On Saturday I linked to an article by Yahoo’s Jason Cole where he criticises Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s approach to the quarterback position. Cole believes the Seahawks should’ve invested in ‘a guy’ by now and be building around them, with a degree of commitment to the chosen quarterback. He believes Seattle’s ‘competition’ mantra at the position is counter-productive.
Generally, I would agree with Cole. It’s just common sense that you identify a quarterback and build around them. It’s the most important position in the sport and there are significant benefits to building from the quarterback out. People like to use David Carr as an example to counter this, but let’s not forget he was leading an expansion franchise starting from scratch. There are other examples – such as Matt Ryan in Atlanta – where a team has successfully built a contender having made quarterback the #1 priority.
I suspect most Seahawks fans expected a similar process when Carroll replaced Jim Mora. The team had two first round picks in 2010 and needed to find a long term replacement for Matt Hasselbeck. Three drafts and four first round-picks later, and Seattle still hasn’t taken a quarterback in round one. April 2013 will bring about the 20th anniversary since Seattle drafted a quarterback in round one.
Frankly, I’m ecstatic about that – at least considering the last three years. Everyone wants the Seahawks to draft a franchise quarterback in round one, but nobody wants them to force the issue and make the kind of mistake that will cripple this team for years. Making a big splash on the wrong guy would be catastrophic. There’s a balance to be had here – not being too tentative to never commit, but knowing the right time to be aggressive. I have no doubt whatsoever that when that time comes, the Seahawks will be aggressive.
Cole appeared on ESPN 710 to discuss his Yahoo piece and was pushed by Brock Huard as to what he thinks Seattle should’ve done differently. The suggestion was made that they should’ve moved up for Jake Locker or Christian Ponder. Was such a deal even possible?
The Atlanta Falcons traded up from #26 to #6 in order to draft Julio Jones. To get Jake Locker, the Seahawks would’ve had to trade from #25 to #7. The team picking at #7? The San Francisco 49ers. I’m sure we can rule that one out because last time I checked, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh weren’t exactly BFF’s. Would Tennessee have dropped down from #8 to #25, allowing the Seahawks to draft Locker? Maybe, but if you have the conviction to take a quarterback 8th overall you clearly believe he’s a potential franchise talent. We very rarely see trade’s where the two parties are focused on the same player.
Christian Ponder was drafted at #12 by Minnesota. That would’ve given the Seahawks an opportunity to trade up to #9 (Dallas), #10 (Washington) or #11 (Houston). The thing is, nobody really expected Ponder to go that early. His senior year was mediocre, he’d suffered multiple injuries. To move from #26 to #6 in 2010 Atlanta spent two first round picks, a second round pick and two fourth round picks. Once that trade was completed, a market was set for any similar trades. Moving up from #25 would’ve been very expensive, costing at least two first round picks. Is Christian Ponder truly worth that level of investment?
And that’s really the issue here. It would’ve cost Seattle a kings ransom to trade for either player, yet neither has proven enough to suggest it would’ve been a worthwhile move. Locker has attempted 66 passes in the NFL and shown flashes. Ponder completed 54% of his passes and threw as many interceptions as touchdowns. If we were talking about moving up for Cam Newton here, I’d have more sympathy with the argument. But we’re not talking about Newton. And it’s interesting that Cole didn’t include Blaine Gabbert as a possible trade up target, given he dissected both Locker and Ponder by going 10th overall in the 2010 draft. Gabbert doesn’t suit Cole’s argument because he struggled as a rookie. Had the Seahawks traded up for Gabbert, it would suit the argument of making things happen. Yet because the player is a perceived failure, he’s not included? That’s too selective.
Here are the first round quarterbacks Seattle has passed on in 2010, 2011 and 2012: Tim Tebow, Brandon Weeden. That’s it. No other quarterbacks were drafted in round one having made it past Seattle.
Was an aggressive move up the board possible? Not in 2010, where St. Louis drafted Sam Bradford first overall. Division rivals don’t tend to trade with each other, as noted earlier with San Francisco. We’ve already discussed the cost of moving up in 2011. This year the Seahawks probably could’ve moved up to draft Ryan Tannehill. Dallas spent a second round pick to move from #14 to #6, so moving from #12 to #7 would’ve cost about the same.
I was never a fan of Ryan Tannehill. I see his rise and subsequent draft position as a similar reach to Jake Locker in 2011. Both players have similarities, particularly in terms of athletic potential and ceiling. I suspect that as with Locker, teams will have had extreme varying grades for Tannehill. If the Seahawks weren’t in the group that saw him as a must-have potential franchise quarterback, then why would they trade a second round pick to get him? And while Tannehill does have a lot of physical upside, I refer back to the Texas tape, Oklahoma tape and Oklahoma State tape where he had multiple turnovers and just did not look like a quarterback you want to bank your reputation on.
Throughout the draft process this year, it appears one guy really stood out for the Seahawks front office. John Schneider has talked about how he would’ve been disappointed not to come away with Russell Wilson. It’s very possible that the Seahawks had Wilson ranked higher than Tannehill on their board. Yet they knew because of his 5-10 height he’d be there in round three. So why not come away with a pass rusher, a linebacker and the quarterback you truly want? Is that not the common sense approach? Or do you spend your first two picks on a quarterback you don’t rate as highly and lose the opportunity to improve two big-time defensive needs? Imagine a scenario where you’ve traded up for Tannehill knowing your next pick will be in round three, and Russell Wilson is the clear best player available with that third-round pick. You’d be fighting the board at that point not to go QB-QB. No doubt this scenario would’ve brought about a lot of criticism too.
There are other quarterbacks the Seahawks could’ve drafted over the years. They could’ve wasted a pick on Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy in 2010. Last year they could’ve drafted Colin Kaepernick or Andy Dalton in round one, or Ryan Mallett in round two. Were any worthy of that investment? I would argue not.
Dalton is the one people keep coming back to, and I get why. He had a successful rookie season, leading the Bengals to a 9-7 record and a playoff berth. Yet there are still so many question marks.
How much of his success last year was down to the fact he’s throwing passes to the most dynamic receiver to enter the NFL since Calvin Johnson? Sure, AJ Green still needs a well thrown ball to make plays. Yet Green has taken to the pro’s in a way I’ve never experienced before. He could be the most natural pass-catcher most of us have ever seen, and there were several highlight reel plays last year where Dalton basically just tossed it up for Green to make it happen.
How much of his success was down to a weak early schedule? Here are Cincinnati’s opponents before their bye week: Cleveland, Denver, San Francisco, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Indianapolis. Take the 49ers out of the equation, and that’s a gift for any rookie quarterback. He threw five interceptions in games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore after the bye and closed the season acting as a classic game manager. After a three-pick performance against the Ravens in week 11, he had four games without topping 200 yards. He closed the season with five touchdowns in six games, compared to just one pick. He was on lockdown and picked up just three wins against Cleveland, St. Louis and Arizona.
Overall Dalton had a 20-13 touchdown-interception ratio for the regular season. Three of his nine wins came via the NFC West. Two wins came from Cleveland. The others came against Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Tennessee. I’m not trying to discredit Dalton here, but a little perspective is required when talking about what is universally regarded as a terrific rookie campaign.
Onto the playoffs, where he threw three interceptions against Houston with no touchdowns. Generally, he looked out of his depth. And this brought about a side of Dalton that has crept up in the past. When the chips are down, Dalton can lose his cool. He looked petulant on the sidelines and failed to take responsibility after the game in interviews, blaming others for key turnovers. At TCU there were times where he’d make a mistake and it’d linger for the rest of the game – leading to further mistakes. Dave Hyde at the Sun Sentinel wrote this pre-draft last year:
“Saying that Dalton’s career at TCU was not without pestilence would be wrong. In the 2009 Fiesta Bowl against Boise State, Andy threw an early interception – well actually he threw three of them. But this specific early interception apparently caused Dalton’s generally austere veneer to crack on the sidelines – enough for Head Coach Gary Patterson and the rest of the team to be concerned. The word is that the team felt they would struggle to win the game after seeing Dalton lose his composure. They lost the game 17-10.
“Everyone has moments where they are not at their best, and in reality such sideline behaviour has not been the norm for the Katy native. The flip side of that equation is that it is evident he can be rattled. And, naturally one would consider whether Dalton may also lose his composure on the field. Truthfully, there are moments where Dalton can look a little frenetic, making rash decisions on where to throw the football.”
We saw a glimpse of this against Houston and it reminded me why I was never a big fan of Dalton’s leading into the 2011 draft. The Seahawks make a big deal about a ‘room tilting’ quarterback with good reason. While Houston’s own rookie quarterback – TJ Yates – was managing his environment in such a high-pressure situation, Dalton folded. Add the three playoff picks to his season totals and he went 20-16 for the year against a favorable schedule. This season will be the acid test with four games against the NFC East, four games against the AFC West and the usual four games against Pittsburgh/Baltimore. We’ll learn a lot about whether the Seahawks should’ve drafted Dalton by this time next year.
And as Evan Silva writes here, the Bengals are not totally sold on Dalton themselves. Silva: “The jury is still very much out on him entering year two.”
Dalton left the board in 2011 ten places after Seattle’s first round pick. I wouldn’t have drafted him at #25 but I see why people make that case. The reality is for critics like Jason Cole, that’s the one true argument you can make. The Seahawks have been dealt a poor hand as they try and find a long term starter at quarterback. For that reason, they’re going to have to keep looking for the answer. It may be unconventional, but so was moving Red Bryant to defensive end. So was starting two big, tall, physical cornerbacks with no league pedigree last year. In many ways so was trading for ‘bad penny’ Marshawn Lynch – a player who has provided this franchise with a playoff memory it’ll never forget and a subsequent season of productive running.
The competition between Matt Flynn, Russell Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson just might end up providing an answer. It might not be a future hall of fame answer, but it might be enough for Seattle to prosper in 2012 – just like the 49ers did with Alex Smith last year. And finding the right starter for now needs to be the approach until the day Seattle sees the opportunity to draft ‘the one‘. John Schneider made it quite clear this team will not panic over a quarterback and end up with a white elephant. So far the Seahawks have made the best of a bad situation.