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Passing on Andy Dalton ultimately landed Russell Wilson for Seahawks

Andy Dalton, taken 35th in the 2011 draft by Cincinnati, was nearly taken 10 picks earlier by Seattle. (AP)

Andy Dalton helped put Russell Wilson in Seattle’s pocket.

That sounds weird to say because the two quarterbacks were part of different drafts with entirely different pedigrees. Dalton is a Texas kid who played in TCU’s spread offense while Wilson was schooled in a West Coast passing game at North Carolina State before transferring to Wisconsin for his senior season. But as these two quarterbacks face each other for the first time in the NFL on Sunday, it’s worth unraveling the ball of string that connects them in the Seahawks’ draft consideration.

The Seahawks very much considered choosing Dalton with the 25th pick of the 2011 draft. In fact, there were rumors his name was written on a draft card that never turned in, but it was more than just their decision to pass on him that kept the door open for the selection of Wilson a year later. It was the lessons drawn from that decision to pass on Dalton that helped Seattle – and more specifically general manager John Schneider – pull the trigger on selecting Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft.

Now, before we continue it’s important to offer a few qualifiers. The information that forms the basis from this story comes from multiple sources who were actually present in Seattle’s draft room during the two years in question. It does not, however, come from Schneider, and that’s important to disclose because not only does he figure so prominently in the storyline, but he is adamant about avoiding giving any one person credit for a team’s selection. That’s the way he has been since the day he was introduced as Seattle’s general manager in 2010.

“We don’t go there, brother,” Schneider said when asked for some draft selections that he vouched for while in Green Bay.

Sorry, John, but we have to go there at least a little bit to understand how Wilson ended up as Seattle’s quarterback.

Dalton was a serious consideration in the first round for Seattle. In fact, Schneider advocated for that selection. The issue was one of consensus. Specifically, Schneider didn’t want to force his conviction on a player on the rest of the scouting department and the entire franchise.

This wasn’t about who has the final say, either. Schneider runs Seattle’s draft. The question was how he would run it, and he has never wanted a front office in which his voice is the only one that makes the decisions.

So when it came time for the pick, the Seahawks selected offensive tackle James Carpenter out of Alabama. The most important result of that decision wasn’t that Seattle wound up with what turned out to be a marginal offensive lineman who struggled with his conditioning, but the instructions going forward from owner Paul Allen.

Allen is very interested in the draft process, a fact that has been true going back to when he owned the Portland Trailblazers and before he bought the Seahawks in 1997. And after Schneider explained he didn’t want to railroad the team’s draft process by choosing Dalton, Allen’s observation – according to someone who heard about the owner’s message but was not present for the conversation – was that the selection of a quarterback was precisely the kind of decision that Allen wanted Schneider to make.

That set the table for what happened the following year when Seattle entered the draft with eyes on a specific quarterback even with incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson still on the roster and Matt Flynn signed as an unrestricted free agent.

Schneider was hardly the only person with the Seahawks who believed in Wilson. Over the months of pre-draft evaluation, a pretty strong consensus had built up behind Wilson in spite of the fact that he measured 5 feet 10 and five-eighths.

The issue wasn’t whether Seattle wanted Wilson but when to pick him, and there were some who thought the third round was still too early. Scott McLoughan, who’s now Washington’s general manager, was a senior personnel executive with the Seahawks for that draft and he said before the third-round pick that he thought it was too early to choose Wilson, but that if Schneider believed in Wilson that much, then Schneider should make that pick.

The Seahawks chose Wilson with the No. 75 choice of the third round, the highest the team had chosen a quarterback since Brock Huard was picked in the third round in 1999. Within minutes, the Philadelphia Eagles were on the phone and Andy Reid was telling Schneider that the Seahawks had snagged the quarterback the Eagles were going to pick. A member of the Eagles scouting staff that year independently confirmed that Philadelphia had planned on selecting Wilson in the third round, seeing him as a ready-made backup for Michael Vick, who was then the starter.

But Wilson was a Seahawk before that could happen, a decision set in motion not only because the Seahawks passed on Dalton the year before, but because of lessons that were drawn from that decision.