Previously: The Bye-Week Report Card on the Defense
NFL.com, indulging in a small-time shock tactic that's eyebrow-raising just the same, posted an interesting picture yesterday in order to attract clicks to their newest feature article suggesting possible last-minute trades. It was originally a well-known picture of Pete Carroll welcoming Matt Hasselbeck to the sidelines after a presumed touchdown, but the back of the jersey is now (rather obviously) photoshopped to show the number "9" and the name "Palmer".
Had you shown me that a couple weeks ago, I might have gotten excited. Earlier this year, 17 Power was one of a couple of Seattle blogs passing on low-level rumors that the Seahawks were pursuing Palmer in trade. A couple people were insisting that a certain price has been named; others quoted only an intangible interest. Nothing ever materialized, but the interest wasn't disproven either. Palmer, though modestly aged and beset by injuries, is nonetheless a potential short-term franchise quarterback with the skills to produce. He isn't doing anything in his non-retirement in Cincinnati, and the Bengals can only stand to benefit from trading him. It was a needed and potentially exciting prospect for a team struggling at the most important position, and I was hopeful it would happen.
Now...mehh. Not so much.
Before Week 4, there was zero evidence that Seattle had, or could compensate in any way for the lack of, a franchise quarterback. We were stuck in reverse at the position, wasting a large and expensive infusion of receiving talent whom nobody could get the ball to.
And that could still be true. Tarvaris Jackson has looked good the last two weeks, but not only is he now injured, remember that he was known as a notoriously hot-and-cold starter in Minnesota. He'd post three touchdowns one game and self-destruct the next. His last two weeks could still be called a "hot streak", defibrillated by an up-tempo offense against the Falcons' garbage-time defense and then spreading the ball around effectively on the Giants. Jackson is still sitting for the test of consistency, and there's no guarantee he'll pass.
But at the same time, there's now sufficient reason to believe that he could pass, and that changes the picture. Jackson is clearly more comfortable playing no-huddle and is starting to survey the entire field for his targets now. This has led him to discover that there are, in fact, wide receivers on the left side of the field sometimes, and that they can be thrown to in order to gain yardage. Chemistry with Sidney Rice, Ben Obomanu, and Doug Baldwin helps.
Jackson isn't Peyton Manning and never will be - I wish he'd stabilize his vertical accuracy and quit leading his receivers into jarring collisions. But this is more than most of us were expecting in August. His poise and endurance in the face of a blistering Giants pass rush were also impressive, and nobody can legitimately find fault with his attitude and professionalism before the cameras. His words and behavior on the field have been worthy of Matt Hasselbeck, and that's the highest praise a Seahawks fan could offer.
Also deserving of credit is the Seahawks coaching staff for maximizing Jackson's potential in Seattle. The focus on eliminating turnovers, providing protection and weapons, and the switch to up-tempo and favorable plays for Jackson's skill set, all great moves. It may be less accurate to call Jackson a franchise QB in the rising, than it is to call him a well-handled benefactor. For all my skepticism that Pete Carroll could scheme his way out of a lack of talent and produce something, he's proving me wrong.
The Palmer Factor
So if we're talking about finding ourselves a competent holdover QB until Pete Carroll finds "the guy" in the draft, Jackson's improvement (should he manage to return to the lineup) has seriously reduced the impetus for trading for Carson Palmer, especially for the outrageous price suggested by Gil Brandt: a conditional first-rounder and WR Doug Baldwin.
Despite his experience and game-manager skill, Palmer's age, injuries, and recent high turnover quotient ensure that he wouldn't be anything more than another bridge QB for Seattle. Just like Jackson, but much more expensive and with lesser arm and mobility (the front office's pet qualities). Even if Seattle could wrangle him for a second- or third-round pick, that's more draft collateral than I could see John Schneider being willing to lose.
I also don't see the Bengals doing it, even now. Even before the Palmer rumors were dying, I'd expressed increased doubt that notoriously stubborn Cincinnati owner Mike Brown would cave to Palmer's trade demands. It would set a bad precedent for him and leave him in a weaker position against other future trade requests. And on a team like that, you can be sure that other requests will eventually happen. Brown already had a history of obstinacy and there was no reason to think that he'd suddenly see the light and change his ways. The approach of the trade deadline doesn't necessarily fix that.
I think little of Gil Brandt for suggesting that it would just because Brown declined comment at a recent meeting. That's like the media insisting that Chris Christie might be running for President because he "didn't flat-out say no". I think even less of Brandt for suggesting that Seattle offer a conditional first-rounder and Doug Baldwin in exchange for Palmer. Jackson is not in any Pro Bowl conversations, but neither is he so abjectly bad (as we thought he would be) that Seattle should be willing to sell the farm for Palmer. A first-rounder and Baldwin would be selling the farm and the kids.
Then again, if Palmer is going to don Seahawks blue, now is a better time than a week ago. The picture shifts if Jackson is forecast to miss more than the four weeks occupied by the bye, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Dallas. Even if a first-rounder and Baldwin is too ridiculous an asking price, Seattle might want to be generous in its offering for Palmer, because our other alternative...well...
Oh yeah, there's that other guy, too...
Call me premature, but I'd honestly dismissed Charlie Whitehurst as soon as I saw the trade headline. Whitehurst was a third-stringer who had shown little in the way of fundamentals. Occam's Razor - accepting the simplest explanation instead of tiresome rationalization - said that Seattle had simply overpaid for a backup.
That was a much easier conclusion to swallow than the empty claims that we didn't have enough information to judge. That's not an argument. That's desperation to rationalize, and it wouldn't have been heard if Whitehurst had been purchased with, say, a sixth-round pick. There'd be calls to experiment like with Josh Portis and Mike Teel, but nothing generating ten-page debate threads on message boards.
BUT, kudos to Whitehurst for taking a couple steps forward in relief last Sunday. He seemed eager to dispel to the subtle accusation from Carroll that he hadn't shown enough initiative over the offseason. He didn't look as solid as Jackson fundamentally, still zeroing in on receivers and making some awful throws until the final drive. But he came up with some big intermediate passes to keep the game open in a critical fourth-quarter, and like Jackson, didn't quail under the ferocious pass pressure.
How much of an equalizer is Charlie's lack of practice? We don't know, but it belongs in the discussion. It would also help to know whether the Giants gave up the play on Charlie's TD throw because they heard the whistle that Baldwin claims he heard, or simply bit on a faked bubble screen like the defenders claimed. Either way the circumstances made Charlie's life far easier, not the other way around. Are we still singing his praises if Brandon Browner doesn't grab that lucky bounce and take it to the house?
Whitehurst performed well in relief, especially considering he had limited practice. That's good for a backup, but solid backup doesn't equate to solid starter. Gameplan for a guy (and for Jackson, for that matter) and he gets exposed. People say that the test for Whitehurst is a couple of games for which he's put in practice time (oh, but not against the Giants, because it's not fair to test a franchise prospect against a good team). I say the test for Whitehurst is a couple of games for which his opponents have put in practice time - with him in mind. In that regard, we know even less about Whitehurst than most people say we do, but this time, that's not a hopeful for Whitehurst.
Backup could be Whitehurst's best role, and a perfectly acceptable role despite the fact that we overpaid for him. It may be that people just need to stop wanting that third-rounder to mean something, let it go. There were still too many worrisome things about Charlie's performance on Sunday to prefer him over Carson Palmer, should Jackson be forced to miss the season and Seattle manage to get Palmer at a reasonable price.
Josh Portis remains intriguing, but an untested project nonetheless. He should be kept around.
A lot of people called Pete Carroll, purveyor of "Always Compete", a hypocrite for anointing Tarvaris Jackson the starter immediately rather than opening a QB competition. I didn't see it that way. He had a brutally short offseason to prepare, and needed some favorable factors in play to overcome the lack of practice and development. He couldn't simply it as just another August. Tarvaris Jackson offered that possible X-factor. He offered scheme and personnel familiarity, as well as mobility to mitigate some of early struggle from the offensive line.
For me, Carroll wasn't going back on his philosophy by forgoing a QB competition. He was acknowledging the reality of the NFL (and of the lockout). It was a sign that he remembers that "Always Compete" ultimately refers to competition against other teams, not within his own roster. It wasn't about roster management, it was about how to get the fastest start to the season. It was encouraging to see Carroll showing flexibility and adaptability rather than rigid adherence to an abstract philosophy that would have taken valuable practice reps away from the eventual winner of a competition.
It's quite open for debate whether Jackson is bushwhacking his way toward "good game manager" status or poised on the brink of another three-pick performance in Cleveland. There are no set answers yet. But that's a compliment to Jackson, because two weeks ago, the answer seemed obvious: "please God, bring us someone else". And while I wouldn't be happy with the thought of another ten years of Jackson, he may just become a good enough stopgap to bide the time while Carroll and Schneider look for "that guy". It's clear from Jackson's contract that the front office is thinking that way.
The test for Jackson right now (besides his health) is consistent dependability as a stopgap. Let's keep that in perspective as Seattle's secondary gathers like slavering wolves in the film room, drooling over their upcoming meal of Colt McCoy.