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Two “true number ones?” Pete Carroll remaining noncommittal about QB competition

NFL: Seattle Seahawks OTA Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Pete Carroll fielded some questions about the state of the Seattle Seahawks franchise. Chiefly among these inquiries was the ongoing request for ol’ Pete to tip his proverbial hat and indicate who will be the starter come Week 1. Now, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Carroll is keeping his cards close on this one, but it may come as a bit of a surprise that he said the following:

“We might have two number 1s” he says. In all honesty, though, this sounds like the Pete-speak version of “yeah, neither of these guys is the truth at quarterback.” I am very curious to know if Pete thought that the team had “two number 1s” when Geno Smith was backing up Russell Wilson (the answer is that they did not). Did the team have “two number 1s” when Matt Flynn was the presumptive starter and Russell Wilson the young but exciting rookie? Absolutely not, they had a true starter and a veteran benchwarmer. Because teams don’t happen upon starting-caliber passers the same way they do other positions; there is a reason that RB-by-committee is a much more common phrase than QB-by-committee. Even teams running two-QB systems over the past few seasons very clearly have a starter and then a unique player who the coaching staff scheme into a few packages (Taysom Hill with the New Orleans Saints, how the San Francisco 49ers utilized Trey Lance in year one). This just isn’t a thing that NFL teams get the opportunity to do with any frequency or regularity. And as Michael-Shawn Dugar points out above, this is a position where teams typically prefer stability and consistency.

Now, let’s take a brief trip back in time. Think back to the heyday of the Pete Carroll v. Jim Harbaugh rivalry; I’m talking about just after Colin Kaepernick had fully seized the Niners starting job from Alex Smith while a young Russell Wilson was laying the groundwork for a decade of stability with the Seattle Seahawks. At that point, these two teams were headed in opposite directions. Or maybe rather they were about to be... We all know the outcome, but that part is less important than this: in both of these situations, a young and at-that-time ascendant quarterback took the opportunity to step in front of a veteran and prove they were the best candidate for the job.

The reason I bring up that first example is this: in a sports-related argument with some friends circa winter of 2012 — one of whom was a St. Louis Los Angeles Rams fan, and another a diehard 49ers fan — we were discussing how incredibly rare it is for a team to have two starting quality QBs on their roster. Not just starters, but talented starters. The example we were using at the time was the case of Trent Green and Kurt Warner, famed “Greatest Show On Turf” performers. As you likely recall, Trent Green never won a Super Bowl, but did make a couple Pro Bowls as a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. Kurt Warner, of course, would go on to have one of the most storied careers in football. My Bay Area pal suggested that the 49ers were in a similar spot, with Alex Smith hardly a scrub and Colin Kaepernick the next-big-thing. He then went on to talk about the glory days of Joe Montana and Steve Young. Me, I just sat quietly and thought about how awesome Russell Wilson was going to be, because the team I root for was still looking for its first Super Bowl win.

Flash forward to the present, and I think we have seen that, while Alex Smith has certainly played like a capable starter at times, would anybody ever really say he is a “true QB1?” Probably not. Would anybody say that Trent Green, even, was a “true QB1?” Again, maybe, but probably not. Russell Wilson, on the other hand, is a true QB1, unlike Matt Flynn, Charlie Whitehurst, or Tarvaris Jackson. At no point during his career in Seattle (save for maybe those first couple games of his rookie season) did anybody every honestly think that Wilson was in any danger of losing his starting job. Being traded, sure, but only so he could go be a starter for another team. The point that I am making here is that identifying one, singular player who is a next-level talent at signal caller is one of the most difficult things to do in the NFL. Rarely, if ever, do teams have not one but two starting level passers on their team.

So getting back to Pete Carroll’s initial assessment regarding Geno Smith and Drew Lock, I think we can probably all agree that the team will be unbelievably fortunate if they are able to find out that one of these guys is actually a great passer who was simply a victim of circumstance. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but the odds aren’t in their favor. The odds weren’t in their favor when they signed Matt Flynn or drafted Russell Wilson. I have alternatively defended and cursed at Pete over the years, but excuse me if I struggle to get excited about the QB-evaluation of a coach who once touted Charlie Whitehurst as “exciting”. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think Carroll really believes this either; call it his never-ending optimism, but this QB conundrum is “legit,” to use Pete’s own word, and likely won’t work itself out in time to be ready for the season opener.