warrant any great faith for the long term. His deal is very modest – he will earn just $4m dollars in 2012. The Seahawks have the opportunity to address the situation with a lot more time and preparation in 2012 and add a player more capable of providing a logical bridge to the future. Even if the Seahawks were open to drafting a quarterback in round two or three this year, it makes absolute sense not to throw them to the wolves. Sure – Andy Dalton wasn’t a disaster as a rookie. Here’s a list of the quarterbacks taken in rounds two and three in the five year’s prior to the 2011 draft:
2006 - Kellen Clemons, Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Brodie Croyle
2007 - Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Drew Stanton, Trent Edwards
2008 - Chad Henne, Brian Brohm, Kevin O’Connell
2009 – Pat White
2010 - Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy
In fact, in the last ten years only Drew Brees and Matt Schuab have become legitimate starters in the league having been drafted in the second or third round. Brees would’ve been a first round pick in the modern era, considering he was taken with the 32nd selection in 2001. While the 2012 group of quarterbacks aren’t directly related to the names above and therefore no more or less likely to succeed early, there’s no precedent here for finding quick starters in what we now refer to as ‘day two’ of the draft. Pete Carroll has been quite open about his shift in attitude towards quarterbacks starting early, but I don’t think he’s going to force the issue.
I do, however, expect the Seahawks to still explore ways to upgrade the quarterback position and possibilities may arise during the free agency period. I don’t expect the team to make a big play for Peyton Manning and according to Scott Enyeart, there is no interest in Green Bay’s Matt Flynn. So where does that leave us? Let’s run through a few scenarios to find an option. It’s worth noting – by the way – that all of the following is pure speculation on my behalf to make a wider point. If any of the following does happen, it’ll be coincidental. Let’s refer to this as a ‘free agency’ mock draft.
I think Peyton Manning will land in Arizona, Washington or Miami. The Cardinals have the edge due to the relationship between quarterback and coach (Manning and Ken Whisenhunt are friends), the possibility to recreate what the team had with Kurt Warner and the opportunity to compete quickly within the NFC West. Manning would see Arizona as a market he can work within – away from the pressures of playing in New York or having to compete with his brother in the NFC East for Washington. Miami could come into focus, but having failed to land Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher in the last twelve months, what confidence does anyone have that they could pull off a deal for Manning?
If Arizona lands Peyton, it would free-up Kevin Kolb - with the Cardinals using the option in his contract to get out of their commitment to the former Philadelphia Eagle. With Kolb now testing the market, he could be a realistic option for the Cleveland Browns. Tom Heckert – the GM in Cleveland – was part of the front office that drafted Kolb for the Eagles. He has experience working in a variation of the West Coast Offense with Andy Reid and as we’ve talked up all week – Cleveland may not have the opportunity to draft Robert Griffin III. Although Kolb may be seen as ‘damaged goods’ at the moment, it’d be a modest low-risk move for the Browns with minimal investment – allowing them to attack the skill positions by drafting Trent Richardson and a receiver with two of their first three picks. They would still have the freedom to draft a quarterback later on if they so wished.
This would leave Washington and Miami still potentially searching for a quarterback who can start in 2012. Although I wouldn’t agree with such a move, I’ve been projecting Ryan Tannehill to Washington in round one for a few weeks now. I have a lot of issues with Tannehill and think it’d be a foolish move, but he ticks a lot of the boxes Mike Shanahan looks for in a quarterback (better throwing out of the pocket, good on naked boot legs, strong enough arm, athletic). Having missed out on Jake Locker last year, will the Redskins risk going another year without making a splash? Without finding Shanny’s guy? I’m not so sure.
So what about Miami? You’d expect Joe Philbin to show interest in Matt Flynn, although we have to acknowledge the Dolphins’ active pursuit of Kyle Orton before the 2011 season. That was a Jeff Ireland move – and he’s still part of the Miami franchise. They weren’t willing to bow to Denver’s demands at the time, but with Orton a free agent this year – there’s every chance they could reignite their interest. Flynn or Orton would be a difficult compromise for a franchise that looked to be at the heart of the Luck/RGIII battle for most of the season, but with three quarterbacks potentially off the board before they pick in the draft it might be the only realistic option. The Seahawks are still waiting to make a significant commitment to a quarterback in the Carroll/Schneider era, so are the Dolphins any more likely to search for a quick fix with a new coaching setup? And let’s not forget the performance of Matt Moore as the starter in 2011 – has he done enough to trump all other options for now?
Flynn remains the intriguing one, mainly because there are two likely suitors in my opinion. Philbin/Miami is obvious, but nobody is really talking about the Green Bay connections in Oakland. Reggie McKenzie has cleaned house since his appointment as GM and will go about shaping the Raiders in his vision. Considering he was part of the Packers franchise from 1994 until the moment he accepted the position in Oakland, it seems likely he’s going to take some influence from the way things were done in Green Bay. With Greg Knapp back as the offensive coordinator, a west coast system seems likely. Yet McKenzie is faced with a difficult situation with no tools to work with.
For starters, Oakland has no draft picks until the fifth round as things stand. Considering they lost Nnamdi Asomugha, Robert Gallery and Zach Miller in free agency, it’s likely they’ll get some compensation in the third or fourth round. However, it’s not ideal for a team needing to add talent and switch schemes going forward. What can McKenzie do to make a statement? Does he try to build around Carson Palmer, a player he has no working relationship with to date and no commitment towards? Or does he turn to Matt Flynn and try to sell him the idea of being the figure head of the Raiders rebuild?
McKenzie could see the signing of Flynn as one of the few things he can control, something that will provide a tangible shift towards a new era. Palmer is a player he’s inherited – we have no idea what he truly sees in the former Bengal other than some lukewarm backing at his introductory press conference: “Now, bringing in Carson at the time the Raiders brought him in, to me, as a player, that’s a good move. I think he’s a good quarterback. Period.” There’s every chance he’ll bite his tongue and give Palmer the chance to succeed, but he’d also be risking his own success and long term future as a GM on a player he didn’t sign. So does he shuffle along, or get active? If they want Matt Flynn – or someone else – as their quarterback, it’s their prerogative to make that move and see what they can get for Palmer. Not much, would be the answer - given a disappointing 2011 comeback, 32nd birthday and a $12m salary in which $5m is guaranteed.
Sometimes moving on alone is necessary, and moving Palmer for something even as miniscule as a late round pick would be cutting your losses and getting on with the job. It’d be painful for the Raiders fans and the team’s 2012 draft class considering the wasted first round pick, but if this team was truly committed to Palmer – they surely would’ve backed the man who made the trade? The appointment of McKenzie and subsequent removal of Hue Jackson as coach was almost an admittance of mistakes made in the midst of Al Davis’ passing. In trying to rebuild, all bets should be off for the new regime.
So… Palmer in Seattle. Here we are again - with a real sense of deja-vu. While Seahawks fans will be forgiven for being underwhelmed at the prospect of Carson Palmer, for the price of a late round pick, would it not be an intriguing short-term move? Another case of making the best of the situation? To find someone a little more adept at leading a game winning drive in a tight contest? Someone who can get those extra 3-4 wins to put Seattle in contention for the playoffs again? In Jackson’s Oakland he was asked to be the difference for four quarters, in Seattle he’d merely need to be the difference in the fourth.
Like I said, this is only a speculative piece. All of the scenarios mentioned here are just suggestions for what could happen in free agency. But it does show how the Seahawks could – theoretically – add a veteran quarterback to their roster who would arguably be deemed a superior bridge to the future than Tarvaris Jackson. Even if it’s not Palmer – you can make your own suggestions if you wish – I expect the Seahawks will do something in free agency to provide that extra competition they crave. It won’t necessarily be a blockbuster trade or the addition of a player like Manning (and we can debate the merits of that on another day), but I suspect something is going to happen. And there’s simply no getting away from the familiarity and mutual respect between coach and quarterback in this instance.