Pete Carroll needs Matt Flynn to pay off
By Mike Salk
Pete Carroll has made his decision.
Nearly eight months after the Seahawks let their long-time quarterback walk away, they have signed a potential successor. Just like Matt Hasselbeck — the only quarterback to take this franchise to a Super Bowl — Matt Flynn was unheralded coming out of college (despite success) but went to Green Bay and he learned his craft while sitting behind an MVP.
This is a story about Flynn and his potential to lead the Seahawks to the next level.
But even more, it is a story about Carroll, who will be judged by the decision to invest in him.
The day Carroll signed on to be the head coach in Seattle, John Clayton told us that he would ultimately be judged by the quarterback he chose. In two years, he has traded for Charlie Whitehurst, started Hasselbeck for a year, let Hasselbeck go, signed Tarvaris Jackson — and handed him the starting job over Whitehurst without competition — and now signed Flynn.
All of the moves until the latest one have come without a significant amount of judgment.
Let’s face it. He had to keep Hasselbeck for a year but it was time to move on. Whitehurst was a dud trade, but it didn’t cost them much. Jackson was better than many expected, but doesn’t seem to have the ability to push them over the top. Fortunately, he also doesn’t come with a hefty price tag, so he didn’t prevent them from finding the franchise guy that could lead the team for years to come.
Is Matt Flynn that guy?
I have no idea. Like most of you, I have barely seen him play. He has only started two NFL games, looking very good in one and excellent in the other.
On the plus side, he threw for mega yardage and shined in spot duty. He also beat out second-round pick Brian Brohm for a roster spot despite being taken five rounds later in the same draft.
On the negative side, he had the opportunity to play in a ridiculous offense with weapons galore, and his greatest success came against a woeful Detroit defense with very little to gain.
Matt Flynn represents the biggest investment the Seahawks have made at quarterback since head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider arrived in 2010. (AP)
Oh, and one more thing: NFL teams weren’t exactly beating down his door to sign him up. Despite the frenzy that accompanied his six touchdowns and 480 yards passing in the regular-season finale, only the Seahawks and Dolphins made serious overtures, at least publicly.
In the end, he settled on the Seahawks, taking a deal that guarantees him roughly $10 million, or a little less than the $12 million guaranteed that Kevin Kolb received last year. If Flynn plays out the contract, he’ll make just under $9 million a year for three years.
You will hear plenty of people praise the Seahawks for what they accomplished. They signed one of the top free-agent quarterbacks on the market to a team-friendly deal and have enough leverage over him to bring him in with nothing promised. They aren’t going to be the final team left standing as the game of QB musical chairs runs out.
They deserve praise for all of those things, and maybe even more praise for maintaining the flexibility to go in a different direction next year if this doesn’t work out or if a potential superstar becomes available.
But I can’t shake one nagging worry — that I don’t know if Flynn is a franchise quarterback.
Remember, Flynn was not pursued like a franchise quarterback. He did not sign a contract that pays him like a franchise quarterback. We’ve been told that he will compete with Jackson, something Jackson himself didn’t even need to do when he was first signed.
I just recently finished reading the biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs, which has a myriad lessons for business and life. Among them is his assertion that a business — or in this case a team — must be full of A players, that there isn’t room for B and C players.
“It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract other B players, and soon you will even have some C players,” Jobs wrote.
Clearly, that hardline thinking isn’t possible in an NFL system that features a salary cap, draft, and 31 competitors with the same idea.
To win, however, you better have an A player in the most important spot — quarterback. And whereas there were likely A players available this offseason, the Seahawks didn’t treat Flynn like one of them. They didn’t knock down his door and bowl him over. They waited, sent a plane to meet Manning, allowed Flynn to leave Seattle to visit Miami, then signed him to a mid-level deal.
The kind of deal that teams give to B players.
Hopefully, they have found their A player and gotten him at B value. That would be the best of both worlds.
I have said over and over that I believe the Seahawks should identify the guy they believe can take them to the top and do anything they can to acquire him. Carroll and general manager John Schneider have yet to try anything like that since taking over the franchise. They have kicked the tires on plenty of options (Kolb, Carson Palmer, etc), but have yet to fully pull the trigger and commit to any one guy.
So far, the strategy has worked. While they haven’t found “their guy,” they haven’t crippled the franchise by hitching their wagon to the wrong one, either. They haven’t over-committed resources — time, money, draft picks, etc. — to the wrong quarterback, which has allowed them to rebuild the defense, offensive line and running game.
I thought, however, that this offseason was the time to find “their guy.” There were three “can’t miss” franchise quarterbacks available. Andrew Luck wasn’t a possibility, Manning wasn’t interested in them, and they obviously didn’t want to give up what it took to get Robert Griffin III.
Flynn is not viewed in that same way. He is not in that group.
No one is offering him ownership stake because his value is not perceived to be that high. No one is cutting a future hall of famer for him. And no one is trading up the bounty that Washington gave up to acquire him. He signed for the type of contract that NFL teams hand out to quarterbacks who are in the middle of the pack. If Flynn outplays that contract, Carroll and Schneider will be geniuses and they’ll remain here a long time.
If he doesn’t, they may have another bite at the franchise quarterback apple, but they will have used up one of their chits.
This is Year 3 of the Carroll/Schneider regime. In Week 1, they will likely start their third quarterback in as many seasons. They may not be paying this one like a franchise changer, but they are counting on him to be one.
It is the most significant investment they have made in the quarterback position, the most important in sports.
Three years in, they will be judged on this investment’s return.