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At quarterback, Seahawks have NFL’s best value

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Russell Wilson’s marked improvement throughout the 2012 season, plus a playoff win, solidified his status as the Seahawks’ starting quarterback. (AP)

By Danny O’Neil

There is no more valuable position in football than quarterback.

And of all the quarterbacks in the NFL, there is no one who’s a better value than Seattle’s Russell Wilson.

Not only was he the only rookie quarterback to win a playoff game last season, he will make $526,217 in base salary in 2013. That’s a veritable steal in a year when the Detroit Lions felt compelled to double down on Matthew Stafford, signing him to a contract that tacked $41 million over three years onto the $72 million deal he signed as the top draft pick in 2009.

The Seahawks have broke camp with just two quarterbacks on their roster three times in the last six seasons.

2012: 2
2011: 3
2010: 2
2009: 3
2008: 3
2007: 2
2006: 3
2005: 3
2004: 3
2003: 3
2002: 3

Some day, Seattle may be footing a similar bill for Wilson — just not any time soon, as he has two more seasons as the best bargain in football.

The new collective-bargaining agreement made it not just more affordable to draft — and sign — a rookie quarterback even at the top of the draft order. That made it a financial advantage for teams that picked someone at the top of the draft order as Indianapolis did with Andrew Luck and Washington did with Robert Griffin III last year. For a third-round pick like Wilson or even a second-round choice like San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, who became a starter his second season, it amounts to a windfall under the salary cap.

Wilson’s deal can’t be renegotiated until after the 2014 season, which is the reason that Seattle had the financial flexibility not only to add Cliff Avril on a two-year deal at defensive end, but to follow that up by signing Michael Bennett as well. If finding a franchise quarterback in the draft is like winning the lottery, then the Seahawks are like the team that found a used ticket everyone else had overlooked only to discover it was the winner.

The lock: Russell Wilson.

Pete Carroll changed quarterbacks after each of his first two seasons with the Seahawks. He’s unlikely to be changing any time soon given the way Wilson first won the job as the Seahawks’ starting quarterback, but then proceeded to systemically improve over the course of the season.

Four games into the season, there was a legitimate question about whether Wilson would remain the team’s starter. The team was 2-2, and in Week 3 and Week 4, Wilson was 1-for-11 passing on third down without a single first-down conversion. The next two games solidified Wilson’s hold on the starting job and by the end of the year he looked like the best player on the field.

The only question about Seattle’s starting quarterback this year is how far Wilson will be able to lead the Seahawks.

Head to head: Tarvaris Jackson or Brady Quinn.

The Seahawks signed Quinn as much for his study habits and work ethic as his potential. True, he was a first-round pick, but he had also been let go by three different franchises. The Seahawks believed he would make a great pairing with Wilson in terms of study and preparation, not to mention the fact that a fresh start might let Quinn’s talent flourish.

That equation changed when Jackson was released, though. Here’s a quarterback who knows Seattle’s offense not only because of his experience as the starter in 2011, but because he previously played under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell when both were with the Vikings. Jackson was 7-7 as Seattle’s starting quarterback in 2011 when the Seahawks defense wasn’t as good as it is now, and Jackson was playing through a torn pectoral muscle for much of the season.

Jackson will be considered the favorite to win that backup job, and don’t expect Seattle to keep a third quarterback. Seattle has entered the season with only a pair of quarterbacks in two of Carroll’s three seasons as coach, which is a marked change from Mike Holmgren’s approach. Seattle always kept three quarterbacks under Holmgren except for 2007, when the Seahawks had only two quarterbacks for the first week of the season until acquiring Charlie Frye from Cleveland before Week 3.