The Seattle Seahawks are entering a new era in 2022, but not in a good way.
The last vestige of the team's "Legion of Boom" defense was sent packing this offseason when the Seahawks released inside linebacker Bobby Wagner. They also traded the quarterback who led the team to the only Super Bowl win in franchise history, dealing Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos for a package headlined by two first-round picks.
Broncos quarterback Drew Lock was shipped to Seattle as part of that deal, and Lock and Geno Smith are set to battle for the right to open the season as the team's starter against the Broncos in the first Monday night affair of 2022.
That duo combines to form a morass of mediocrity (on a good day) that leaves the Seahawks with arguably the worst quarterback situation in the entire National Football League. A deficiency at the game's most important position that all but dooms the team to a miserable 2022 campaign. A weakness that more than a few people are surprised the team made no real effort to bolster in the offseason.
But while having Smith and/or Lock take the snaps this season may be painful in the short term, in the long term, an argument can be made that it's the right play for the franchise.
Like it or not, the Seahawks are in the opening stages of a ground-up rebuild. And sometimes, ripping the bandage off is less painful than peeling it away slowly.
Now, don't tell head coach Pete Carroll that. Carroll insisted all the way back before the draft that there is no rebuild in the Emerald City.
"It's the challenge, it's the excitement, it's the newness. The sense of the return to the core of where we began putting things together, where we really were wide open and really aggressive and all. As time goes, you get kind of connected to the salary cap and the cash cap and all that—you get slowed down a little bit, you don't have as much freedom. So we feel the freedom of the draft picks, we feel the freedom of the financial situation, and the excitement of putting our team together again."
The team has also been shining up its quarterback competition. Veteran wideout Tyler Lockett praised Smith's performance in OTAs.
"Being able to come in and know you can run the team and him coming in in OTAs, I mean, he has that fire in his eyes," Lockett told reporters. "He has that look to be able to go out there and do great. I mean, he hasn't had the opportunity to play in a couple years. When you have that opportunity right in front of you, what else do you need, you know what I mean? This is an opportunity that all of us wait for."
Of course, Lockett also had good things to say about Lock.
"He can throw the ball, y'all were out here today, he makes great throws," Lockett said. "He just has that type of calmness about himself to where he knows what he can do, he's making the throws regardless of where the DB is. He had a couple of really great deep ball throws last week before we had this break. I think he's adjusting really well."
Even in a time of year when every report is glowing, that's laying it on pretty thick.
Long story short, neither Smith nor Lock is a good NFL starter. Or even a capable NFL starter. In three starts last year in place of an injured Wilson, Smith topped 200 passing yards in a game all of once. After Lock won four of five starts as a rookie, his play went off a cliff. He has completed less than 60 percent of his career passes and tied for the league lead in interceptions in 2020 with 15.
Neither quarterback has a career passer rating of at least 80 or a completion percentage of 60. Combined, the duo is 21-34 as a starter in the pros.
Whether it's Smith or Lock doesn't matter. With either under center, the Seahawks are a last-place team.
The thing is, that last-place finish may have been unavoidable.
It's not like the team's quarterback of the future was available in 2022 anyway. Trading Wilson just to mortgage the picks gained (and then some) on Deshaun Watson would have been…confusing. A trade for Baker Mayfield would put Seattle on the hook for quite a bit of cash to essentially rent a quarterback who, while once the No. 1 overall pick, is in the last year of his rookie deal and possibly not that big of an upgrade over Lock and Smith.
Even if Mayfield is better, it's no certainty that he's "lead the franchise into a new day" better. There's been speculation galore that Mayfield could wind up out west, but while appearing on The Ryen Russillo Podcast, ESPN's Dianna Russini refuted that speculation.
"The Seahawks have been telling me from day one they have no interest in Baker Mayfield," Russini said. "They're riding Drew Lock. … That's their choice."
Seattle also passed on adding a quarterback in this year's draft. But again, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. There wasn't a signal-caller worth the ninth overall pick Seattle got from Denver, and given that Pitt's Kenny Pickett was the only quarterback taken in the first two rounds, the general consensus among NFL teams appears to have been that this year's class was underwhelming.
The class of 2023 is another story.
Finally, it's not like any quarterback realistically available to the Seahawks in 2022 would take this team anywhere. All three of the other teams in the NFC West made the postseason in 2021. Two made the NFC Championship Game. And the Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks have a pair of excellent receivers in Lockett and DK Metcalf, depth in the backfield and a solid duo of safeties. But the team also had the lowest-ranked offensive line in the division last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and a bottom-five defense that managed just 34 sacks in 2021.
There's a reason why the Seahawks hadn't made it past the divisional round since losing Super Bowl XLIX. Quarterback isn't the only position on the roster that needs work—work that started with the selection of offensive tackle Charles Cross with the ninth overall pick in 2022.
At 70 years old, Carroll is the oldest active head coach in the league. The odds that he'll be able to guide the team through a prolonged rebuild are slim. The Seahawks need a way to kick-start the process. Speed things up. And the best way to do that is with one of next year's top quarterback prospects.
To do that, Seattle needs one of two things: a high pick of their own or a high-ish one they can combine with Denver's first-rounder in 2023. If there's one thing Smith and Lock have a legitimate shot at doing in 2022, it's losing games.
Cynics might call it tanking, but it's actually sound strategy—bottoming out and then bouncing back as opposed to year after year of mediocrity or being a fringe playoff team with one postseason win over the last four seasons.
So steady yourselves, "12s." (Hey! That rhymes!) The 2022 season is going to sting.
But a sharp pain that comes and goes quickly beats a dull ache that drags on for years.