Wednesday, May 11, 2011
There's No Such Thing as a Cheap Free Agent Quarterback
Not so with quarterback. A quarterback isn't a relatively interchangeable cog like a WR; he is your offense. The scheme is built around him, the playbook constructed with his skill set in mind. Other players are selected to fit him. He's also the face of your franchise, the leader of your locker room. No player on the team holds the future and reputation of the team in his hands like a QB does.
So I would venture to say that Pete Carroll's "Talent Recovery Program", that habit he has of scrounging the ranks of the busted and broken for cheap starters, may not apply to quarterbacks.
Rumors are buzzing of former USC star Matt Leinart being courted by Seattle. It's also popular to ask whether Tennessee's Vince Young could revive his career here. Bring them in, let them compete with Charlie Whitehurst, best man gets the job. Whomever doesn't work out can be cut without heavy repercussions, right?
Financially, sure. But money really isn't the only currency in circulation here. If Leinart and/or Young don't cost the team in dollars, they'll cost the team in time, work, energy, and planning. They could also end up costing the team in public opinion and locker room cohesiveness.
This leads to the team's biggest problem: the lockout. Seattle doesn't exactly have oodles of time to disseminate and teach a new playbook to the team this year. The clock is ticking and Pete Carroll (like every other coach in the NFL) may be forced to stick with a familiar QB simply for the sake of continuity. That's probably the foremost reason that Matt Hasselbeck remains in play for Seattle. The best playbook for this team will probably wind up being the one that they already know. And if Leinart or Young busts, the time and effort poured into that playbook goes to waste. That wasn't a worry when Lendale White soured his way out. A terminated RB doesn't set the team back.
Some might argue the signing of J.P. Losman as precedence for Carroll trying to revive busted QB's, but that's different. Losman wasn't a reclamation project so much as the natural league process of finding backups amongst the busted. And signing him was a lesser risk because, relatively speaking, nobody gives a crap about J.P. Losman. He was a first-round bust, but an unremarkable one. He wasn't a headline generator. He isn't synonymous with psychological meltdowns or hot tub parties. He didn't inspire any smarmy SI articles hinting at the demise of Carroll's reputation. He just sucked at football. The national media barely cocked an eye when Seattle signed him (or Lendale White, or Mike Williams) except to throw up the perfunctory "looking for a fresh start" article. Leinart and Young? Different animal entirely. They're already media pinatas.
Is it true that Carroll probably wants a veteran QB? Doubtlessly. But Carroll hasn't yet shown a willingness to pursue a total bust. Whitehurst, Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer, even Trent Edwards don't fall into that category. And again, the youth and inexperience of the team are a factor. You need a certain kind of team, with enough talent and maturity, to fall into step behind a veteran QB. Arizona and San Francisco have that profile; Seattle really doesn't.
It must always be asked: is there a reason these guys are available so cheap? One of the biggest knocks on Leinart and Young are that they can't command a locker room. I don't like to use the word "cancer" because it gets overused, but it really does seem to apply with Leinart. Young just doesn't look stable. John Schneider spoke recently about how the relative lack of core veterans in the locker room is dictating some team decisions, such as whether or not to draft Jimmy Smith. To paraphrase, unstable players aren't good for a young team. Judging from this, Carroll and Schneider probably want their QB to be a leader of men who earns the players' respect - as well it should be. That describes neither Young nor Leinart at this point. If you weren't a fan of Ryan Mallett, you really shouldn't be a fan of Matt Leinart as a Seahawk.
I'm not necessarily saying that Leinart or Young will automatically be anointed as the starter once they arrive. Carroll can potentially avoid any backlash by forcing the QB's to duke it out for the starting job - which he probably will. But based on pure ceiling, there's no guarantee that Whitehurst will hold anyone off. Those guys have undeniable talent. If you bring these guys in, there's a good chance they end up starting. We shouldn't assume that their off-the-field issues will automatically keep them on the bench - some issues, like Kelly Jennings, don't show up until September.
I'm not going to freak out if Leinart or Young get signed by Seattle. Carroll will probably keep either guy on a short enough leash to adequately protect the team. He might get more out of either QB than their former coaches were able to. And hey, Seattle won't be contending in 2011 anyway.
But I hope that these hypotheticals illustrate how such QB's aren't necessarily low-risk, and how there are other considerations than just money. It's one thing to sign a me-first WR that you can cut without hurting the team, but a me-first QB will have ripple effects. That's the nature of the position. Sure, the risk would be limited, but again - lockout. Seattle doesn't have time to screw around. It's the same argument of the "draft a lower-round QB" crowd - take low risks and you'll be okay. Well, no, you won't. Cheaper failures don't get the team any closer to contention. If Seattle wants a developmental backup, I'd put my money on Bruce Gradkowski.
Note: The Leinart rumor that I linked to was started by Scott Wolff, a USC beat reporter known for making stuff up out of thin air. Trust it at your own risk.