The quarterback dilemma facing the Seahawks and other NFL teams

Jared Goff has just signed a four-year contract in Detroit worth $212m. His average salary is now $53m a year.

The Lions are paying him legit money to be the guy they hope will lead them to the promise land. They can reason that he should’ve been in the Super Bowl last season but for an epic collapse against San Francisco that was no fault of the quarterback. Goff previously took the Rams to the Super Bowl too.

Alternatively, Sean McVay felt the need to push Goff out of the door a few years ago in an expensive trade to acquire Matt Stafford. That move led to a Championship for the Rams, something McVay clearly felt Goff couldn’t deliver.

This is the dilemma teams often face. The Lions had to make a call. They could pay Goff now, make a statement of commitment and build on the growing momentum around the franchise. Fans in Detroit like Goff and despite the price tag, I doubt anyone was rushing to complain about the contract.

The alternative was to let his deal run down, creating a running storyline about his future while potentially making things even more expensive if he succeeds. Or, they just embrace moving on — whatever happens this year — and just go with someone like Hendon Hooker who they drafted a year ago.

None of these scenarios are ideal. Goff is not an upper echelon passer. He isn’t likely to win the Lions a game with his arm if the rest of the team has an off-day. He’ll likely only ever be as good as his supporting cast and game-plan. Yet if those things click — he’s also shown to be a player who can deliver. He’s ‘just’ talented enough — which shouldn’t be surprising given he was a former #1 overall pick.

The Lions now live in a very expensive compromise — embracing that they could do worse than Goff but also do better — yet the risk of trying to be better could lead to people being fired because, as noted, things could also be worse.

Very few teams get to live in the ideal world of enjoying a cheap rookie contract for an immense talent, then feeling very comfortable paying that player because they know life without their signal caller isn’t worth living. The Texans appear to be in that zone now. The Chiefs and Bills have been there for a while.

The 49ers are about to find themselves in the same predicament as Detroit. Brock Purdy is a good quarterback who is ideally suited to the Kyle Shanahan scheme. He is not a difference maker on his own though and it’s not unrealistic to think Shanahan could find another player to competently run his scheme. Moving off Purdy still carries great risk. The 49ers will probably end up paying him a whopping salary next year and as with Goff — we’ll be wondering if they did the right thing.

Trying to find ‘the guy’ is so unbelievably difficult. It’s why we saw six quarterbacks taken in the top-12 this year. On the face of it some of those decisions felt ridiculous at the time. It’s hard not to argue that the Broncos, for example, epically reached for Bo Nix. Yet Sean Payton knows his era in Denver will only work if he finds the right quarterback for his system. To Payton, that pick likely felt critical rather than risky. Either you take him, or you just kick the can down the road forever — potentially fail — and then live with regret. He saw someone he liked and went with it.

It comes down to the various different approaches to team building. I really like listening to Michael Lombardi at draft time. As a former GM who studies the top players in each class, his insight is valuable. He’s very much in the ‘draft the trenches’ mindset, with a ‘best player available’ approach. I’ve got sources in the league who have been GM’s or scout at a decent level. They often share that sentiment. Add good players. Don’t force anything. That certainly seems to be John Schneider’s mantra too.

Yet there are others who believe you’ll only go as far as your quarterback can take you. I don’t think that idea can be outright dismissed. If Denver spent the next two years building up a roster, does Payton get a third year to draft a quarterback then a fourth and fifth to get them up to speed? Will he see anyone he likes more than Nix, even if it means drafting him 50 spots higher than is probably warranted? Denver didn’t have a second round pick this year.

Now, at least Payton and his quarterback are tied together and they will succeed or fail with each other, rather than waiting for the holy grail that may never come.

That in itself is a hard sell, at least to me. I don’t like reaching for a quarterback but I also think an approach of waiting for the right player to fall into your lap is idealistic and wishful. Very few quarterbacks go in rounds 2/3 these days. You’re either good enough to warrant going early, or the league doesn’t rate you (for whatever reason — on or off the field).

Unless you’re going to be aggressive or simply bad enough to pick very early, waiting can just lead you to be endlessly searching. You could argue that eventually you need to take a chance. Then you’ve got to hope it comes off. Yet you can’t approach this situation with fear. I think owners should empower their GM’s to take chances and not feel like their jobs rely on the first big quarterback investment succeeding.

Finding a franchise quarterback is also, frankly, rarely the result of an outstanding plan. The Chiefs aggressively trading up for Patrick Mahomes now looks like a genius move. One of the single greatest front office decisions ever, possibly the best. Often, though, it’s sheer luck. The Patriots finding the GOAT in round six. The Seahawks waiting until pick #75 to select their Super Bowl winning quarterback. Being bad enough at the ideal moment to be able to select Joe Burrow with the #1 pick instead of Trevon Walker.

The Bears are lucky too, even though many will credit their front office. They essentially snubbed the chance to draft C.J. Stroud a year ago. That could’ve been disastrous if the Panthers, who moved up to #1 overall, hadn’t been so appalling that they gifted Chicago the top pick this year. Imagine if the Panthers were the eighth worst team in 2023 rather than the worst? The Bears would’ve passed on Stroud, just as they previously passed on Mahomes — and for what exactly? Now they get Caleb Williams instead. Truth be told, they might still regret that they passed on Stroud.

The Seahawks currently find themselves in a murky unknown at the position. They don’t have a long term solution at the position. They’re not financially committed to Geno Smith beyond this year. They felt obliged to trade for Sam Howell to see if he can potentially be an answer. They’re searching yet not finding players in the draft they want to invest in year after year.

I sense a lot of fans and media don’t have the appetite to discuss this topic. Smith has a very vocal (and aggressive) support group online. That might be why. Yet the cold hard truth is Seattle’s GM and Head Coach were totally non-committal to Smith before the combine, quid-pro-quo reporter Adam Schefter was speculating about his trade value, then after the combine once the Seahawks had done some fact-finding and watched Drew Lock (who they talked up a ton) go to the Giants, suddenly the tables turned in the public discourse. Geno was now the man.

Any time you bring up this extremely fair review of the situation, you run the risk of feeling the wrath of Smith’s online following. Yet I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest the Seahawks kind of stumbled and bumbled at the position this off-season and are once again left in a situation, three off-seasons removed from the Russell Wilson trade, where they have no long-term clarity on the most important individual position in pro-sport.

How they move beyond this, though, is incredibly difficult to work out.

PFF ranked Smith the 18th best quarterback in the NFL this week, noting:

Smith’s two years have been a tale of four quarters. In the first half of 2022, he earned the third-highest passing grade in the league. In the second half, he led the league in turnover-worthy plays. In the first half of 2023, he had more turnover-worthy plays (13) than big-time throws (11). But from Week 10 on, he was top five in passing grade and big-time throws.

At 33 years old and entering the final year of his deal with guaranteed money, Smith may not be seen as a franchise quarterback. But he is absolutely the kind of guy who can engineer a win in any given week.

To me, that feels like a very fair assessment.

If Smith delivers this year as the starter, he might end up with a Goff-type agreement. Perhaps not quite as expensive — Goff is 29 after all and has been to a Super Bowl and a NFC Championship game. The Seahawks, though, would face the same dilemma as the Lions. Are you better off paying a lot of money for what you have, or running the risk of trying to find better?

I wrote a year ago that the worst case scenario for the Seahawks in 2023 would be for Smith to play ‘OK’ in his second season as a starter. Sadly, that’s more or less what happened. His stats regressed in many areas to the extent he hit none of his contract escalators. Yet he wasn’t so bad that it created urgency to move on. I think it’d be unfair to call this an awkward marriage of convenience but it’s not a million miles away. The Seahawks likely want to do better — that’s what their words and actions suggested this off-season — but they’re not sure how to make it happen.

I re-watched the Seahawks vs Commanders game from 2023 this week. Both Smith and Howell had good moments. Especially at the end. The two QB’s were battling to win the game with some clutch throws. Yet you also had a sloppy turnover on a fumble by Howell, an awful end to the first half where Smith takes a highly avoidable grounding call to blow a chance at a field goal and both players missed throws. Howell finished 29/44, Smith 31/47. Howell’s PFF grade was an OK-ish 68.4 and Smith’s a slightly better 71.5.

Watching that game I couldn’t help but feel like either player, on their day, could win you a game. It’s also possible with a great supporting cast, neither quarterback will hideously squander talent at other positions. I’d also suggest that both players are likely to be streaky and probably aren’t good enough to be difference makers in key playoff games (possibly on the road). Someone will say it’s too early in Howell’s career to judge, which might be fair. Let’s also remember he’s a former fifth round pick who just threw 21 interceptions in a single season.

The 2011 Seahawks had a lot of great pieces but finished 7-9 as they mixed between a playing-hurt Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback. A year later, Russell Wilson delivered a major QB upgrade to elevate the team to 11-5. After he navigated some rookie growing pains, he excelled. In their final game — the playoff defeat in Atlanta — he practically carried the team as the defense minus Chris Clemons completely choked.

With Joe Burrow, the Bengals won 22 regular season games in 2021 and 2022. They made the Super Bowl in 2021, then the AFC Championship game the following year. Without Burrow, they regressed to 9-8 and missed the playoffs despite having a pretty good roster. The Bills over the last few years have also had a decent roster — but they likely don’t get close to the Super Bowl in a competitive AFC without Josh Allen.

I appreciate there are other, more favourable examples. How good is Jalen Hurts? I’d suggest in 2022 he was excellent. Last year, not so much. Now we get to see if coaching changes will make that a one-off or suggest he’s a player who simply overachieved early in his NFL career. Purdy isn’t a Mahomes, Allen or Burrow type talent and you could argue Shanahan is the genuine MVP of San Francisco’s offense, ably supported by elite players on defense. Not good players, elite players. The kind Seattle is trying to find or develop.

I genuinely believe the Seahawks will not reach the top of the tree without finding an excellent quarterback. Someone who can ultimately match up to the best in the game, take them on (including on the road) and deliver — even when other aspects of the team might not be functioning. I can’t sit here, though, and tell you how they pull that off. I don’t know. Even in the unlikely event they end up with a top-five pick in the 2025 draft, I’m not sure the answer is there.

I still have work to do on the 2025 quarterback class so won’t go into any big review here. I understand why Carson Beck is the media favourite currently. To me, he looks like a better version of J.J. McCarthy. Is he a true difference maker? Not sure. Shedeur Sanders is tweeting his way into the middle rounds. He’s talented but there’s a lot going on there. Riley Leonard has excellent physical potential but needs to become a refined passer not just an athlete. He’s also dealing with the ankle injury Duke ridiculously allowed him to play with at the end of last season. Jaxson Dart has some talent but is often a frustrating watch due to hit-and-miss accuracy within a scheme that does all the heavy lifting. Drew Allar’s accuracy, so far, has been a real problem on tape. Cam Ward has to contend with playing for Mario Cristobal.

There are others I like, such as Brady Cook at Missouri, who I look forward to watching this year. I’m also really intrigued by Minnesota transfer Max Brosmer (but we need to see him in the BIG-10).

The player I keep coming back to is Quinn Ewers. There are going to be a lot of mixed opinions on Ewers. This is a player who has been billed from a young age to be a prodigy. The natural talent is off the charts. The expectation was that he would be a classic three-and-done in college, yet his career has not gone smoothly. From going to Ohio State, then transferring to Texas, then having injury issues and playing an inconsistent brand of football.

He’s also had to contend with the attention Arch Manning gets and that will ramp up this season if/when Ewers has anything close to a bad game. He’s lost his top three receivers (including a first and second round pick) plus a safety-valve tight end. Texas are now in the SEC and have scheduled a non-conference road game at Michigan too.

How Ewers handles all of this will be fascinating. I suspect there won’t be any middle ground. He’ll either thrive and therefore elevate his stock, possibly into the upper part of round one. Or he’s going to struggle and who knows what happens then? Transfer again? Enter the draft and last longer than anyone expected when he burst onto the scene? Can he even stay healthy for a full season?

The upside potential of Ewers is better than some will have you believe. I think he’s a player scouts might like more than the media — but I’ve also heard people (such as Rick Spielman) suggest he isn’t a first round talent. I think his quick release, ability to throw layered and complex passes, his downfield ability (ideal velocity and loft on some throws), athleticism and arm talent make for the most intriguing storyline in college football this year.

He’s also someone I can well imagine John Schneider liking — although I’m more convinced than ever that what Schneider wants is essentially a version of Brett Favre — creativity, downfield gunslinging, unpredictability yet with exceptional talent. Ewers fits some of that, although he isn’t in the size range of previous Schneider-liked QB’s (Lock, Whitehurst, Mahomes, Allen). Clearly he’s not tied to big and tall though, as we’ve seen with Howell and Wilson (who both have some of that Favre unpredictability to them).

It’s not an entirely optimistic outlook though, is it? Maybe Ewers will fit while hoping others step up. Meanwhile the Seahawks will need to make a decision on Smith in eight months, while analysing what exactly they have in Howell.

A former GM once told me that anyone can watch a player and identify what ‘good’ looks like. The key is to find greatness — and that’s a lot harder, even for the very experienced GM’s in the league. A lot of people in the NFL were convinced Bryce Young was the top quarterback in the 2023 draft, not C.J. Stroud. Even Kyle Shanahan didn’t recognise greatness in Mahomes, when the 49ers had an opportunity to draft him in 2017.

How the Seahawks find clarity with their quarterback situation isn’t obvious, short of Smith (or Howell) playing brilliantly. Even then, they might find themselves — as with Detroit — locked into an expensive ‘could be worse, could be better’ situation.

There’s a reason why teams find themselves going years, sometimes decades without having a proper difference-making franchise quarterback. This isn’t easy. But the chances are the Seahawks will need to produce an answer sooner rather than later, if they want to sit at the top table of the NFL.

Why I’m optimistic about the Seahawks in 2024 following the schedule release

Finishing a season with a good record often comes down to luck. You need to avoid injuries. You need 50/50 games to swing your way. You also need to typically benefit from a good schedule.

When I looked at Seattle’s last night, I thought it was pretty favourable. There are no ‘gauntlet’ runs like we saw a year ago. The toughest stretch is likely the Bills/Rams/Bye/Niners run in the middle but even that includes two home games, then a bye to prepare for San Francisco on the road.

They’ll get an ideal opportunity to start quickly. They get a rookie quarterback in Bo Nix in week one, with weeks to prepare ways to confuse and befuddle him on his NFL debut. The Patriots in week two are hardly a scary proposition — with either another rookie QB (Drake Maye) or Jacoby Brissett under center.

The Dolphins in week three will be a challenge. Miami tends to start seasons well then peter out. They don’t play well in cold weather, so facing them in December would’ve benefitted the Seahawks more. Yet this is still a very winnable game, even if it feels like a contest that could go either way.

I don’t really know why the Seahawks have the Lions’ number, especially in Detroit. Yet they do. Mike Macdonald and the Ravens feasted on the Lions last season too, destroying them 38-6. Again, it’s a tough game but winnable. Then it’s the Giants at home — another good chance to win.

Starting 4-2 or even 5-1 seems very achievable, which will create some wiggle room for what follows. Playing the Niners twice, Falcons, Bills and Rams has a feel of a run that could see the Seahawks end up losing more than they win in this stretch. Yet there are opportunities in the second half of the schedule to get back on track.

I actually feel quite optimistic about Seattle’s prospects now you can look at the schedule in list form.

A year ago they had a rock-hard schedule and still finished 9-8. This was despite playing some putrid offensive football at times — going whole halves without being able to move the ball at all. Their red zone and run-game was also useless. Then defensively, ‘hopeless’ would almost be a kind review down the stretch.

The offense will benefit from something as minor and simplistic as ‘running more in-routes’ and picking on opponent weaknesses — something the Seahawks frustratingly rarely did well under Pete Carroll. The offensive line still has a ton of question marks but the untapped potential of the skill players on the roster is crying out to be unleashed. I think Ryan Grubb, despite the fact he’s coming to the NFL for the first time, will be more than capable of getting more from the group.

Defensively, Macdonald turned the Ravens into the top unit in the league in two years. Rapid improvement can be expected, not just hoped for. Firstly, the additions made to the defensive line should finally see an improvement to the run game. Macdonald has shown an ability to deliver creative pressure and get production out of non-superstar pass rushers. Plus schematically it’s a whole new world — Carroll and his collection of understudies simply didn’t get the job done for way too long. We’re going to see a much more modern and different approach which should yield far better results. Not to mention — this is a unit that has seen major draft investment in the trenches and at cornerback.

The talent on the roster got this team to nine wins in each of the last two years. The idea that, with a better schedule this year, they could get to ten or eleven doesn’t seem far fetched.

I don’t think the roster is in a position currently to be a playoff force if they reach the post-season. The NFC is somewhat open, though, so you never know. But getting to 10-7 or 11-6 is not fanciful as a projection. There are reasons it might not happen — rookie coaches, question marks at certain positions, injuries, luck etc. Yet I don’t really fear Macdonald’s inexperience, or Grubb’s, and actually think their creative minds will be a big positive. I also think the Seahawks benefit from being a team not reliant on one great player. We saw the Bengals collapse as a serious threat when Joe Burrow landed on IR last year. I don’t think there’s any one player on Seattle’s roster who would have that impact if his season was ended.

A year ago the Browns got to 11-6 despite starting four quarterbacks — the husk of what remains of Deshaun Watson’s career, PJ Walker, Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Joe Flacco. They did it despite losing Nick Chubb to a bad injury. The Steelers, with an awful quarterback situation, got to 10-7. The Bengals, without Burrow for the most part, limped to 9-8.

The Texans — with a rookie Head Coach and quarterback plus a rebuilding team — won 10 games. The Vikings, despite having a disastrous quarterback situation and having lost Justin Jefferson — won seven. The Saints — as god awful as they were in 2023 — won nine games.

All of this to me validates the idea the Seahawks could win more than the nine they had in 2023.

I don’t think it’s a great NFL at the moment. It’s why, ultimately, we ended up with the Chiefs and Niners in the Super Bowl again — despite the fact neither team played their best football in the regular season. The Lions should’ve won the NFC Championship game against San Francisco and the Packers should’ve won in Santa Clara the week prior. The 49ers are a quality team — but at no point in the post-season did they look close to their terrifying best. They were lucky, actually, to win the two games they did. The greater big-game experience possibly got them over the line — and likely benefitted the Chiefs too, as they never quite were at their glorious offensive best until the dying stages of the Super Bowl.

This doesn’t mean the Seahawks can suddenly jump into that realm but are they a million miles away from the Lions and Packers? Not for me. I don’t think there’s an enormous talent differential, anyway, and I think the Seahawks have made up the difference in terms of coaching chops this off-season.

And again, I have some reservations about the offensive line. Charles Cross has a lot to prove in year three, while there are question marks at every other position. I expect Geno Smith will continue to be streaky, as he’s been in his career, and probably go through ups and downs that have us questioning what the Seahawks should do beyond 2024.

Aside from that though they do have good players — including a really good looking defensive front to go with talent at corner. They have dynamic skill players. I suspect we might end up looking at the likes of DK Metcalf, Jaxson Smith-Njigba, Noah Fant and the running backs in a new light next year.

Some of these players will need to take a big step forward for the Seahawks to become a post-season threat — but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

Apparently their win projection is 8.8 for 2024. I’ll take the over on that — especially if the Bears are being given a very generous 8.5.

If you missed my latest spot on Puck Sports earlier today, please check it out:

Thoughts on ‘inside the draft room’ & Tony Pauline’s rookie minicamp report

I wanted to raise a couple of interesting articles that popped up online this week, relating to the Seahawks.

First, the now annual ‘inside the draft room’ piece from John Boyle. It’s been a must-read for the last three years, providing snippets of info from behind the scenes of Seattle’s draft. It’d be great, one day, to have the kind of video footage provided by the Colts and Bills (for example). For now though, there’s a little bit of intriguing detail to digest here.

According to the piece, Seattle had 19 players with first round grades. It speaks to this being a deeper class in terms of legit first round talent compared to previous years. My horizontal board had 20 players with ‘legit’ first round grades, so this was reassuring in terms of assessing the class.

Boyle also notes that after JJ McCarthy was taken with the 10th pick, Seattle still had 10 players with first round grades on the board. I found this interesting because it meant one of Michael Penix Jr or McCarthy had a legit first round grade. Is it too obvious to assume it was Penix Jr? Maybe. He was certainly, in my opinion, the more talented passer.

There’s been all kinds of mixed signals on Seattle’s interest in Penix Jr. James Palmer reported on the day of the first round that the Seahawks tried to move up to get him. Others then suggested that wasn’t accurate. I’ve heard it suggested they liked rather than loved Penix Jr. Yet it’s not easy to get a ‘legit’ first round grade. The Seahawks gave one of Penix Jr or McCarthy a mark in that range. Therefore, that suggests a degree of interest in one of the two. I think it’s at least interesting to note. They didn’t just have Caleb Williams and maybe the next two on an island and then no interest in the rest.

It’s also worth noting that the Seahawks can still give out relatively high grades and not intend to draft a player — because others might simply be graded much higher. Per Brady Henderson, JC Latham was supposedly a top target for them before he was taken seventh overall. Boyle, Henderson and others have suggested in their reporting since the draft that Byron Murphy, who they selected, was also a key target all along.

Boyle says in the piece that the Seahawks had a trade offer to move significantly back from #16, with 2025 stock being received in the return. A couple of people have reached out mentioning a possible trade partner here. I won’t say who because I can’t confirm anything — but if accurate, it would’ve been a really sizeable move down the board. We’re not just talking early 20’s here. The article lays it out. Schneider rejected the offer to go way down the board.

Another offer was reportedly made to move down into the 20’s but per Boyle’s account this was also dismissed. The article hints it wasn’t a serious offer.

Taliese Fuaga is name-checked as a player the Seahawks liked but by the point he was taken by New Orleans at #14, they were focused on Murphy. I thought Fuaga would’ve been seen as a can’t-miss pick by the Seahawks but it appears they always had their eye on Murphy as a preference.

On reflection it’s easy to see why they felt that way — and why some people called Murphy the best defensive player in the draft. Defensive tackles with his physical profile, playing style and production are incredibly rare. If we’re being honest, almost as rare as clear franchise quarterbacks. Although Murphy’s sack numbers weren’t ideal in college — everything else was top-tier including his pressure percentage. It’s unusual to be able to land a player like that at #16. In the 2014 draft I rated Aaron Donald as the top player in the class and was surprised he lasted to #13. Murphy is a very different player to Donald but this could similarly be an epic steal for the Seahawks.

Boyle’s piece notes that by the time round three started, Seattle had two interior O-liners ranked high on their board — Cooper Beebe and Christian Haynes. They reportedly tried to move up for Beebe but stayed put and gambled on Haynes lasting. He did — and they got one of their key targets.

Reading about day three, I feel even more confused about their decision making than I did before going through the article. They moved down from #102 to #121 and seemed to celebrate the move, despite Boyle writing: “It’s a calculated risk, the Seahawks only have a handful of players left on their board with fourth-round grades, but a risk they’re willing to take given the compensation.”

There’s no mention in the piece of Tyrese Knight and AJ Barner being players they graded in round four and that the gamble had paid off. I had a suspicion that maybe they didn’t see value and just took players they liked. This validates it somewhat — because previous articles have talked about how Seattle liked certain players on day three. It almost feels like, reading this piece, they settled on Knight and Barner.

Was it really worth such a big move down to #121 just for another fifth rounder? I didn’t think the trade provided much value at all — we’ll see if the picks pay dividends and hopefully they do. If anything I’d rather have moved up from #102 to get back into the third round. Despite the longevity concerns, four years of Payton Wilson sounds good to me for the sake of moving up four spots from #102.

The other article to note was a piece by Tony Pauline reviewing Seattle’s rookie minicamp.

Tony notes the Seahawks intend to use Byron Murphy in a similar way to Justin Madubuike in Baltimore. It makes sense — both are highly athletic and versatile. Mike Macdonald’s clever scheming and creativity turned Madubuike into an 18.5 sack player over the two seasons they worked together. In Maduibuike’s previous two years in Baltimore, he had just three sacks.

The piece also highlights Michael Jerrell, who apparently impressed coaches. Tony says his technique, not just his athleticism, stood out. I can’t speak to Jerrell’s playing ability but his physical profile is top notch. He’ll be interesting to track in pre-season and training camp. There were also positive words for UDFA’s Garrett Greenfield and Carlton Johnson. I gave Greenfield a fourth round grade based on physical upside although I thought he played with heavy feet. Johnson received a fifth round grade on my board due to excellent testing upside. They are both very capable of competing for a roster spot either this year or in the future.

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