Before I get into this piece I want to set up two things. First of all, I had the opportunity to speak to Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss) today. Regulars will know I’ve been promoting his talents for a while now as a guy who deserves a lot more attention in terms of the draft. Expect the feature on Davis to appears on the blog in the next couple of days. I can testify that he’s as impressive during interview as he is quarterbacking the Southern Miss offense.
Secondly, I wanted to recommend this piece by Brandon Adams at 17 Power offering a perfect and considered summary of Matt Hasselbeck’s departure and the current quarterback situation. Brandon is an exceptional writer so go and visit his blog.
Now onto the main topic of discussion…
The Seahawks quarterback situation lingered in the air like a bad smell throughout the lockout. At times the debate became quite heated as fans, the media and sometimes even the players chimed in to discuss the future at the position. Would Matt Hasselbeck return? Should Matt Hasselbeck return? Will the Seahawks make a trade for Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer? Is it time to see what Charlie Whitehurst has to offer? Endless debate that often went round in circles.
ESPN’s Trent Dilfer touted Tavaris Jackson around draft time, confirmed at a later stage by John Clayton that he was indeed on Seattle’s radar. We now know that Hasselbeck will be a Tennessee Titan and probable starter for the next two years health and form permitting. We also know that Jackson and Whitehurst will seemingly start training camp fighting to be the starter.
I suspect Jackson has the edge. After all, his former offensive coordinator is now in Seattle. The Seahawks have agreed a deal with Sidney Rice, pending a medical which seems a formality if terms have been agreed and anounced. If you check out Jackson’s own web page, he lists Sidney Rice as one of his closest friends in football. He has the experience – twenty NFL starts compared to Whitehurst’s two.
It appears Pete Carroll is handing a lot of responsibility to his coaches. Tom Cable had a lot of sway during the draft where Seattle spent their first two picks on offensive lineman. The Seahawks confirmed today that they’d signed Cable’s former protege Robert Gallery to play left guard. Bevell has clearly had some influence in the team’s decision to not only sign Jackson, but also target Rice.
So this is the situation at quarterback – Jackson or Whitehurst. Frankly, it’s a mess that should’ve been avoided.
Let me qualify that statement by making it clear that I see this ‘mess’ as one inherited by Pete Carroll and John Schneider. They were correct not to commit significant years and salary to a 36-year-old starting quarterback who in fairness does not fit the athletic and physical qualities they want to build their offense around. If the idea is that this team is rebuilding and won’t peak for a year or two (or three) then why not take a look at some other guys? It’s not losing for draft stock, it’s called moving on.
However, it should’ve been much easier to move on. They should’ve been able to avoid all this drama. Why? Because the previous regime should’ve drafted a quarterback. The current situation is systematic of the negligence of the past.
In 2009, the Seahawks should’ve drafted a quarterback in round one. Tim Ruskell and the front office viewed a 4-12 record and the fourth overall pick as almost a luxury. The poor season in 2008 was purely down to injuries - whether that was to Matt Hasselbeck, the offensive line or pretty much every single wide receiver on the roster. “We’re better than that” and “We’ll be healthy and return to form” were opinions taken. This was a team that had been perennial NFC West champions after all. This was a steal! The Seahawks, Super Bowl runners up just a couple of seasons removed, pinching a top-five talent.
What a rare and exciting opportunity to spend a top-five draft pick this was. Tim Ruskell and his scouts decided it was a chance to grab the top guy on their board who fit all of their criteria. Of course, that also meant the top guy that made it through the many layers that Ruskell insisted upon with his picks (four year starter, big school, good character etc).
The decision was made to draft Aaron Curry, a move much loved by the media and a large portion of the fan base. It’s not just with hindsight that we look back and almost collectively see that was a massive mistake. A few argued such at the time (ahem).
Essentially, it was a short term move. Curry was awarded the usual tags of ‘pro-ready’ and ‘safe pick’ with the assumption being his position (linebacker) was easy to learn. There were no character concerns and he performed brilliantly in work outs and during the combine, so Seattle drafted a $60m linebacker and hoped he would hit the ground running. Get everyone else healthy, fill holes with wasteful free agent cash (TJ Houshmandzadeh) and go for wins. They had to manufacture the positional need by trading Julian Peterson (who admittedly was reaching the end of his prime) but Curry was a can’t miss prospect! How could it go wrong?
Well for starters, Curry had no history in college of pass rushing ability. He wasn’t even asked to rush the passer, often standing deep behind the line of scrimmage and acting as a heat seaking missile to the ball. Curry recorded nine total sacks in four years at Wake Forest. Pass rush isn’t the be-all and end-all, but if you’re spending $60m on one defensive player, you generally want him pressuring the quarterback or shutting down one side of the secondary. Not many teams spend big at linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.
Curry had all the athletic qualities, but not the instinct. He looks like a player who has worked to become a great physical specimen but ultimately plays like the third round grade he was given by the draft committee prior to his senior year.
What happened in 2009 after drafting him? The Seahawks weren’t quite as good as some thought. This was an ageing team with key players either already gone (Shaun Alexander, Steve Hutchinson) or getting close (Walter Jones, Patrick Kerney).
Matt Hasselbeck was also getting close to the end of the road.
When the 2009 season began, Hasselbeck was approaching his 34th birthday after an injury plagued previous season. He had two years left to run on his contract. That absolutely was the perfect opportunity to draft a guy, let him sit for two years and be the natural successor when Hasselbeck’s contracted ended after the 2010 season. A plan for tomorrow, some forward thinking at the most important position in football. It was the ideal moment to draft a quarterback.
If Ruskell and co. believed the team were better than their 2008 record suggested, then replace Julian Peterson with a younger and cheaper option (they found David Hawthorne as an UDFA) and let the quality of the team you believe in afford you the opportunity to bank a quarterback for the future.
Of course it’s easy to look now at Mark Sanchez (drafted 5th overall) and say that should’ve been the pick. He’s performed at least to a satisfactory level to get the Jets to successive playoff berths despite never having a chance to sit and learn. Josh Freeman is another. I never seriously considered Freeman to be an option for the Seahawks at #4 given his lack of polish as a passer - even despite the fact he worked out in Seattle prior to the draft. I graded him in the top ten of a few mocks but actually had him going to the Jets in the teens when all was said and done.
Two quarterbacks who have both had significant impacts for their team. Two quarterbacks who have started quickly. Two quarterbacks who are the future of their teams.
And yes, hindsight is great. But we can safely say the previous regime blew this one. Rather than awaiting the Sanchez or Freeman era in Seattle – with either having had two years research on living like a pro – it’s the Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst show. A major missed opportunity to take a chance on a quarterback for the long haul.
Carroll and Schneider can do nothing but make the most out of a bad situation. They may get an opportunity to get this right in the future. However, it’s actually very difficult (even with Jackson and Whitehurst) to ‘earn’ a top five pick. Seattle were just as poor in 2009 as 2008 and only managed the 6th overall pick after a 5-11 record. Playing in the NFC West makes it even harder to be so bad you finish with the 0-4 wins you might need to pick from the cream of the QB crop.
Would that be enough to get Andrew Luck in 2012? No. It may not be enough to get Matt Barkley either should he declare.
And this dire situation was all created by the absolute neglect of any forward thinking at such a key position. A cog to build around and continue Seattle’s NFC West dynasty lost. An expensive linebacker acquired instead. No obvious answer to who can be the next great Seahawks quarterback after Matt Hasselbeck.
Let’s hope it can be solved soon. With the signing of Sidney Rice and major investment in the offensive line/running game, the Seahawks have created a good environment for a quarterback to thrive. Maybe that can be Jackson or Whitehurst? Or maybe it’ll be a different player not currently on the roster to be acquired or drafted later.