clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Matt Flynn and the Seattle Seahawks: Not Necessarily the "Win Now" Option

So I started to write this without knowing my intent, only that I wanted to be prepared just in case Matt Flynn signed with the Seahawks. I'm going to go ahead and publish while he still might be a free agent, giving my own perspective on the idea of signing Flynn to be the starting quarterback of the team. I don't really care if he's signed to be in a competition with Tarvaris Jackson or if he's signed to a cheap, incentive-laden deal and named starter. Why would anyone be against those things?

I mean, hey, if you reach certain levels of success and get bonuses, neat. You're getting paid for what you've done, not what we think you might do. I can imagine Flynn going around saying "Hey, pay me like one of those other guys. You know, Kevin Kolb and Matt Schaub and stuff." and teams simply saying, "No. What are you going to do about it?"

There's not much he can do about it. The only way he'll get paid like that is if TWO teams decide to offer him that deal or if ONE team is stupid about it and doesn't realize that the market on Flynn is soft. Why is it soft? Let me see if I can defend the opinion that Matt Flynn is Not a Win Now Option. At least not that much more than a rookie or Tarvaris.

My main issue with Matt Flynn: Lack of experience in college, lack of experience in the NFL, lack of superior statistics at LSU. Flynn was recruited with JaMarcus Russell, which meant that he was redshirted as a freshman and then sat on the bench for most of his next three seasons. If Russell had opted to return to school for his senior year, then Flynn would have probably spent his entire career on the bench (a la Matt Cassel) and then gone undrafted. Then where would he be?

I find it as a greater than zero chance that the only reason Flynn is in the NFL is because Russell went for the cash when his stock was at its highest.

Flynn started all but one game during his senior season and completed 202 of 359 passes (56.3%), for 2,407 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 INT, 6.7 yards per attempt, 6.5 adjusted yards per attempt and a "125.8 rating." Those numbers are not very good. As usual, LSU won a National Championship because of their superior defense. Seven players were drafted out of LSU that season, including Flynn, with Glenn Dorsey, Chevis Jackson, Jacob Hester, Early Doucet, and Craig Steltz going well ahead of Flynn.

Tyson Jackson was the third overall pick the next season.

What have coaches always like about Flynn and what made him even get recruited by LSU, even though he didn't have great numbers in high school?

Mike McCarthy pretty much reinforces the sentiment that all of his coaches have said:

"I like the way (Flynn) makes plays with his feet. He can get you out of a bad play," McCarthy said. "(He's) instinctive, very calm, his disposition is excellent. (He has good) pocket awareness and is comfortable in the pocket. I've been impressed with him so far."

That's a quote from the 2008 pre-season when Flynn beat out 2nd round pick Brian Brohm for the backup job. He had superior numbers to Brohm and finally beat him out, even though only a couple weeks before, McCarthy re-iterated that Brohm was ahead of Flynn. Finally, after Brohm had shown no improvement, Flynn won.

The pocket awareness and fleet-feet of Flynn seem to be the underlying factor that has kept his name alive in the NFL. Despite the fact that he lacks elite arm strength and all of those classic signs of an "NFL starting QB." He's not tall, he doesn't put up outstanding numbers, he frankly doesn't seem like he should be a great NFL quarterback. Even when McCarthy recently endorsed Flynn, he sort of still seemed to shrug his shoulders like "Well, IDK, MAYBE!":

"Based on what I see in the everyday classroom, practice field -- he's ready," McCarthy said. "It's his time to play. And you don't ever know. You don't ever know if a backup quarterback can take that next step and go out and play 16 games. I know mentally he's ready, emotionally he's definitely ready. But until you play the position and go play those 1,100, 1,200 snaps, that's when you really find out. And I think Matt's ready for that."

"You don't ever know..... And I think he's ready for that."

Yeah, a really ringing endorsement.

I think that people sort of expect a lot out of Flynn because he seems to have a high football IQ, knows the game, is ready to work, loves competition, and has a good attitude. But does that ever work for an NFL QB? A guy that perhaps went to a big name school, didn't play much because he was recruited around the same time as a better player, didn't put up superior numbers, and went low in the draft... do they ever work out?


Tom Brady, Michigan, 6th Round:

Brady started for two seasons at Michigan and as a junior he went 214 for 350 (61.1%) for 2,636 yards, 15 TD/12 INT, 7.5 Y/A and 131.7 rating. As a senior, 214 for 341 (62.8%) for 2,586 yards, 20 TD/6 INT, 7.6 Y/A and 142.3.

He slipped in the draft for a number of reasons but what did he possess that allowed him to success despite the NFL's misgivings? A high football IQ? Check. The ability to turn a loss into a gain because of pocket awareness? Check. Is ready to work and has a good attitude, loves competition? Does anybody in the NFL thrive on competition like Brady?

Of course, there are major differences between Flynn and Brady, beyond just the two inches that Tom has on Matt. Brady became the starter when he was 24 and in all honesty was not close to being the same player then as he is now. During those first three seasons, Brady averaged 6.6 yards per attempt and was what is commonly referred to as a "game manager." His stats weren't outstanding, but he led the Patriots to two Super Bowls because he was A.) Good and B.) Had a great team around him. Limit interceptions, limit losses, limit bad plays...

Something clicked at age 27, the same age as Flynn is now. In his last eight seasons, Brady has 7.9 yards per attempt and a 100.7 QB rating. However, how much did that first three years of development help him? How does the three year learning curve affect Flynn by not having it? Are we getting the version of a player that still has a lot to learn or can you make adjustments like that by sitting behind Aaron Rodgers for four years?

Clearly he hasn't just been fiddling his thumbs back there because he picked up the Packers offense on a level that allowed him to demolish the Lions and put up franchise record numbers. I believe that on Green Bay if something had happened to Rodgers long-term, Flynn could do just fine. He might be similar to what Matt Cassel did in New England... an experienced backup that has learned the ropes for several years and could step-in immediately, albeit with lesser physical talents.

Then there's the lesson of Matt Cassel in comp to Brady and Flynn:

Matt Cassel, USC, 7th round:

As we famously know by now, Cassel never got a start at USC. However, the same pedigree that got him onto the greatest college football program on the west coast (sorry fans of teams that are clearly upset right now. It's not like I went to USC.) was the same pedigree that landed him to the Pats in the 7th round.

He was 6'5", 230 lbs, and could potentially be molded into something, even if he hadn't started a game since high school.

For three years he watched and waited, attempting 39 passes during that time period. Cassel got the call early in 2008 and started 15 games. He knew the Patriots, he knew Belicheck, he knew the offense, he wasn't completely inept. Cassel was basically T2.. maybe inexperienced, but if you built it you knew it could f*ck some shit up because of it's size and coachability.

Cassell went into the 2008 season and was like "Sarah Conner?" and then he blew some shit up. 327 for 516 (63.4%), 3,693 yards, 21 TD/11 INT, 7.2 Y/A. Now, those numbers are good. They are especially good when you consider his inexperience but then they are especially underwhelming if you consider what Tom Brady had done in a full season with the same team a year before. (The record 50 TD season, etc.)

Why? Because Tom Brady is Tom Brady and Matt Cassel didn't have nearly the same amount of time to grow as Brady did. Learning things from game experience and not just the classroom. So when the Chiefs invested into Cassel, what exactly did they expect?

They didn't just need to run the same offense as Patriots, but it would help if they had two All-Pro wide recievers. They don't. Cassel's first season was a disaster: 271 for 493 (55%), 2,924 yards, 16 TD/16 INT, 5.9 Y/A and a 69.9 QB rating.

His second season was much better (helps when your defense is better and Jamaal Charles blows up every NFL defense) and Cassel completed 262 of 450 passes (58.2%) for 3,116 yards, 27 TD/7 INT, 6.9 Y/A and a 93.0 QB rating. And then there was this past season (no Jamaal Charles) when he started nine games and posted 6.4 Y/A, 10 TD/9 INT, 76.6 QB rating.

Major difference between Tom Brady and Matt Cassel: Brady had three years to grow with the same system and most of the same players and eventually became an elite quarterback. (Though he won more Super Bowls as a game manager.) Meanwhile, Cassel put up numbers similar to what Brady would have done during his first three years a Patriot except the Cassel didn't stay in New England. He had to go to a new team, new city, new stadium, new players, new coaches (though many familiar faces when KC became the Pats of the Midwest) and new schemes.

It was all new and how did Cassel respond? Poorly. Not that well. The Chiefs sit here four years later still sort of on the QB market.

How about a more familiar player that was in a similar situation: Matt Hasselbeck.

I've heard a lot of arguments about how Matt was also a late-round QB that had shown promise and then became the best quarterback in Seattle history. Which is all true, except that it didn't happen overnight. It didn't even happen over the first two seasons, when he was benched as a rookie for Trent Dilfer. If there's an expectation that Flynn is the "Win Now" option, I'd like to hear an argument for it.

Matt's rookie year: 54.8% in 12 starts, 2,023 yards 7 TD/8 INT, 6.3 Y/A, 70.9 rating and that was coming from Green Bay to a team coached by Mike Holmgren, not from Green Bay to a team coached by Pete Carroll. There's a major difference there. He started to figure it out during his second season and then went to new heights during his third, but it was his FIFTH season that Seattle became an elite team.

He was only one year younger than Flynn when he became the Hawks starter, so don't expect it to be entirely different. Hasselbeck also showed better physical tools and has more prototypical size. Also, as I'm writing this I get this tweet from @shanehawks:

"Hasselbeck didn't have the talent around him his first 2 years that Flynn would have this year."

Let's see. He had an offensive line of Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Chris Gray, Robbie Tobeck. He had Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram, Koren Robinson, Heath Evans, Shaun Alexander, Ricky Watters, and Christian Fauria. He had blockers, receivers, and a running game. How much worse is that than this years team?

The one with a #1 WR that has yet to stay healthy. A #2 receiver in Mike Williams that caught 18 passes. A tight end that had a career-worse year. We're talking about the potential of the 2012 offense around a QB versus what Hasselbeck had: two Hall of Fame offensive lineman, a running back that had 1,318 yards and 14 TDs, a receiver that had 1,081 yards, a promising rookie WR in Robinson that had 536 yards, and a steady slot option in Engram.

I can't say for certain that the 2012 team will look entirely different or to even be at the same level as that.

You see those examples to compare Flynn against and then look at a different set of examples: The Rookie Game Manager.

Everyone agrees that Flynn may have a high football IQ and good decision making but doesn't have the strongest arm, prototypical size, and a limited ceiling. Then look at the draft and maybe you see a guy like Kirk Cousins, a player that won't be a high first round pick because he also lacks some of the "prototypicalness" of what makes an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III.

But what about recent rookie or early-year quarterbacks to go to the playoffs: Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, and Josh Freeman (not playoffs, 10 wins and success for a season, I expect a major bounceback in 2012). Then you've got players like John Skelton that Arizona was able to win with.

How about this for a statistic: Of the 12 playoff teams from last season, 10 of them went to the playoffs with a quarterback that they drafted. The exceptions: Matt Schaub (who missed the end of the season and playoffs) and Drew Brees. (The exceptional free agent QB to break the mold on exceptions to rules.)

In 2010, it was 7 out of 12 teams and the exceptions were Brees, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, and Matt Hasselbeck.

In 2009, in was 9 out of 12. Exceptions of Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, and Brees.

In that group of quarterbacks that went to the playoffs and were not with the team that drafted them (or in the case of Tony Romo, undrafted them) how did they get to their current team? Favre and Warner as aged vets, more like a Peyton Manning situation. Brees was a QB that had showed success but the Chargers had Philip Rivers ready and Brees had injury questions. Vick was a special situation, for obvious reasons. Cutler didn't get along with new coach Josh McDaniels, so he was traded. Then there's the situations that are somewhat (but not entirely) similar to Matt Flynn:

Hasselbeck, Schaub, and Cassel. We talked about the other two, but Schaub is similar to Flynn in that he has only made two starts and he went from one system to another, and was 26 (like Hasselbeck, a year younger than Flynn) when he went from Atlanta to Houston.

How has that worked out for Houston? Well, pretty well, considering.

However, it took five years for Schaub and the Texans to go to the playoffs. Of course, this isn't something that can be blamed on Schaub, a quarterback that I really like and who has put up great numbers when he is healthy. Still, the Texans couldn't break to the next level until they had an elite defense. Which brings me to "Piece X/Piece Y":

Piece X: Elite QB

Piece Y: Elite Defense

If you have X but not Y, then you still may overcome defense to win (Manning, Brees, Rodgers.)

If you have Y but not X, then you still may overcome subpar QB play to win (Ravens, 49ers, 2012 Broncos.)

What do the Seahawks have right now? They have a potentially elite secondary. They have one linebacker that seems to be a starter as of today (KJ Wright) and they have good push on the d-line but very little pass rush. They still lack Texans players like LB Brian Cushing, DE J.J. Watt, LB Connor Barwin (11.5 sacks), LB/DE Mario Williams, LB Brooks Reed (6 sacks.)

The Texans had an elite QB for 10 games and then a terrible QB for six, but even without Mario Williams they were able to win enough games to make the playoffs, and then a playoff game. With Schaub, they might have gone all the way. Definitely important to have an elite QB if you don't have an elite defense.

Where does this leave Seattle? Well, there are still players left in FA besides Flynn, named Curtis Lofton, Stephen Tulloch, and Jason Jones. It's not guaranteed that Seattle could land these players with or without cap space, or that they couldn't sign Flynn/Lofton/Jones and draft Melvin Ingram. But if their only power play was Matt Flynn and drafting a DE, would that be enough to get them over the hump?

Because of the turnover already experienced during the off-season (Who is our RG? Who are the OLBs? Who will rush the passer besides Chris Clemons?) we can't expect Flynn, an inexperienced and seemingly limited 27-year-old QB to be the "Win Now Option."

Not unless: A.) Sidney Rice plays 16 games, giving him a threat close to Greg Jennings. B.) Zach Miller becomes steadier in the passing game, still making him a very poor mans Jermichael Finley. C.) Russell Okung plays 16 games and provides the protection necessary that few LT's can. D.) Somebody steps up to be the #2 WR (not the slot receiver like Doug Baldwin is) whether that's Mike Williams or someone else.

This isn't plug-and-play. This is plug-and-plug-and-plug because the defense is still a step away from what the Texans had last year or what the 49ers had last year because a game manager on the roster as it stands will maybe have a ceiling of the Bengals last season and who thought the Bengals would actually win in the playoffs?

I'm not against Matt Flynn as a signing. I'm not against having competition and I'm not against the idea that he'll be the named the starter right away because if he is signed, then it won't hurt for one player to get ALL of the first team reps from now until the start of the season. However, making a "panic move" and signing him to a big contract with guaranteed money doesn't seem like a good idea. There are players of similar ability in the draft with higher ceilings that may actually not take any longer to develop into the system and could potentially lead this team to the playoffs as soon as next season.

As always, I like to use history to confirm my suspicions or to prove me wrong. In this case, I feel that history has confirmed that even when "backup QB goes to become a starter on another team" turns successful, it's still not a "Win Now" situation. It's not, because players still need adjustment time to new systems and it's even more difficult when you consider that Matt Flynn has started two more games in his NFL career than Kirk Cousins or Brock Osweiler have. Yet they will be cheaper (seemingly, unless Flynn signs a two-year deal and wants to prove his worth) and approximately 4-5 years younger.

I think the myth of "Matt Flynn to Win" has been debunked. Tell me why I'm wrong.

Follow me on Twitter also to tell me how doopid I am.