Tuesday, August 9, 2011

On Tarvaris Jackson, Part 2

Part 1: Low expectations for Tarvaris Jackson.

Funny the difference a year makes. As the 2010 season opened, the national media was hailing Pete Carroll and John Schneider's new Seattle front office. They'd loved our draft, and the dumpster-diving roster strategy and frenetic transactions made for good oddball news, as did second-chance stories like Mike Williams and Lendale White (heh). They were the new kids on the block, and sportswriters everywhere were eating it up.

Now, the recent anointing of Tarvaris Jackson is starting to sap the goodwill.

This is typical, I suppose. The media doesn't like having its collective opinion challenged. As long as you're good for interesting sound bites and not treading on its established mindset, you're fine. But once you touch an issue that already has popular opinion attached to it, that opinion will push back. By declaring Tarvaris Jackson the starter, Pete Carroll has kicked the hornet's nest.

Russ Lande:

"I really believe Vikings and Seahawks will regret the decisions they made this week in regards to the QB's & finish with losing records."

Ralph Mancini:

"Seattle Seahawks playing w/fire by already announcing Tarvaris Jackson as the Week 1 starting QB. Why the rush?"

Jim Moore:

"...don’t you set yourself up to be mocked when your book’s called “Win Forever” and you make acquisitions of Charlie Whitehurst and Jackson? And then to announce yesterday that Jackson’s the starter based on his familiarity with the offense since he worked with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in Minnesota?"

Elliot Harrison:

"Are you kiddin' me with Tarvaris Jackson? Are we talking about the same guy? What Pete Carroll sees in the former Viking is anyone's guess, because it sure can't be Fran Tarkenton."

Jeff Fedotin:

"Although Jackson has familiarity with current Seahawks and former Vikings OC Darrell Bevell, the team could have gone after better QB options like Kyle Orton or Matt Leinart, a former Carroll pupil. What’s more perplexing is Jackson, who Carroll already has anointed as the starter, seems like a poor man’s Charlie Whitehurst, the backup quarterback."

So amidst all the lazy comparisons and lack of context, it's pretty clear that Jackson is not exactly expected to set Qwest Field on fire.

Now get me straight: I don't expect Tarvaris Jackson to do much in Seattle either. For all the excuses being circulated about his unfavorable development in Minnesota and his surrounding talent, the simplest explanation is that he's probably just not an NFL quarterback. That's how life works. Optimism abounds amidst excuses, but usually life has a way of breaking through excuses and triggering the worst case scenario. Call me a pessimist.

But if I may ask one question of all the Jackson critics: What else did you expect Seattle to do? This really wasn't the year to find a franchise QB, either in the draft or free agency. It's obvious from GM John Schneider's comments that Seattle went through the remaining options and systematically eliminated each one in favor of Tarvaris Jackson.

Let's first break down what the Seahawks were looking for in their QB hunt:

1. The appearance of momentum. The team wants to look like it's moving forward and competing right now, instead of rolling over and admitting to being in "rebuilding mode". The call was for a QB who had the potential to at least compete for a long-term starting position, ruling out old guys and obvious career backups.

2. Cheapness and flexibility. The Seahawks didn't want to give up big money or draft picks to a QB who would handcuff the team to him for years and years without being "the answer". The two-year, $8 million contracts given to Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst reflect this thinking.

3. Arm strength and mobility. Pete Carroll appears to have affirmed his desire for these traits by signing Jackson.

4. Experience. Once the lockout wiped away most of the NFL's practice time, Seattle needed a QB with proven NFL instincts to pick up an offense quickly. (This, by the way, is where I eat crow for incorrectly suggesting earlier that the lockout would trigger a QB run in the draft because of the uncertainty of free agency. Instead, it triggered a QB run in the draft because some teams are just stupid.)

5. System familiarity. New OC Darrell Bevell wasn't hired with Jackson in mind, but again, Seattle's shortened offseason demanded a QB who would require a minimum of orientation. Jackson's time with Bevell made him a shoo-in.

Now, on to the other QB options, and why none of them made as much sense for Seattle as Jackson:

Matt Hasselbeck

As you could probably tell for yourself, a lot of the backlash against Jackson is really just thinly-disguised loyalty to Hasselbeck. Especially the local media, who doggedly keep blaming the surrounding offense for his problems. The real problems are fundamental, and they're visible on tape to the trained eye that's willing to see it. Beyond that, re-signing Hasselbeck would have muddied the franchise's direction, fit the scheme poorly, and cost the team more (in both years and dollars) than it was willing to gamble on a late-thirties QB.

Despite all that, Hasselbeck's experience, spirit, and mind for the game probably made him the second-best option to Jackson. Ultimately the desire for progress won out.

Kyle Orton

Orton would have been worth a look, but probably would have drawn at least a third-round draft pick. He's not really a scheme fit for Carroll, struggles in the deep game and the red zone, and just carries the aura of starter-that-you-need-to-stick-with. As much as I would have liked to have him, I can see why Carroll and Schneider would have seen him as a trap.

Donovan McNabb

Speaking of traps. No, thanks.

Vince Young

A respectable chunk of Seattle fans were behind the Young option, believing that Carroll could reign in his mental issues and find good use for his physical talents. I could have swallowed this option, but Young wouldn't have been cheap or reliable. The front office's remarks on CB Jimmy Smith could be applied here: the team is young and still coming together, and so can't afford the kind of locker-room instability that Young was a risk for.

Kevin Kolb

Kolb shows some of the same red flags that Jackson does: hot-and-cold despite a dynamic offense (one better than Minnesota's, natch) and supposedly poorly managed. But he also didn't know the offense, carried an outrageous price tag, and wants to be a QBOTF. He looks to be standing right in that Chad Henne No-Man's-Land where a QB binds a franchise to him with the promise of hope, then never delivers. I was never a Kolb hater, but the stats didn't justify the risk.

Matt Leinart

Just because the guy's a "former Carroll pupil" doesn't mean he'll leave a young locker room intact. If Young was a character risk, Leinart was a character time bomb. At one time, Leinart was reported to be signing with Seattle, but never did. He would have come cheap, but I doubt he'd have made any noise (of the right variety).

Ryan Mallett

A scheme misfit due to lack of mobility, a character risk for a fragile team spirit, and an enormous passing talent that had better flunk in the NFL or I'll be ticked that we didn't grab him when we had the LATE-SECOND-ROUND CHANCE.

Colin Kaepernick

I thought Seattle could have gone here. Nobody quite knew what to make of Kaepernick, other than he was raw but gifted physically and might not need as much development as most second-tier QB's. Seattle was high on him on draft day, according to Rob Staton. But it's a lot to tie your franchise to, and unlike San Francisco, Seattle would have needed to use a first-rounder on him since they failed to trade down. Plus, Schneider was one of the wise GM's who foresaw that the lockout would make it hard to bring a drafted QB up to speed in time for September.

Andy Dalton

Even if he didn't dislodge Carson Palmer into the free-agent winds, I lack the words for how glad I am that we didn't end up with Dalton.

That's how I justify the Tarvaris Jackson signing: process of elimination. No, he's probably not going to prove himself a franchise quarterback. But he carries the combination of experience, scheme-readiness, potential, maturity, and low cost that Seattle was looking for. Nobody else comes close to that ideal. Many critics of this move just aren't aware of this context. The Seahawks have kept themselves free to search for "that guy" while still enjoying NFL-average play at QB.

Is this an admission to tossing the 2011 season into the "rebuild" bin? A lot of fans have already done that themselves. I've done that. And I'm okay with that, because Rome isn't built in a day, and the Jackson signing strongly hints that Carroll does want a "big name" at QB some day. That's an exciting hint. Decide for yourself whether this is a conscious tanking.

But for the present: best case, we have a solid franchise guy. Worst case, Jackson is the highest ring of hell that we could have been condemned to, and if he founders, we won't be there for very long or be bankrupted by him.

Coming in Part 3: Intrigue from Scott Williams about how Jackson's development compares to the early years of one Matt Hasselbeck...


  1. Awesome write-up. This is exactly how I felt about picking up TJax and you couldn't have put it into words better.

  2. You nailed it: "What else did you expect Seattle to do?" All of these QBs including TJ come with risk and there was no slam dunk choice. While future hindsight could prove another QB to be a better choice, no one can accurately predict that now. Of course by piling on TJ now, the critics can later trumpet "I told you so" if he bombs. If he succeeds, crickets, with the criticism forgotten.

  3. Excellent article. Do you see our franchise QB in the 2012 draft? If so, who?

  4. Impossible to say this early. Luck and Barkley aren't options. Landry Jones is probably our best bet.

  5. What are the chances we trade down into the top 10 for Barkley like the Jets did for Sanchez?

  6. Trade up, you mean?

    I'm afraid it's pretty unlikely. Any Top 10 team with a shot at Barkley will probably be in need of a QB themselves, much as Cleveland should have just drafted Sanchez. Instead, they got a solid center and a glut of backups instead of a starting QB. Epic fail.

    Additionally, if Barkley does declare in 2012 (and that's not a lock), he'll be going in the top two. That's a ridiculously hard spot to get into, either with your own record or with a trade-up.

  7. Yes, excellent article, B.A.

    I see the possibility of a crappy season from all three of our quarterbacks, despite the Hawks QB-Friendly Make Over. What if the ground game doesn't work, or the Hawks are too far behind too often to stay on the ground? I wouldn't be shocked if we are indeed a contender for the top two draft spots. Though I'd rather see the Hawks make the playoffs again, and Josh Portis make story of the year. Hollywood!

  8. Good questions, Anonymous. I don't see the ground game as reliable enough to protect a QB. That's a lot to ask for a line consisting of an injury-prone 30-year-old, Max Unger, and two rookies.

    BUT...it's still a massive accomplishment to grab the top two spots. We're more likely to pick between #6 and #10.