Sunday, March 18, 2012

In like Flynn

Seattle won the Matt Flynn sweepstakes.

The Seahawks signed the Green Bay backup to a 3-year contract for $26 million. This is good money for a career clipboard-clutcher with a total of two career starts under his belt.

By comparison, Tennessee signed Matt Hasselbeck in 2011 to a 3-year contract for $21 million. At the time, the former All-Pro had started 131 games--including a Super Bowl--and had played in three Pro Bowls. Of course, as Hasselbeck heads into the twilight of his career, Flynn's dawns with possible promise.

We'll find out. Signing an untested backup named Matt from Green Bay worked out well the first time, though there were growing pains early on.

If Tennessee manages to sign Peyton Manning and Hasselbeck becomes available, Seattle would be wise to scrap T-Jack and bring Matt home for some real depth at the quarterback position.

The good news is that the Seahawks are competing successfully in free agency, and the Great Collaborators grasped that the free agent market offered surer bets at quarterback than our draft position did.

I'm glad the Chargers grabbed Charlie Whitehurst. Denied an opportunity to compete for the starting job in Seattle, Jesus of Clemson can resurrect his career where it began, backing up Philip Rivers in San Diego.

Although I thought Seattle was misguided in its efforts to court Peyton Manning, it is sobering that the Canton-bound quarterback declined even to consider the Seahawks. It is humiliating that the Colts castoff spurned Paul Allen's plan on the tarmac in Denver.

The face-saving, feelgood explanation is to attribute his lack of interest to the weather in the Pacific Northwest. However, the reality is that Manning only entertains offers from teams he sees as viable contenders by virtue of their coaches and their rosters. Based on those criteria, the Seahawks didn't make the cut.

However, Seattle has made several good moves in free agency.

We achieved our most important priorities by retaining Red Bryant and locking down the Pro Bowl backfield of Marshawn Lynch and Michael Robinson.

By signing Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan, we preserved depth on the offensive line at bargain rates, making Robert Gallery expendable. If Russell Okung, James Carpenter and John Moffitt all rehabilitate successfully, then we'll have more starting-calibre linemen (Okung/McQuistan/Unger/Moffitt/Carpenter, plus Giacomini) than starting positions on the line, and that hasn't been true since the Super Bowl season of 2005 (Jones/Hutchinson/Tobeck/Gray/Locklear, plus Womack).

It's unfortunate that Gallery didn't offer to take a pay cut, because there's no such thing as too much depth on the O-Line.

I am reassured that we pursued Steve Hutchinson, though it is hard to blame him for signing with Tennessee. If playing with former Seahawks teammates was a consideration, then he's more likely to have that experience in Nashville than in Seattle. (At this point, no veteran of Super Bowl XL remains on Seattle's roster.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Beware the NFC West

The NFC West becomes scarier every day.

Under the leadership of the league's most unpleasant coach, San Francisco came out of nowhere to post a 13-3 record, tied for second-best in the league and the conference. This was no fluke. Built upon the solid foundation of a stout defense and a strong running game, the 49ers will remain formidable next year.

In 2011, the Arizona Cardinals wobbled out of the gate with a 1-6 start. However, the songbirds soared through the season's second half, compiling a 7-2 record, finishing at .500, seizing second place in the division, and condemning Seattle to a losing record and penultimate place in the NFC West.

Impatient to win, and unconvinced that Kevin Kolb is the answer, Arizona has been hosting Peyton Manning this weekend.

Seattle developed some depth on its offensive line last year, and recently re-signed Marshawn Lynch, so the future looks bright for our running attack. If the team can come to terms with Red Bryant, our dynamic young defense should be able to pick up where it left off. The Seahawks need only a capable quarterback to become a contender.

However, it is lowly St. Louis that I find most frightening in the long term.

By hiring Jeff Fisher, the Rams secured the services of one of the most consistently successful coaches in recent league history. He inherited a bad Houston team in 1994 and quickly made them respectable in a tough division. In 16 full seasons with the Oilers/Titans franchise, his team posted winning records and made the playoffs 6 times, including a Super Bowl appearance. When they weren't in the playoffs, they weren't bad. They went .500 five times and posted 7-9 records twice. They rarely did worse; they went 6-10, 5-11 and 4-12 once each. They never posted more than two consecutive losing seasons.

In short, Fisher is a lot like Marty Schottenheimer: He may never win the Super Bowl, but he'll maintain a good team that will win a lot of games. As long as he's coaching in your division, he'll be a thorn in your side, because his teams will never lie down meekly to give you an easy win.

After seven straight years of losing, St. Louis is stocked with early-round draft picks. They are nowhere near as bad as their record last year suggests; an injury epidemic and poor coaching explained their underperformance in 2011. Their respectable showing in 2010--when they narrowly lost the division to Seattle--is a better indication of the strength of their overall roster.

Their roster is likely to grow even stronger now.

Recently, the Rams swindled Washington. The Skins want to draft Robert Griffin III, but they knew he would not last until they picked sixth in the first round. They entered negotiations with St. Louis, which owns the #2 pick in the draft.

Dan Snyder is hands down the dumbest owner in the NFL, with a long-established pattern of overpaying for the services of uncertain prospects. For many years, Snyder had to vie for with Al Davis of the Raiders for the title of dumbest owner, but the death of the Crypt Keeper has removed all doubt. The scam the Rams just perpetrated on the Skins simply cements what league observers have long known about Moneybags Snyder.

It is customary for Snyder to squander cash. This time, he mortgaged the future of his franchise by throwing away several draft picks.

In exchange for this year's #2 first round pick from St. Louis, Washington surrendered its...

1. #6 first round pick in 2012
2. second round pick in 2012
3. first round pick in 2013
4. first round pick in 2014

In short, the Rams will get three picks in the top forty this year, and then they'll get to pick twice in the first round in 2013 and 2014. These extra doses of young talent should help them get better fast.

St. Louis managed to exort this price from Washington because Mike Holmgren of Cleveland was willing to offer nearly as much. This makes me glad we didn't hire the Big Show to be Seattle's GM.

Congratulations to Lofa Tatupu. After a year of rest, he'll try to relaunch his career with the Atlanta Falcons. I'm sad he won't be a Seahawk anymore, but everyone in Seattle wishes him well.

Call me sentimental, but if I were John Schneider, I'd offer Steve Hutchinson a respectable, short-term veteran contract. When healthy, he can still play. His gritty attitude inspires his entire unit, and he provides credible leadership in the locker room. However, he can't wear #76 again. That number belongs to Russell Okung now.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Peyton is not the answer

Seattle should not pursue Peyton Manning.

Although he is indisputably among the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, his ability to continue to perform at that level is dubious. When the Indianapolis Colts cut ties with the player who has defined them for more than a decade, that means he's damaged goods.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider jettisoned Matt Hasselbeck--despite his Pro Bowl pedigree--because his age, susceptibility to injury, and relative lack of mobility made him vulnerable behind our patchwork offensive line.

How, then, does it make sense to sign an older, less mobile quarterback with an even more alarming history of injury? What are the odds that his performance would justify the cost in cash and draft picks?

Seattle should shop for affordable free agents to compete for the starting slot. Among the multitude on the market are many capable quarterbacks worthy of consideration, including:

David Carr (NYG)
A.J. Feeley (STL)
Matt Flynn (GB)
David Garrard (FA)
Shaun Hill (DET)
Josh McCown (CHI)
Kyle Orton (KC) 
Chris Redman (ATL)
Sage Rosenfels (MIA)
Charlie Whitehurst (SEA)

This is what economists would call a buyer's market.

Seattle can find better value and more viable starters in free agency than the team is likely to obtain through the draft, where the strongest quarterbacks go early, and teams pay dearly for uncertain prospects.

The Seahawks should use the draft to shore up other positions.

Getting an affordable quarterback will free up money to re-sign Red Bryant, the linchpin to our defense.

That move would complement the wisdom of inking a long-term deal with Marshawn Lynch, the heart and soul of our offense.

I will miss Marcus Trufant. Given his recent injury history and the strength of our young secondary, I understand the cold reasoning behind the decision, but it was a graceless way to end a relationship with one of the finest defensive backs in team history.