By Danny O’Neil
RENTON – The departure could have been smoother, if we’re being honest.
Tarvaris Jackson could have gotten more than five pass attempts in the preseason last year when trying to prove he should still be Seattle’s starting quarterback. And if Jackson didn’t really have an honest shot of hanging onto that job, well, the Seahawks didn’t have to wait until two weeks before the regular season started to ship him to the other corner of the country in exchange for Buffalo’s seventh-round pick.
But the fact that Jackson returned one year later is more important than the logistics of his departure. At least it is for this franchise, and not just because it gave the Seahawks one of the very best backup quarterbacks in the National Football League, a guy who posted a perfect quarterback rating in his Seahawks’ re-debut last week in San Diego.
Jackson’s return is just one more example of Seattle’s current place in the pecking order of professional football. It has become a destination.
“This is the type of organization that when you come, you don’t want to leave,” receiver Sidney Rice said last week.
And when a player does leave, he just may leap at the chance to come back as Jackson did when he signed with Seattle after the Bills let him go.
“It was pretty much a no-brainer,” Jackson said.
This is something new for Seattle pro sports in general and the Seahawks franchise in particular. There’s a certain gravity now, one whose pull exceeds the simple ability to sign free agents. The Seahawks have been aggressive in that regard ever since Paul Allen began signing the checks back in 1998. That’s true when it comes to adding top-shelf talent like Chad Brown as well as premier coaches like Mike Holmgren and now Pete Carroll.
But back then, Seattle’s checkbook was the trump card. It’s certainly how Seattle signed Grant Wistrom in 2004, giving a $14 million signing bonus to player who wasn’t going to get more than $10 million from anyone else.
Now, Seattle’s tiebreaker is its facilities, coaching staff and – perhaps more than anything else – the success that can be projected years down the road. The Seahawks are seen as a team on the brink – a squad whose defense allowed the fewest points in the league last year, and an offense that looks to have found a franchise cornerstone at quarterback in Russell Wilson.
It’s an attractive package for a veteran who wants a run at a ring like – oh, I don’t know – cornerback Antoine Winfield. The situation also proved to be plenty enticing for defensive linemen Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, two free agents who didn’t’ get the kind of long-term offers they sought as free agents this offseason and instead chose to take short-term deals to play for a team whose home stadium is a pass rusher’s dream.
The Seahawks have built something here with regard to the talent on this roster, but how that talent has been honed, and in many cases honed itself. Jackson saw all this first-hand during his year in Seattle.
“This is a good ball team,” Jackson said. “I know the hard work that was put in. I know the type of atmosphere and guys that I’ll be here with.”
It was the reason he didn’t want to leave last summer when the Seahawks traded him to Buffalo. It was also the reason he didn’t hesitate when he was offered the chance to return after the Bills released him earlier this year.
“I really wanted to come play for this team,” Jackson said.
That says a great deal about Jackson’s professionalism given the way Seattle waited to release him after drafting Wilson and signing Matt Flynn in free agency. It says even more about how much of a desired location Seattle has become in the NFL real-estate market.