RENTON, Wash. — The Seattle Seahawks‘ first quarterback competition since 2012 began in earnest Monday, when they were allowed to begin holding on-field drills as part of their voluntary offseason workout program. Things will start to get more real when OTAs begin on May 23.
In a battle that doesn’t have nearly the intrigue as when then-rookie Russell Wilson beat out Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson a decade ago, it’s Drew Lock vs. Geno Smith vying to take over Wilson’s starting spot. And while the Seahawks could still acquire someone else to make that a three-man race — Baker Mayfield the most obvious candidate — developmental prospects Jacob Eason and undrafted free agent Levi Lewis are the only other quarterbacks on their depth chart for now.
So much for the widely held belief that they needed to take a QB1 in this year’s draft.
Malik Willis was a popular mock pick for Seattle at No. 9 overall. The Seahawks passed on Willis four times before he was taken 86th overall — feeling he was nowhere near NFL-ready, according to one source — and didn’t think enough of the other quarterbacks to take one with any of their nine selections.
“It’s hard for rookies,” general manager John Schneider said after the draft, explaining the decision to not take a quarterback and hinting at how lousy this year’s QB class was. “It’s very hard on rookies to come in here and [compete right away]. You have to have unique, unique qualities … Continuously throughout the draft, it just didn’t fall the right way for one reason or another.”
In many ways, the Seahawks declining to take a quarterback this year was a repeat of 2011.
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Back then, they let long-time starter Matt Hasselbeck walk in free agency before signing Jackson to a modest short-term deal that made it clear they viewed him as a bridge option. They had long-term uncertainty at quarterback and not many attractive options in what was considered — and proved to be — a weak draft at the position.
The Seahawks had interest in Andy Dalton but passed on him late in the first round, with not everyone in their football operations in agreement that he was the answer. It turned out to be the right decision not because of who they took — tackle James Carpenter — but because not forcing the Dalton pick paved the way for Seattle to draft Wilson a year later.
While the Seahawks didn’t consider taking Willis or any other quarterback at No. 9 like they considered Dalton at No. 25 in 2011, there was a coincidental parallel in taking a tackle instead.
And the Seahawks were fortunate that Charles Cross fell to them.
With the top two pass-rushers (Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson), the top two corners (Derek Stingley Jr. and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner) and two of the top three tackles (Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal) taken among the first eight picks, Cross was the only player left the Seahawks wanted to draft at No. 9, according to a source. They needed pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux (whom they didn’t like) and receiver Drake London (whom they didn’t need) to come off the board in order for Cross — their second-rated tackle behind Ekwonu — to still be there.
While the Seahawks were on the clock, the Jets wanted to flip picks and move up one spot, worried that another team wanted to move up in Seattle’s spot for the receiver New York wanted, Garrett Wilson. The Seahawks then would have taken Cross at 10, but with no deal, they stayed put and took him at 9.
“We’re just really excited that we have a pillar at left tackle,” Schneider said.
But they still have a long-term quarterback question.
The Seahawks believe some of Luck’s struggles over his first three seasons with the Denver Broncos were the result of tough-luck circumstances, including a coordinator change and a COVID-truncated offseason after he finished his rookie year strong. They think he’s got enough untapped potential to warrant a one-year look, provided he can beat out Smith.
They like Smith’s command of their system and believe they uncovered the offensive formula that best suits him when he led the Seahawks to a blowout win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in his third and final fill-in start for Wilson last season.
But both Smith (13-21) and Lock (8-13) have career records well below .500, so there’s more hope than certainty that either of them can stick.
“Geno Smith is the guy that did the most playing for us and has the most background, so Drew is in the catch-up mode right now,” coach Pete Carroll told NFL Network during the draft. “We’ll get on the field for the first time Monday and get a chance to see what he looks like, and we can really get a feel. I love the potential. We loved the guy coming out. I’m liking him in our culture and the way we’re going to approach things. We’re going to support this kid and give him every opportunity to find the best he has to offer. I think he’s really going to take to it and we’ll see how far it goes. He’s got some real weapons around him.
” … So whoever wins this thing in the competition is going to have a good surrounding supporting cast, and Drew will try to take advantage of that.”
As for the Mayfield possibility, the former Cleveland Browns starter and 2018 No. 1 overall pick guessed on the “Ya Never Know” podcast last month that Seattle would “probably” be his most likely landing spot. But there has been no firm indication that the Seahawks have anything more than tepid interest in Mayfield. It would likely take the Browns eating much — if not most — of his guaranteed $19 million salary for 2022.
Lock is making less than $1.5 million on the final year of his rookie contract. Smith’s one-year deal has a base value of $3.5 million and incentives worth another $3.5 million, but there’s only $500,000 guaranteed. That gives the Seahawks flexibility to add someone else at the right price and/or move on from Smith if he doesn’t emerge as their starter.
With the Browns in a holding pattern, the Seahawks might have time to evaluate their current options then revisit the Mayfield possibility after the offseason program if needed.
“We’re really happy with the guys we’ve got, to see them battle, and we’ll see what happens,” Carroll told NFL Network. “You never know what’s going on down the road. We’re always looking.”