My guess is that nobody who cashes a paycheck from the Seattle Seahawks has told Tarvaris Jackson that he's only warming a seat for Andrew Luck. Or maybe they have told him and the behind-closed-doors business of pro football is colder than I thought.
Either way, this week's free-agency activity in Seattle—i.e., the team's decision to let longtime starting QB Matt Hasselbeck leave before signing former Minnesota backup QB Tarvaris Jackson—gives most observers the impression that the Seahawks are basically sacrificing next season to set themselves up to draft a real franchise quarterback in 2012.
Depending on how you feel about the new guy, that sacrifice ranges from maintaining status quo as a mediocre 7-9 team to blatant tanking like the Cleveland Cavaliers did when they wanted to land LeBron James in the NBA Draft.
Count me among the minority who believes Jackson is better than that.
Assuming that he beats Charlie Whitehurst and whoever else Seattle adds to its roster in the training camp QB competition, Jackson is good enough to lead the Seahawks to a second straight NFC West title. He might even mess around and finish with a .500 record.
Here are five reasons why Jackson will get the job done:
Jackson has spent his entire NFL career playing for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, a streak that will go unbroken with both player and coach moving from Minnesota to Seattle this offseason. Among active quarterbacks in the league, nobody has worked with Bevell as closely and for as long, Jackson probably knows the intricacies of Bevell's system even better than Brett Favre.
In five years as a pro, Jackson has started 20 regular season games and one playoff game. He's beaten the Bears at Soldier Field, the Giants at the Meadowlands, and he beat the Cardinals on the road during the year they went to the Super Bowl. He's avoided the rush of DeMarcus Ware and Patrick Willis, and thrown touchdowns past Charles Woodson and Marcus Trufant. When he was not starting at QB, Jackson was learning while observing Favre and Brad Johnson, two veterans with Super Bowl credentials.
At 28 years old, Jackson has seen what he needs to see. Asking him to carry a team deep into January may be too much, but winning the most winnable division in the NFL? He's certainly qualified for that job.
Why shouldn't he be confident? Jackson made it to the NFL out of a small school (Alabama State) and has had success at its most challenging position, enduring plenty of adversity and criticism along the way.
Now he's headed to Seattle, where he's comfortable with the offense, has a legit opportunity to start from Opening Day. He even has a big-play threat—former Vikings and new Seahawks WR Sidney Rice—with whom he is also familiar.
"I'm not trying to be a backup," Jackson told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune last month. "I'm trying to go somewhere where I have a chance, and I don't feel like I'd get that chance (in Minnesota). It's time to move on. No hard feelings or anything. It's a business."
Jackson was not broken by his experience with the Vikings. If anything, he may be stronger because of it and more confident going forward, that he can handle anything.
In that same Star-Tribune piece, Jackson also said: "This reminds me of me transferring from Arkansas to Alabama State. Like [I have a] sour taste left in my mouth. It really, really motivated me to try to get to the NFL, and it really motivated me to try to be the best. I think this situation, the ways things happened (in Minnesota), it adds a lot of fuel to the fire."
Jackson has a chip on his shoulder, one that will only grow bigger once word gets back that few see him as Seattle's long-term answer at quarterback. Throw in the fact that he'll once again be judged against the legacy of an accomplished veteran (Hasselbeck), and that Charlie Whitehurst will be nipping at his heels, and Jackson has every reason to keep his focus.
The Seahawks rode an "Us against the world" mentality last season to an unexpected playoff berth and an even more unexpected first-round win over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. When the starting quarterback walks in the door with that same kind of motivation, it's unlikely the rest of the team will slip.
Even when he's struggled, Jackson's talent has never been the problem.
At 6-2 and 225 pounds, he has the size, strength and speed to make plays and move an offense down the field. He can throw the deep passes, as well as improvise when his protection breaks down. And whereas Hasselbeck always seemed to be one good hit away from another stint on the injury list—a hit he probably wouldn't be able to avoid—Jackson can run. He's piled up 535 rushing yards on 4.5 yards per carry in his career.
Jackson's completion percentage (58.7) is better than Eli Manning's, Kyle Orton's and Michael Vick's. His passer rating (76.6) is better than Vince Young and Kerry Collins'. He's thrown more touchdowns (24) than interceptions (22). He's posted a 10-11 record in the games he's started, including an 8-4 mark during the '07 season.
The numbers aren't great, but consider that Jackson has always been shuttled in and out of the lineup, lacking the consistency in his role that helps QBs develop. Given some stability in Seattle—even if it's just for one season—I think Jackson can quarterback a winning football team.
The Seahawks won't be asking Jackson to carry the load and win every game by himself. But every now and then, that is part of a quarterback's job description.
In between those times, Jackson has a solid cast of talented teammates that he just has to put in the right position to make plays.
Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are a solid 1-2 combination at running back. The offensive line should be much improved from last season with the additions of rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt, and with veteran guard Robert Gallery to line up alongside star left tackle Russell Okung. Sidney Rice has the potential to be a low-budget Randy Moss, stretching the defense and creating openings. Top receiver Mike Williams, is a big (6-5) target for Jackson. Wide receivers Deon Butler, Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu and Kris Durham, along with tight end John Carlson will also provide Jackson with quality play-makers.
If Seattle's defensive roster moves pan out, this team has the ability to do much better than 7-9.
Before the Seahawks had made a single offseason move, I predicted they would repeat as NFC West champs and make a return trip to the playoffs. After adding Tarvaris Jackson to the mix at the game's most scrutinized and most important position, I have no reason to go back on that pick.