2011 Seattle Seahawks: NFL Draft and Free Agency Expectations for Quarterback
Now up on my weekly position reports: Quarterback.
The Seattle Seahawks' 2011 offseason has quickly revealed an urgency at the quarterback position. A few weeks ago, Seattle had a proven veteran on the roster, albeit with some questions surrounding his abilities going forward. They also had a solid backup with some potential to be a starter, and a young project with a cannon for an arm and good legs.
As the NFL works through a second extension of the current CBA, Seattle finds itself with just one quarterback on the roster. Matt Hasselbeck appears headed to test the free-agent waters, and Nate Davis was released without comment from the Seahawks.
Seattle appeared to have perhaps one more season before they needed to find additional options at quarterback. Now, the position joins both lines in needing immediate attention.
Seattle needs to sign at least two quarterbacks. One will likely come via April's draft, with the remaining spot being filled via free agency or trade. Many still expect the free agent signing to be Matt Hasselbeck, while others are hoping to see Seattle make a big trade for a QB.
By now some readers are fixed on the current inability to sign or trade players. For current purposes, I'm going to continue with the expectations I laid out in a labor article last week. The owners and NFLPA will agree on another extension at some point today. In the very near future the two sides will be close enough on terms that they will sign a final extension, taking us through spring and a final agreement. The last extension will allow free agency to start prior to the NFL draft.
NFL Draft: The Seattle Seahawks Need a QB with Starter or Solid Backup Potential
The release of Nate Davis seems to erase the question of "if" Seattle will grab a QB in the draft. Now the question is "in what round will they make their move?"
The answer likely has a lot more to do with who is available than what round Seattle would prefer to dedicate a pick to the position. There are anywhere from three to six QBs being talked about as late first- to second-round picks. If the Seattle front office is interested in any of them, they will need to use their pick at 25 to get into position to snag one.
If Jake Locker is available at 25, it isn't a stretch to imagine him being a Seahawk this fall. Any other available QB would be just that (a stretch) with that pick.
Cameron Newton, Auburn
Newton figures to be either a huge bust or a huge success. Regardless, the cost for Seattle to trade into position to draft him would be too great. I'd rather roll the dice with Whitehurst this season and acquire picks for 2012 and go after Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley.
Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
Gabbert looks to be the most NFL-ready QB, and will be a top 10 selection. I'm not sold on his value, particularly for Seattle. There is no reason to believe he'll be available, nor is he worth giving up the needed draft capital to move up the board to draft him.
Jake Locker, Washington
Locker is definitely this season's wild card at the QB position. He's been pegged everywhere from the 10th pick to the third round. The 2010 draft held several QBs in this position (Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, and to a lesser extent, Colt McCoy). This year, Locker is joined by Ryan Mallett as draft day wild cards.
Locker's positive qualities (arm strength, athleticism, character, work ethic and intelligence) definitely put him as a top five selection. His negatives (accuracy and decision making) makes him a third or fourth-round talent.
Most NFL scouts and coaches will need to rely on film and interviews with Locker to balance the pros and cons. They will need to determine how much of his problems were mechanics-related or attributable to lesser talent on the Husky offense and if the deficiencies are teachable areas or not.
Carroll has one obvious advantage over the 15 or so other teams that might be tempted to draft Locker. The closeness Carroll shares with Locker's coach, Steve Sarkisian, allows enhanced insight on what actually plagued Locker during his senior season. While Sarkisian will likely be cautious with other teams in interviews, candor is expected in conversations with the coach that helped cultivate his career.
I've gone back and forth with Locker being a fit for Seattle. I watched him at the combine and thought he put in a very strong performance. His footwork looked improved, he threw a very solid deep ball and his timing routes were spot-on. It prompted me to go back and watch his snaps in the Senior Bowl and several of his college games.
There was a footwork issue, and my concern with him looking to run way too soon was also reaffirmed. At times, there were outlet options with room, but he tucked and ran before making it through his progressions.
What I have concluded is that much of Locker's issues dealt with a poor offensive line and inexperienced receiver options. A lack of faith in his targets catching the ball, and even less faith in his offensive line giving him time to go through progressions, led him to take the game on his shoulders. In the first Nebraska game, he tried to force the ball to receivers that weren't open. Later in the season, he chose to run instead of forcing passes.
If Locker happens to be available at 25, I firmly believe he'll be drafted by Carroll. Even if his accuracy issues continue, he'll be a better option than Whitehurst. If he can elevate his game, he'll be a much better QB than Kolb and could become an elite QB in several years.
I have my doubts on other teams letting him get that far, though. If they do, Locker is worth the risk.
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Leading up to declaration day for the 2010 draft, some mock drafts had Mallett going in the first 15 picks of the first round. The financial cost tied to Locker's decision to stay for his senior year has received a lot of attention. Mallett stands to lose almost as much as Locker.
There is little question regarding Mallett's ability to throw the ball. He has a very strong arm and is accurate as well. There have been some that question his accuracy, citing his Sugar Bowl game performance. I watched that game in large part just to watch Mallett, and he threw very well. If not for about 18 dropped balls, his stats would have been through the roof.
Mallet made the most of postseason workouts. He was as good as anyone in combine passing drills. He also performed very well at his pro day when throwing the ball. His 5.36 40 time should give some pause, as he's been called a bit statuesque in the pocket—this could explain why. Still, the NFL Network analysts said he has worked himself back into opening day consideration.
Then there is the other side of Mallett. He might not be smart enough to read NFL defenses. He may have an issue with drug use. He also has a bit of an attitude. Check that—he's a raving narcissist. This is my biggest issue with Mallett, and something that can't be overlooked.
It is one thing to lead a huddle of college kids. They are your friends and you run the campus with them. You are all playing for school pride. Many of them have similar attitudes, and those that don't are apt to overlook the arrogance for a player that is performing.
However, his antics simply won't fly in the NFL. His dismissive attitude towards the press at the combine is just another example of why he will struggle gaining the respect a QB has to have in an NFL huddle. The QB must be the leader of the offense and Mallett is a long way from being able to command the needed respect. He may grow out of it, but he has Ryan Leaf potential.
I can't see using a first round selection on Mallett. Seattle may decide to pass on selecting a QB in round one and gamble on him still being available in round two—and then gamble that Carroll and Bevell can turn him around. With his talent, Seattle's pick in round two would be worth the risk.
Christian Ponder, Florida State
Ponder has been ranked from third to sixth on the QB charts, depending on what review one wants to rely on. He has an accurate arm and good athleticism, making him a good fit for a West Coast offense.
Given the huge need at the QB position, it would not be surprising to see Seattle grab him with their first pick (albeit after some maneuvering, discussed below). Seven of the first 10 teams to pick in the second round have a need at QB; Ponder won't last until Seattle's second pick.
One of Ponder's strengths is his ability to extend plays with his legs. Unlike Locker, when Ponder tucks and scrambles he has shown the ability to keep his eyes downfield and get a pass off. Also unlike Locker, he lacks zip in intermediate range passes, and doesn't have a strong arm on deep passes.
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Kaepernick is every bit as intriguing as Ponder. Coming out of a pistol offense, he will likely need a few years to adjust to a professional offense and the speed of the NFL. This may be enough to discount him as a viable option for Seattle. Still, Kaepernick has a strong arm, is a hard, intelligent worker and is athletic. His legs will help him gain yards when scrambling and help him extend plays outside the pocket.
He figures to be a second-round pick, and grabbing him at 25 would be a stretch. Depending on who else is available on the draft board, Seattle may be able to acquire a few picks by trading down from 25. They have the "advantage" of having so many needs that teams behind them won't know what direction they plan to go.
The Ravens need WR and CB help, and could be tempted to trade spots with Seattle to avoid losing their guy. That move would equate to the Ravens' sixth-round selection. While not much, they might be able to parlay that with an additional trade.
The Bears and Steelers need help at OG—Chicago has to worry about Seattle drafting the top option at the position, and Pittsburgh has to recognize they are at risk with Chicago as well. A trade with one of those teams should yield a valuable third-round pick.
The Packers and Jets will likely be looking at DE, and might have minimal concerns about Seattle getting their player. However, both of them should be concerned with the Patriots, as they need help at the position, too. Green Bay would need to part with their third- and sixth-round picks to trade places with Seattle. If a move happens with the Jets, they would need to send their third-round selection and receive the aforementioned sixth-round pick hypothetically received from Baltimore.
Pat Devlin, Delaware
Devlin is also an intriguing option, and one that could be considered with Seattle's fourth-round pick. He appears to be a well-rounded QB, but hasn't played top competition.
It is hard to know if he'll be able to make the big step to the NFL. He was impressive against Eastern Washington University in the FCS National Championship Game, but he'll need to make quicker decisions in the NFL. Devlin can't be ignored, and Joe Flacco has shown that Deleware QBs can step up and perform in the NFL.
Andrew Dalton, TCU
Dalton is projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick. He was considered a possible second- or third-round option earlier, but accuracy issues have made that less likely. There is a sharp concern that his performance was centered more on the system at TCU and talented players surrounding him. Seattle is better off using their fourth-round pick on a fullback.
The Rest of the Field
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa, Nathan Enderle, Idaho and Greg McElroy, Alabama: These QBs have potential to be starters in the NFL down the road, but don't seem to meet Seattle's need of a passer that can step up sooner as opposed to later. Should Seattle grab one of these options in a later round, we can expect that they are looking at someone in free agency and have their eye on one of the elite passers expected in the 2012 draft.
Trade: Is There an Available QB That Won't Cost Too Much Draft Capital
Seattle could find someone to step in and fill the QB position immediately. That person may or may not be the long-term solution, though. A lot of names have been floated in recent weeks—here is a summary on some of the options.
Seattle showed an interest in trading for Kolb prior to the 2010 season. However, the Eagles weren't quite ready to part with him. The expected contribution from Mike Vick was unclear at the time and Kolb was slated as their starter.
Entering the 2011 season, Philadelphia has made it clear that Kolb is available. Trading Kolb makes sense for the Eagles, provided they pull in the right compensation. Vick's style of play leads to injury concerns and having a proven backup is important for their offense. They have that in Kolb, but with only one more season left in his contract, the long-term value of a few high draft picks makes him expendable.
Many see Kolb as following Aaron Rogers as the next breakout QB. His on-field performance to date doesn't quite support the comparisons, though. He looks to be a solid starter, but expectations of being a star are premature.
In five starts last season, Kolb had a record of 2-3 with seven TDs and seven INTs. He averaged 235 yards per game.
Yes, he looked great against ATL and good vs. a SF team that was torched for over 300 yards by such powerhouses as Carolina. But he looked terrible against Washington, Dallas and Tennessee. He had three TDs and six INTs in those three games—and isn't that type of inconsistency the rationale some Seattle fans use for dumping Hasselbeck?
There has been a lot of speculation on where, if at all, Palmer will play the 2011 season. He has stated he will retire prior to playing another game in Paul Brown Stadium. This does give Seattle an advantage over most teams, as the Seahawks aren't scheduled to play in Cincinnati until the 2015 season.
The Bengals have stated they won't part with Palmer, but as they are faced with losing him with no compensation, their tune may change. Palmer's stats were impressive in 2010, despite matching his career-worst interception total of 20. He struggled through a power struggle between Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.
If Mike Brown changes his stance, the anticipated asking price for Palmer could make him an attractive option. He seems to have come back well from his injuries and should have several good seasons left. Seattle would likely be looking at surrendering their second-round pick in 2011 and a third- or fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft.
The advantage of acquiring Palmer is it would give Seattle several more seasons with a quality starter, and allow them to target one of the projected top prospects in the 2012 draft.
I'll readily admit bringing Young in isn't the most appealing option for Seattle. His style of play isn't ideally suited for a West Coast system, and his passing performance hasn't exactly set him apart. He has shown the ability to get wins, but that has more to do with his surrounding talent and ground game than his passing prowess. He won't have that luxury in Seattle.
I've included Young because the price will be right. He is clearly not going to be back with the Titans—a team willing to part with a sixth-round pick will likely be able to garner his services.
Free Agency: Seattle Must Sign Someone That Can Challenge Whitehurst
There are few free agents that have shown the ability to control a passing game. Seattle has offered very little along the lines of a running game in recent years, which makes life problematic for most QBs. There is hope that the ground game will improve with Tom Cable taking over the offensive line and Darrell Bevell stepping in as the new offensive coordinator.
A rejuvenated run game will offer significant help for Seattle's starting QB. Hasselbeck had the majority of the offense strapped to his shoulders in 2010. It worked well at times, but had disastrous effects at others. As for free-agent opportunities Seattle may pursue:
Hasselbeck has to be the first name on a list of potential free-agent signings. Despite concerns over his health and inconsistent production, he has the most familiarity with the skill position players that will be in the huddle during the 2011 season. He is also a proven winner and is coming off two spectacular playoff games.
Seahawk fans looking for a change from Hasselbeck point to the 17 INTs during the 2010 season as rationale for letting him move on. As brutal as the stats look, many of those turnovers were in desperation time and as a result of Hasselbeck pushing to make something happen. Regardless, at this point the Seahawks don't have a better alternative.
While widely considered a bust for not playing up to his draft status, Smith can't be blamed for all of his issues. He's been playing for a 49er franchise that has had its share of issues in the front office and on the sidelines.
There has been little continuity, impacting the opportunity for Smith to succeed. I won't go so far as to say an elite QB wouldn't have been able to be productive in the turnover-riddled 49er organization—had they drafted Aaron Rodgers I believe he would have elevated the franchise.
The biggest issue for Smith in Seattle would be his injury history. Despite comments about Hasselbeck being frail and breaking down, Smith has missed more time to injury in his five seasons than Hasselbeck has in his career.
Leinart's name has been mentioned repeatedly given his collegiate history with Pete Carroll. While a possibility, and one that is a little more likely following Seattle's release of Davis, I don't give much weight to this signing.
If Carroll saw Leinart as a potential starting QB in Seattle, I would have expected him to sign him when Arizona released him last season. Seattle's lack of interest then is an indicator of what to expect in 2011.
If Leinart is going to attempt a resurrection of his career in 2011, Seattle sans Hasselbeck is a good place to do it. While he's been criticized for a lack of a deep passing game and his proclivity to check down to short patterns, that approach will likely be a good fit with the offense Bevell will run.
There will be some expectations for a vertical passing game, but Seattle will look to exploit the size of Mike Williams in an intermediate passing game. Ben Obomanu and Golden Tate will be used across the field, and Seattle should look to exploit Tate's athleticism in bubble screens, short post patterns and in the deep passing game. This approach would actually fit well with Leinart's skill set.
Jackson hasn't done much to garner extended attention in free agency. His time in Minnesota was so underwhelming that they failed to offer a tender offer prior to the end of the CBA. As such, Jackson is free to sign with any team once free agency begins.
Seattle would be in dire straits if they were relying on Jackson to step in and start. However, Jackson's familiarity with Bevell makes him a possibility to challenge Whitehurst for backup duties. He has shown some signs of proficiency, and it is possible that a few years under Brett Favre allowed him to grow.
Summary: Projecting What Steps the 2011 Seahawks Take with Their QB Position
Despite performance challenges over the past few seasons, Hasselbeck still remains as the Seahawks' best option for the 2011 season. With an emergence of a ground game, development at the receiver positions and some improvements on the offensive line, he can still be an effective QB. We saw that with two postseason games following the 2010 season.
Re-signing Hasselbeck would also provide some flexibility with drafting the future QB this April vs. next year.
It is possible, even likely, that a team will be willing to put up $25M over two years for Hasselbeck's services. Should that happen, the likelihood of Seattle matching the offer seems low. Comments from the negotiations have been that the two teams are far apart on contract terms. If the Seahawks were willing to part with the kind of money it will take to re-sign Hasselbeck, I have a feeling it would have already happened.
I do not see Seattle making a move for Kolb at anywhere near the current asking price. They would likely pull the trigger in exchange for their first-round pick in 2011. Much beyond that is too much, though, as Kolb is not under contract beyond the 2011 season. That is too much risk for a QB that hasn't shown himself to be much beyond an average starting QB.
There are significant concerns with Seattle giving up an early pick in 2012. The Seahawks face a brutal schedule in the 2011 season, and a poor finish would not be a big surprise. They could be picking early in each round, which could put them in position to make a play for one of the top picks in the first round.
I doubt any Seahawk fans would want to see the team pass up an opportunity to draft Luck or Barkley because they gave up too much for Kolb.
Should Palmer become available, he would provide a solid starter for several years, and put Seattle in position to draft their future QB in 2012 or 2013. If he isn't an option, look for Carroll to open up competition at the QB position. Names such as Young and Leinart could join Whitehurst and a draft pick in competition to lead the offense in the coming season.
Fans should brace for Hasselbeck wearing different colors next season. If Locker is available at pick 25 I'd expect Carroll to give him an opportunity to show he can be an NFL QB. If Locker is gone, Mallett could be the next-best option in round two.
Seattle may very well be looking at stop-gap efforts to fill the QB position in the 2011 season. Unless a pick in the upcoming draft is impressive in the upcoming season, the Seahawks will likely look at the 2012 draft to shore up the position for the long-term.
The 2011 season could be rocky for the Seahawks. Carroll and Schneider will continue their roster overhaul, but a step-back this year may be necessary to set the team up for long term success. The QB position looks to be a manifestation of this approach.