With the 2010 season in the books, it’s time to take a look back, and a look forward, and see where the Seattle Seahawks stand at every position. A 7-9 playoff team with needs just about everywhere makes for interesting reading and writing, but for Pete Carroll and John Schneider, all that speculation becomes stark reality over the next few months.
The ongoing CBA drama may delay free agency, but not the draft. Quarterback is in the minds of everyone — the fans, players, coaches and front office personnel — watching the Seahawks. That’s where we begin, with the face of the franchise that may be the face of another sooner than later.
During his season-ending press conference, Pete Carroll made it very clear that signing Hasselbeck to a new contract was the franchise’s top offseason priority. Hasselbeck is no longer the quarterback he was in the salad days of the Mike Holmgren era, but there are three reasons that bringing him back makes sense.
First, with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in tow, Hasselbeck would see a return the West Coast offense with which he has always been best-suited. Second, there are no immediate and available options that would fit the current Seahawks better – Hasselbeck is comfortable with the offense, the coaching staff, and the personnel, and he’s been this team’s offensive leader for years. Third, with new San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh endorsing a return to the West Coast offense himself and Arizona looking for any port in a storm at the position, Hasselbeck could very well find himself as a doubly effective weapon on another NFC West team – not only bringing help to a divisional enemy, but providing the kind of intel that could alter the balance of power in a foursome that is always up for grabs.
But according to Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics, Hasselbeck hasn’t had a season above league average since 2007, and the two games against the Saints aside, he was rarely able to provide consistent production at the position in 2010.
Part of that had to do with the schematic disconnect between Hasselbeck and former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, and part had to do with the fact that skills erode over time. The Seahawks need to bring Hasselbeck back, but they also need to be realistic about what he can provide. They must get his long-term replacement on the roster this season if they hope to transition from one offensive era to the next.
With all the successful moves made by the Carroll/Schneider brain trust, the trade with the San Diego Charges for Whitehurst was controversial at the time and has produced middling returns at best. Whitehurst had never thrown a regular-season pass, yet signed a two-year, $8 million contract after the trade. It was a decision based on pure measurables, but unless something in the offseason clicks, the move was a mistake that exacerbated the already pressing need for a long-term solution at quarterback.
The first problem with Whitehurst is that even in a system that would seem to play to his strengths of mobility and deep-ball accuracy (Bates’ vertical passing offense), Whitehurst often looked awkward in game situations and even worse in practice. When it was dependent on Whitehurst to win the regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams, Bates chucked the Air Coryell game plan and went with a hybrid spread offense that mirrored the kind of offense Whitehurst ran at Clemson. The fact that Whitehurst couldn’t find a comfort level in a more advanced passing offense after four years under Norv Turner in San Diego has to raise concerns among the coaching staff and front office.
Whitehurst’s future with the team seems questionable at best – he does not possess the short-to-intermediate accuracy required of any quarterback playing in a West Coast offense. To force a fit into the wrong scheme is a mistake best left to the dregs of the league.
Because of the neglect at the position through the Ruskell era, the Seahawks are at a critical crossroads. They must balance the desire to contend now with the realization that any quarterback currently in the league good enough to help with their current offense – say, Donovan McNabb – would be short-term option at best. That includes Hasselbeck. There are several quarterbacks available in this year’s draft, but none present the kind of measurable that Sam Bradford brought to last year’s draft.
Jake Locker is the obvious name on tongues of every football fan in Washington state, but Locker may be two full years away from possessing the kind of consistency it takes to succeed in the NFL. Florida State’s Christian Ponder may be the best option for the Bevell offense because of his mechanics and overall football acumen, but his ceiling is most likely lower than Locker’s. It also difficult to know if the franchise can get back to the Super Bowl without an elite quarterback.
The quarterback position is always the hardest to fill in any NFL offense; brilliant offensive minds like Brian Billick and Steve Mariucci have seen dreams deferred by the inability to find that franchise signal-caller. The Seahawks now stand on that same precipice, secure in the knowledge of only one thing – the decisions they make over the next few months will affect the team for years.
That’s how crucial it is to get the right quarterback – and to do so before you actually need one.