Seahawks general manager John Schneider gets a lot of credit for drafting Russell WIlson in the third round of the 2012 draft, and rightfully so.
However, his overall track record for acquiring quarterbacks aside from landing Wilson leaves a lot to be desired.
In fact, it’s quite terrible, but more on that in a moment.
It's easy to brush off the lack of any kind of proven backup to Wilson, or even a dynamic, promising young developmental prospect because of the perennial Pro Bowlers durability. After all, Wilson has started every one of the 125 games his team has played since he arrived in Seattle.
But what are the odds Wilson plays out the next five years of his contract without having to miss a game? And how capable would a Wilson-less offense be for a team that appears poised for many more years of playoff contention ahead of them?
The team’s signing this week of journeyman signal-caller Geno Smith screams “patchwork.” And while it was prudent to add another veteran to compete with former Broncos first round pick Paxton Lynch, we’re talking about two draft busts battling it out to be Wilson’s backup.
This is not exactly what Schneider envisioned, or even what he promised, when he arrived in 2010 from Green Bay.
LEARNING FROM A LEGEND
Schneider speaks glowingly about his time being mentored by former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf while cutting his teeth with the Packers. Schneider served as a scout under Wolf between the years of 1993 and 1996. He underwent further exposure to more of the same influence when he returned to the Packers in 2002 after stints in Kansas City, Seattle, and Washington. Then it was Ted Thompson, another Wolf protege, running the show. As Thompson’s personnel analyst and then as his Director of Football Operations, Schneider had a continued front row seat to watch arguably the most successful quarterback-development operation in the league.
Consider this - with Brett Favre firmly entrenched as starter and star in Green Bay between the years 1992 and 2007, the Wolf and Thompson-led Packers continued to use consistent draft capital on the quarterback position. There was Ty Detmer in 1992, Mark Brunell in 1993, Jay Barker in 1995, Matt Hasselbeck in 1998, and Aaron Brooks in 1999.
Obviously, none of those players ever had a chance to unseat Favre, but the Packers ultimately turned those players into trade ammo, acquiring a total of two third-round picks, along with picks in the fourth and fifth rounds for dealing Brunell, Hasselbeck, and Brooks.
This was the same front office that famously drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005 even while Favre appeared to have a number of good years left in the tank, and then drafted two quarterbacks (Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn) in 2008 while knowing they were likely on the verge of seeing Rodgers himself blossom into a Hall of Fame player.
“I learned very early in this game, if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a chance,” Wolf said during his run in Green Bay. “We were very lucky that we had a unique quarterback that never missed a game [in Favre]. But that didn’t stop me from drafting in late rounds. It’s the premiere position, and you better be able to cover yourself.”
When Schneider arrived in Seattle in 2010 he echoed those sentiments, and spoke of the “Green Bay Way” of quarterback acquisition on an almost yearly basis.
As recently as 2017, he said shortly before the draft, “I was really blessed to start with Ron Wolf [in Green Bay].” Schneider said then. “The two most important people in the building are the head coach and the quarterback. I’ve always thought you need to have one in the chamber all the time and have a guy getting ready.”
ALL TALK NO ACTION
So then, what’s happened?
Looking at Schneider’s record of quarterback acquisition in Seattle, you see nothing that even remotely resembles what he witnessed in Green Bay. The likes of Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, and Matt Flynn were acquired through free agency or trade before Schneider struck gold with Wilson in the 2012 NFL Draft. Wilson was the only QB drafted in Seattle until the team took Florida International‘s Alex McGough in 2018. But even that didn’t work out. McGough spent the season on the practice squad before being released and landing in Jacksonville.
To hear Schneider tell it, the inability to find the right quarterback to draft has been due to timing, or circumstance, or draft capital, or….. something.
“It just hasn’t gone that way for us,” Schneider said. “I don’t know how to explain it to you. It just hasn’t matched up from a round standpoint... We haven’t done that and philosophically that’s something that you want to try and do. The most important position on the field.”
It's hard to imagine that it’s truly a question of draft capital. In the five drafts between the years 2013-17, Seattle has ended up taking nine players four times, with 11 picks in each of the 2013 and 2017 drafts. It’s simply a matter of commitment, of prioritizing the position.
Schneider admitted as much after the finally spending a seventh rounder on McGough last year.
“I don’t feel like we’ve done, and me personally, have done a good enough job of continuing to acquire quarterbacks all the way through,” Schneider said after the 2018 draft. “It’s a little bit more difficult now because we don’t have NFL Europe so we can’t placing these guys [there]… We need to do a better job developing quarterbacks, period.”
WHY NOT THIS YEAR?
Once again, opportunities weren’t great in this year’s draft. The likes of Easton Stick, Clayton Thorson, and Gardner Minshew were drafted in the fifth and sixth rounds of what was generally considered to be a weak quarterback draft class to begin with. Choosing any of those players would have likely cost Seattle a shot at Oregon safety Ugo Amadi or Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, and both look like key pieces to a rebuilt young defense.
Some scouts felt that Brett Rypien had quality backup or even possible starter written all over him, but clearly that view wasn’t widely shared as Rypien fell out of the draft entirely before the Broncos signed him as an undrafted free agent. The Seahawks signed a undrafted free agent of their own, but South Dakota State’s Taryn Christion was so unimpressive in minicamp recently that he was released when Smith signed earlier this week.
Prior to that, it appeared Schneider and coach Pete Carroll were content to hand the backup job over to Lynch without a fight. But the signing of Smith clearly changes all of that.
Based purely on what we’ve seen from both players in their pro careers to this point, Smith is the better player, and for the first time, the Seahawks may have a backup quarterback capable of winning a few games should Wilson ultimately be forced to miss any games due to injury. If Lynch should outperform him in training camp, maybe the team has something more, but even if one of these dueling high-round flame outs should perform well enough to engender any type of confidence in that regard, Schneider needs to get past his quarterback-drafting blind spot and soon. Sorting through bargain-basement retreads to backup your injury-resistant franchise quarterback may seem like a prudent gamble, but one that could result in utter chaos and disaster should it fail.
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
With all of the quality maneuverings we’ve seen over the last two drafts to seemingly infuse a massive boost of dynamic young talent and possibly extend a new window of championship contention built around their franchise signal-caller, it would be a shame to see a playoff seeding one day determined by the poor play of an ill-conceived backup plan.
But while you can make the argument that the journeyman-veteran route could indeed work (if the right journeyman veteran were in place), there’s no denying that a consistent eye turned towards spending more significant draft value on selecting and developing young, promising quarterbacks would be a wise business plan at least. Perhaps no other position in the sport could generate more trade interest than a potential starting quarterback blocked behind one of the league's elite (see Green Bay, 1999-2008) and the only way to make that happen is to commit to the process with draft picks, consistent draft picks, potentially as high as second day.
Worried about how it might affect Wilson’s mindset? Stop. Wilson is smarter and stronger than that. The team has just committed to him in a way that should remove any doubt as to how they feel about him and will most likely do so again when his new contract extension expires in 2025.
Wilson’s a businessman, and he should understand the business of developing young quarterbacks. More so, I imagine he would be a fantastic mentor for any young quarterback apprentice. It's just another example of why the lack of attention to that position in the draft doesn’t make sense.
Schneider currently has 10 picks at his disposal in next year’s 2020 draft. With his penchant for trading around the draft board, that could end up being even more before all is said and done. That haul includes dual picks in round two, three, and four, prime positioning to acquire a highly-regarded quarterback prospect.
There will certainly be other needs, but with that much draft capital available to Schneider next year, it seems like a perfect opportunity to finally start placing a higher priority on addressing the “most important position on the field.”
If not then, when?