By John Boyle Herald Columnist
There were so many reasons for Russell Wilson not to win the Seahawks’ starting quarterback job.
Wilson is a rookie, and a third-round pick at that. He’s short by quarterback standards, and he was competing for the starting nod against last year’s starter, Tarvaris Jackson, and big(ish)-money free-agent signing Matt Flynn.
Yep, there were plenty of reasons not to give Wilson the job. Well, except one little detail that got in the way — Wilson, that not-quite-5-foot-11, third-round pick, is the Seahawks’ best quarterback. And that’s why Pete Carroll announced Sunday night that Wilson will start the season opener in Arizona next month.
“He’s earned this job,” Carroll said on a teleconference. “It was a legitimate competition like we said from the beginning, and with the opportunity that he’s taken advantage of, he deserves to start.”
And as corny as Carroll’s “always compete” mantra can sound at times, and much as we might like to poke fun at frequency with which he talks about competition, this decision serves a very good reminder that all of that talk is very, very real.
It would have been easy for Carroll to have just named Flynn the starter after signing him in the offseason to deal that includes $10 million in guaranteed money. But Carroll being Carroll, he wanted an open competition. And after seeing what Wilson was able to do throughout training camp and in three preseason games, including a very impressive start in Kansas City Friday, Carroll came to the same conclusion that so many observers have over the past few weeks. Wilson is this team’s best quarterback. Even if he is a rookie. And even if he isn’t tall enough by NFL quarterback standards. And even if he is making a fraction of the money Flynn will make to serve as Wilson’s backup.
“Every number that you look at, you look at third-down conversion numbers, you look at drives, you look at efficiency, completion percentage, taking care of the football, his ability to be elusive and make yards with his legs, decision making, has just been excellent,” Carroll said. “This isn’t just based on the quarters that we’ve seen him play. We’ve seen this happen in practice and the challenges that he’s undertaken here on our practice field. We’ve combined everything, and he won this opening challenge here. We made the decision and we’re going with it.”
The biggest reason Wilson was available for the Seahawks to draft with the 75th pick in April’s draft — five picks after the Jaguars drafted a punter (a punter!) by the way — is his lack of height. Carroll said the Seahawks had their concerns about that as well when evaluating Wilson. In practice, Carroll tried to put Wilson in situations where his height, or lack thereof, might be an issue. Carroll studied film, and just couldn’t find an issue with Wilson’s height, and when he looked at Wilson not as a short quarterback, but just a quarterback, it became clear that Wilson was also the Seahawks’ best quarterback.
“After a while you don’t even notice it,” Carroll said. “It’s not a factor.”
Of course now the Seahawks and Carroll need Wilson to reward an unconventional decision. Seahawks owner Paul Allen has plenty of money, but he still probably won’t be thrilled seeing $10 million in guaranteed money devoted to a backup unless Wilson quickly shows he belongs. And more importantly, the Seahawks are a team with legitimate playoff aspirations. This isn’t a team starting a rookie because it’s beginning a rebuilding process; the Seahawks believe the rebuilding is behind them, and are a team with real expectations. If Wilson struggles early, Carroll will be open to criticism for not just starting a rookie, but for having the competition play out the way that it did, limiting the amount of practice reps that rookie quarterback had to prepare for the season.
But Carroll isn’t worrying about what might happen if Wilson struggles; he’s too busy dreaming of what Wilson can mean for an offense that struggled to move the ball consistently last season.
“He’s just been really, really impressive,” Carroll said. “… He’s built the case that he needs to start this football game and start the opener, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
And by going with Wilson, the Seahawks are also part of a league-wide trend that has seen more and more teams hand the keys to the offense to young quarterbacks. With Wilson earning the starting job, there will be five rookies starting their team’s season openers. Five second-year quarterbacks are also starting, meaning 10 of the 32 starting quarterbacks in Week 1 will be first or second-year players. So even if Wilson winning the starting job seemed unlikely when he was drafted, it’s not as unheard of as it might have been five or 10 years ago.
“Times have shifted, and if we don’t acknowledge that, then we’re just putting our heads in the sand,” Carroll said. “… It’s just a different time now.”
Yes, times are changing in the NFL, but don’t be shocked that Wilson won the job. Rookie or not, too short or not, he put Carroll in a position where, if the coach ever wants to preach the value of competition again, he had to name Wilson the starter.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.