Wednesday, May 11, 2011

There's No Such Thing as a Cheap Free Agent Quarterback

When the Seahawks brought on Mike Williams and Lendale White as fliers in the 2010 offseason, they risked very little. Neither cost much. If they didn't pan out, Seattle could offload them relatively easily. Not a big financial hit, not much public embarrassment, and little disruption to the offense. Skill position players like WR and RB are something you plug into an offense that already exists.

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.

New playbooks and game plans will need to be assembled for any new QB the team brings in. It's already known that Seattle entered 2010 with two separate playbooks for Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst. I daresay that any offensive scheme revolving around Matt Leinart (an immobile lefty) or Vince Young will look quite different than the Whitehurst book.

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.


  1. It's hard to lead a locker room when your head coach is openly not on your side. I find the stories on Matt L. seem to start with the departure of Denny Green. Cause or effect?

    Also I find it weird that McNabb rarely gets linked to Seattle yet Kolb does.

    Lastly, "not competitive in 2011" does not compute. How did we get out of the "elite eight"?

  2. Hey Brandon:
    There are some options out there. Charlie Whitehurst will have a veteran to compete with shortly after free agency begins. Most likely, that will be Matt Hasselbeck.

    The lockout hurts all of the teams that are not settled at QB. Right now, the NFC West team that should be the least affected by the lockout is St. Louis.

  3. Even the Rams will be affected; they have a new OC now who won't have a lot of time to disseminate his new playbook.

  4. Very true - all evidence that Matthew Hasselbeck will probably be back with a new contract next year. Yes, he's getting old. Yes, he's been oft injured. Yes, he's been "spazzlebeck" at times.

    But I think retaining him is a solid move. It makes sense with regards to the playbook. It makes sense financially. It makes sense for him as a leader in the locker room and a vocal voice of the team.

    We've done the one thing this year that has shored up issues with his biggest weakness - the offensive line. If he has a solid offensive line (like most quarterbacks out there, actually) he'll do just fine. Not many quarterbacks can function without one. Many solid quarterbacks (such as Hasselbeck) will prove to be above average with a great line.

    Time will tell, but I'd say all signs point to this for next year.

  5. My take- Seattle probably did reach out of Leinart, but only as a "plan Z" due diligence thing. If Palmer doesn't work they'll call about Kolb, then Hasselbeck, then perhaps Young, Orton, Garrard, McNabb and Jackson. If ALL of those fall through, then its good to have called Leinart beforehand just in case.

    Leinart has a negative image, but I'd be surprised if his signing with us didn't excite fans. He's got talent not far below Carson Palmer's, but younger, healthier, and still unproven. People wouldn't "expect" Leinart to succeed but the "what if" factor would get fans excited about giving this a try. In just this respect alone, I think it compares to Mike Williams.

    I totally agree about QB being a different case than WR for all the reasons you list. However, I think Seattle can afford to gamble on Leinart or Young- especially Young who is incredibly undervalued in my opinion.

  6. *reach out to*

    Dammit I need to proof read these, too spoiled by the edit feature at .net.

  7. Why not just bring in Jamarcus and Vinnie and see who is serious. I'd pay to go to that camp. (just kidding)

  8. Brandon, this is probably the most contridicting article you wrote, with up most respect, of course.

    At an opportune time when you can beat the drum of moving away from Hass, you paint him as the "best" option. If not now, when? You'd rather have rookie QB over say VY or Leinart? Ok, maybe I'd vote over Leinart, but VY?

    Between 2006 to 2009, VY was 26-13. The guy is a winner. Had one bad season, some inconsistent offseason stuff but the guy can rally his teammates. He was the offense at UT, 30-2.

    Dude just needs a change of scenery and who could help him more than Mike Williams (who by the way got a 3yr contract extension, via PC). Vince Young to Mike Williams does sound nice, especially in the context of their collegiate careers...

    Beat that drum of change. Take a flier, these guys aren't JP Losman. These two won national championships, both with PC at attendance.

  9. I agree with what you said regarding the Seahawks needing time to be able to get a new offense up and running with a new quarterback,thats why I think #8 will be back for at least 1-2 more years. I have no doubt they are going to get someone new (rookie or vet)
    but not until the line is in place.

  10. All this talk about only having Charlie is an insult(again), to Stanbacks Qb skills. :)

    Seriously though I have to believe in Kip's "point gaurd" theory. I don't ever remember Pete having the big ego/me-me Qb guy like VY screams. I would love it if VY went to Miami with Marshall just to listen to the pre-game banter between them and the Jets and Pats.

    VY here works (somewhat), if he is given the wink and nod that it's his team. The price is right most likely for the anti-Locker. The city is wrong though as it would not go over well if the whambulance starts getting called for every "my knee, my knee" moment I saw in Tennesse.

    Orton does have that "point guard" feel to him.

    Other names slipping by are Volek, Hanie and would'nt it be a stands filling start to get Smith and his SF playbook on day one of FA?

  11. Woofu, that is thought provoking and spot on. VY does not fit the mold, and Pete isn't changing the mold. The point guard analogy is a perfect way to describe the "mold".

  12. @Kevin: Hasselbeck is the best option IF the lockout continues. Palmer, however, has the veteran experience to possibly leapfrog him as best option.

  13. I'm not at all thrilled about the prospect of Leinart or Young in Seattle. Neither am I thrilled about settling for Charlie or Matt because we have nothing better.

    Dear deity that may or may not exist: please let the Carson Palmer trade go through.

  14. I don't think a Whithurst and Young combo would require two different playbooks, while a Whitehurst and Palmer combo, I think, would.

    My personal take would be to bring in Young, on the cheap, and let him battle it out in camp whit Charlie. My prediction is that Whitehurst gets the start up until the bye week and that is where Young would take over. His best seasons are where he comes off of the bench.

  15. am I the only one who saw Palmer being extremely inaccurate last year? I saw him throwing behind his receivers constantly...Palmer is not an option to me. As to VY, he was playing an extremely dumbed down system...I see him as a weak link to a complex offense. Me, I am rooting for charlie whitehurst and next year's first round pick.

  16. I've been reading this blogsite for a while now, and I gotta say, it's refreshing to FINALLY read someone who doesn't hide thier heads in the sqands when they see something that worries them.

    This is another post I agree with...surprisingly, I rarely agree with anyone.

    Let me just add, anyone touting the Seahawks aquiring Vince Young, apparently missed the part where we passed on Smith in the draft, because he would be too much distraction for an already weak locker room?

    If a cornerback is too much distraction to add, what part of adding a QB, ostensibly the team leader, whose biggest knock is that he's a headcase, and isn't a leader, (and is a terrible pocket passer BTW), makes sense to you?
    In no way shape or form would doing such a stupid thing make any sense.

    None of the free agent options at QB are good ones, none of them, including our own Hasselbeck.
    Until we draft our future franchise QB, we can expect to remain mired in mediocrity. Palmer, would at best be just a bridge to that guy.