Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thoughts on replacing Matt Flynn

It looks like backup quarterback Matt Flynn is getting traded to the Raiders. He served Seattle admirably in his brief time with us. I'm happy for him that he's going to get a chance to start, but sad that he's headed for Oakland, a team unable to facilitate successful quarterback play for more than a decade and counting.

Trading Flynn benefits Seattle by clearing a few million dollars worth of salary cap space for other uses.

However, it also leaves the Seahawks without a capable backup. With Flynn on the bench, the team would have been OK if we ever lost starter Russell Wilson to injury.

Now that he's gone, it leaves a terrifying void at the position.

Many analysts propose backups with skill sets similar to DangeRuss, so the backup could execute the read option.

This is folly, for several reasons:

1) Although the read option is a potent weapon, the Seahawks ran it on less than 5% of offensive snaps last season. The frequency of use increased as the season went on, and that trend should continue as long as the formation remains effective. However, it is almost certain that the Seahawks will continue to run the overwhelming majority of their offensive snaps out of standard formations. Thus, the first priority should be finding a backup who can execute the position traditionally by throwing out of the pocket.

2) Percy Harvin can run the read option effectively, too.

3) More important than running the read option is Wilson's ability to extend the play by scrambling. We don't necessarily need his backup to be able to do that. DangeRuss scrambles largely to compensate for being short: he can't see over the line, so he often needs to move laterally find a throwing lane. A taller backup quarterback with better vision could get away with being less nimble.

4) No available quarterback has a skill set similar to Wilson. No one possesses his unique combination of focus, judgement, maturity, playbook mastery, team leadership, accuracy, touch, arm strength, elusiveness and footspeed. If we were to rank the importance of the ten aforementioned qualities to good quarterback play, then footspeed would rank last on the list behind everything else. There are many great slowfooted quarterbacks, but no great slowwitted ones. Physical skills don't matter if your teammates won't follow your lead. Elusiveness and arm strength means nothing if you can't throw with accuracy and touch.

This is a poor draft for quarterbacks, and I would not want to roll the dice with a rookie backup, except as a third stringer or practice squad project.

There is no need to call Seahawk practice squad perennial Josh Portis back from the Toronto Argonauts, unless he has magically developed the ability to throw the ball accurately.

Fortunately, several free agents crowd the market:

Charlie Batch – PIT
John Beck – FA
Kellen Clemens – STL
A.J. Feeley – FA
Rex Grossman – WAS

Caleb Hanie – DEN

Kevin Kolb – FA
Matt Leinart – OAK
Byron Leftwich – PIT
J.P. Losman – FA
Luke McCown – ATL
Stephen McGee – FA
Donovan McNabb – FA (retired?)
Jordan Palmer – JAC
Brady Quinn – KC
Chris Redman – FA (retired?)
Sage Rosenfels – FA
JaMarcus Russell – FA
Troy Smith – FA
Tyler Thigpen – BUF
Seneca Wallace – FA
Vince Young – FA

There is no need to overspend here. Seattle should be able to secure the services of a few good men to compete for the backup job for the veteran minimum. None of the available free agents are such sure things that they should earn more than that, but many have shown flashes of potential.

Several on the list have established themselves as capable game managers: Feeley, Grossman, McCown, Kolb, Leftwich, Losman, McNabb, Redman, Rosenfels, Smith, Thigpen and Wallace.

Surely we could get one or two of them for the veteran minimum and compete for the backup job.

When they're in the zone, Grossman and Kolb can really play. When they're not, they can really kill you. Neither is likely to sign a reasonable contract.

Let's pass on Byron Leftwich and his world's longest windup.

I liked Redman as a starter in Atlanta well enough that I questioned the team's decision to draft and start Matt Ryan. While Matty Ice has panned out just fine, that doesn't mean Redman isn't good. Did the Falcons cut him last summer because McCown was better, or because McCown was cheaper?

McNabb and Rosenfels could be effective mentors for DangeRuss.

Other free agent quarterbacks are established failures with possible potential.

Is there a Steve Young in the mix? (Young played poorly for Tampa Bay before evolving into a Hall of Fame quarterback in San Francisco as Joe Montana's understudy with Bill Walsh.)

No harm in rolling the dice on one or two of these unproven projects.

Coach Carroll got good play out of Matt Leinart at USC. No one has managed that feat in the NFL, but if anybody could, it would be Sunshine Pete.

JaMarcus Russell and Vince Young are intriguing physical specimens who might respond to Carroll's remarkable ability to reform bad attitudes.

As often happens, nostalgia contaminates the Diehard's thinking on this matter.

I'm sad that Indianapolis beat us to the punch and signed Matt Hasselbeck to back up and mentor Andrew Luck. I was pleased, however, that the former Seahawk declined to sign with Arizona. It would have been sad to see the tough defenses of the NFC West brutalize the aging veteran and tarnish his legacy. I'm glad Hasselbeck has gracefully embraced his role as backup and young quarterbacks.)

If he can still play, then the Diehard would welcome the return of Seneca Wallace.

If Seattle signs one or two established veterans and one or two projects to commence a vigorous training camp competition for backup quarterback, then we should be able to find capable quarterback depth at bargain rates.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Seahawks rock free agency

The Diehard stands in awe of Seattle GM John Schneider. Having loaded the roster with young talent at bargain rates, he exploits his team's enviable salary cap latitude to sign top free agents to fortify the team's only glaring weaknesses: wide receiver and pass rusher.

To increase pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Schneider signed two defensive ends. Cliff Avril of Detroit is a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher (though he has never made the Pro Bowl). Michael Bennett of Tampa Bay is a versatile player who can line up at end or tackle.

If Chris Clemons can't return to form, and if Bruce Irvin can't get any better, then Avril and Bennett help the defense get better.

However, if Clemons recovers fully and Irvin matures as expected, then Seattle may field the league's most terrifying rotation of pass rushers.

Seattle signed Avril and Bennett to reasonable short-term contracts. This gives both players a chance to earn a big payday a year or two down the road, either from the Seahawks or--more likely--from some other team. Meanwhile, Seattle buys some time to find and groom younger and more affordable pass rush talent through the draft. Moreover, Schneider avoided making any commitments that could prevent us from keeping our team's core players as they qualify for free agency in the next few years.

The Seahawks did make a substantial long-term commitment to Percy Harvin. I'll post later on the exciting possibilities Harvin brings to the team.

It was sad to part ways with Leon Washington, but with league rule changes decreasing the frequency of kickoff returns, the only case for keeping two great returners on your roster is as insurance against injury. Seattle never found a way to capitalize upon Washington's skills as a running back, but he'll be a good fit in the New England offense, which consistently and effectively features shifty, undersized backs with good hands. As a Patriot, Washington will have an opportunity to set more career records and continue stating the case that he may be the greatest kick returner in NFL history.