Seattle's off-season game-plan becomes clearer by the day.
The latest move to sign Matt Flynn on a deal reportedly worth anywhere between $19-26m with $10m guaranteed provides the team with the competition it craves at quarterback. It also allows the Seahawks to move forward without persistent questions over the team's direction at the position. Pete Carroll and John Schneider can avoid selecting a quarterback in the first two rounds of the draft - minus the scrutiny.
It's not a difficult conclusion to come to. In two seperate interviews at the end of the season (one with KING-5's Chris Egan, the other with Clare Farnsworth) Schneider prepared the fans for what was to come. "I just know if you panic at the position, it can set the organization back. So we’re not going to do that. That may disappoint fans, because they want to see an instant guy and have that instant success. But really, you’re better off continuing to build your team."
The Seahawks certainly didn't panic in free agency. They allowed the market to develop, initially arranging visits with Chad Henne (who signed for the Jaguars) and Flynn - who spent a night in Seattle and conducted a work-out for the team during his stay. No contract was offered as the 2008 BCS Championship MVP flew to Miami to meet Joe Philbin, his former coach in Green Bay. As the mist cleared - and as news broke that the Dolphins were hosting Alex Smith - Seattle's patience paid off. A modest contract was agreed that will secure a camp battle between two quarterbacks who may never become the team's long term franchise player, but they'll at least be competing to get there. Nice work.
That level of patience will continue into the draft. As Schneider admits, if you don't see the answer available, "really, you’re better off continuing to build your team." While the Seahawks will undoubtedly have interest in several quarterback prospects in this class, the level of interest may not match-up to the team's long term goals. Sure, they may have a lot of time for Brock Osweiler, Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson (for example). That doesn't necessarily mean they're willing to draft one of them in the first two rounds.
So the Seahawks will likely wait it out. Let battle commence between Tarvaris Jackson and Flynn, while other needs are addressed in the first and second rounds - the impact picks. At the start of the off-season, Carroll highlighted the pass rush and defensive front seven as areas for improvement. The signing of Jason Jones from Tennessee will aid the team's pass rush, providing an interior force to compliment 'the big three' of Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch. Jones' flexibility also lends itself to the hybrid nature of the defense and his ability to line up in different positions and looks will be a real bonus.
However, there are still significant holes at both the WILL and the MIKE with Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne both free agents and the team will surely covet another dynamic pass rusher. Chris Clemons has been a key capture for the Seahawks, but he can't keep working alone. In 2011, Clemons had 11 sacks. The next best contributor was Hill with just four. That has to be a concern.
Considering Jones is unlikely to be an every down feature, it would make absolute sense for Seattle to draft a pass rusher in the first round. San Francisco's decision to take Aldon Smith with the 7th overall pick last year helped push the 49ers defense closer to elite status. The Seahawks would probably like to find their own version. Although all different players physically, Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples are capable of lining up across the front four and even playing some OLB in 3-4 looks. If you're searching for a clue as to what direction Seattle will go with the #12 pick, you can start right there.
Round two will provide plenty of options to address the linebacker issue. Mychal Kendricks at California is a fast-rising talent with the athleticism and tenacity to play the WILL or the MIKE. There's also the obvious PAC-12 connection and Kendricks was named the conference MVP on defense as a senior. North Carolina's Zach Brown is a strong option should he fall into round two (something that remains unlikely despite an underwhelming off-season) while Sean Spence (Miami), Lavonte David (Nebraska), Bobby Wagner (Utah State) and Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma) could all be on the radar.
It also seems likely the ground game will get further love at some point this off-season, possibly with a pick in the first three rounds. Seattle's offense is being built around the run and even after Marshawn Lynch's contract extension, the Seahawks will need insurance in case their leading playmaker misses time. Expect a running back to be drafted early or a top second-tier runner to be signed during free-agency.
That's not to say a quarterback won't be drafted at all. Depending on which prospects make it to the later rounds (4-6), we could see one or even two players taken to add to the stable. The previously name-checked Russell Wilson is one to watch, alongside the usual suspects Chandler Harnish and Austin Davis. Should Brock Osweiler or Kirk Cousins fall to round three, they could be too good to pass. But the signing of Flynn today almost certainly rules out a quarterback being taken in the first two rounds.
What about the long term? The Seahawks will be hoping Flynn or Jackson makes a claim for the too-often used title of 'quarterback of the future'. In reality, both players own contracts with minimal commitment and maximum opportunity. Realistically, both could be discarded within one or two years - ideal if neither locks down the starting role and the team wishes to draft a quarterback early.
Today's news already puts the focus on the 2013 draft and the quarterbacks who will be available in twelve months time. It doesn't take a detective to realise one player in particular stands out - a former Carroll protégé at USC who will surely interest the Seahawks next year. Signing Flynn will do for now, reassuring fans who simply wanted hope for the long term. In actual fact, this leaves the door wide open for the Seahawks to prepare for a potentially greater commitment to the position next year.
Rob Staton writes Seahawks Draft Blog - talking draft with a Seattle flavor every day of the week