To QB or not to QB?
That’s the question facing the Seahawks as they prepare for the 2022 NFL draft, which begins with the first round on Thursday.
Since the moment the Seahawks traded Russell Wilson on March 8 and got in return, among other things, the No. 9 overall pick in the draft, speculation has run rampant that Seattle will take a quarterback.
Of course, the Seahawks don’t have to.
Seattle also got Drew Lock in the trade, and the Seahawks don’t appear to be just blowing smoke in saying they think he has the potential to be a legitimate NFL starting quarterback.
Some around the league even think that Seattle believes Lock is as good as any quarterback coming out in the draft this year, a group of which there is little clear consensus.
But given the importance of the position, the Seahawks may still be tempted at nine or with one of their picks at 40 and 41 to take a QB.
“You have to have that guy,” said Randy Mueller, who worked at the Seahawks’ front office from 1983-99, the last five as vice president of football operations, and had later stints as the general manager for the Dolphins and Saints. “Your margin for error goes way up the better you are at that position. … You’re fighting an uphill battle if you don’t have that guy. “
That’s not news. No one’s ever questioned a quarterback’s value.
But Mueller says it’s a realization teams must deal with when the draft comes – specifically, not falling prey to taking a QB because of the importance of the position and overlooking flaws, or passing on a better player at another position.
“I think the crux of it all comes to, you can’t let that need and that desperation trump what you see on tape,” Mueller said. “And that’s where I think teams have gotten into trouble.”
Other times, even if a team has a need and drafting one makes sense, it just doesn’t work out.
Mueller had a close-up look at the only two times Seattle has taken a quarterback in the first round – Dan McGwire in 1991 and Rick Mirer in 1993.
That’s tied for the fewest quarterbacks taken in the first round in the Super Bowl era along with Dallas, Carolina, the Rams, New Orleans and Houston, according to Pro Football Talk.
Seattle has only drafted seven quarterbacks in the last 20 years and 17 overall, in part because the Seahawks have had as much stability at the position as any team since entering the NFL in 1976. In fact, 508 of the team’s 725 regular season games were started by four quarterbacks – Wilson (158), Matt Hasselbeck (131), Dave Krieg (119) and Jim Zorn (100) – and just 23 QBs have started a game in the team’s 47-year history (consider the Washington Commanders have had eight starting quarterbacks in the last three seasons).
But if the team’s drafting of Wilson will forever go down as one of the greatest picks in NFL history, some of Seattle’s quarterback-drafting past serves as a cautionary tale.
High pick no guarantee of success
Three times in the span of six years from 1988-93 the Seahawks learned that simply getting a QB in the top of the draft was no guarantee of anything.
After 12 years of Zorn and Krieg, Seattle decided to try to swing big to get a quarterback to take team over the top, dealing three picks, including a 1989 first-rounder, in 1988 to Arizona for Kelly Stouffer, who had been drafted sixth overall the year before but was holding out. The trade was initially for Kenny Easley until he flunked a physical.
But Stouffer struggled to stay healthy, starting just 16 games in five seasons. He went 5-11 with a 7-to-19 TD-to-interception ratio and was out of the league by age 29.
That, and Krieg’s impending departure, led to Seattle deciding again in 1991 to go big on a quarterback, taking the 6-8 McGwire with the 16th overall pick.
Legend has it that coach Chuck Knox wanted the Seahawks to take Brett Favre, who instead lasted to 33 where he was taken by Atlanta (who dubiously then quickly traded him to Green Bay).
Mueller at that time was Seattle’s pro personnel director and not in a decision-making position on the draft. But he says the call to take McGwire was pretty clear-cut and that “I don’t remember much discussion on Favre or Browning Nagle (who went 34 to the Jets).”
Instead, this was before the rookie salary cap, and Mueller says one significant reason for Seattle taking McGwire is that then-owner Ken Behring had a good relationship with McGwire’s agent, Leigh Steinberg.
That’s not a consideration anymore thanks to slotted rookie salaries introduced as part of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.
In fairness to Seattle, the consensus at the time was pretty evenly split on whether McGwire or Favre, whose senior year was not as statistically impressive as his junior season, was the better prospect.
Still, it could hardly have turned out more disastrously. While Favre went on to a Hall of Fame career, McGwire started five games in four years, throwing two touchdown passes, and was out of the league by age 29.
Which led to Seattle two years later making what appeared to be a no-brainer move – taking Mirer at No. 2 after the Patriots selected WSU star Drew Bledsoe at No. 1.
Again, hindsight paints this as a pretty obvious choice, but the scouts were far more divided at the time.
And Mueller says Bill Parcells, who had just taken over as the Patriots coach and de facto GM, called Seattle to see if the Seahawks wanted to move up to No. 1.
“He actually reached out to us to see if we wanted to flip,” Mueller said. “Tom (Flores, then the Seahawks general manager) didn’t have a preference on the quarterbacks so he didn’t want to give up something to move up one spot.”
So the Patriots got Bledsoe, who led New England to the Super Bowl four years later and threw 251 career TD passes, still 23rd in NFL history, while Mirer went 20-31 in four years with Seattle with a 41-to-56 TD-to-INT ratio before being shipped off to Chicago.
But showing how tricky quarterback evaluation can be, even legendary coach Bill Walsh thought at the time Seattle might have gotten the better QB.
Walsh compared the 6-3 Mirer to Joe Montana – each had played at Notre Dame – and noted his better mobility compared to the 6-5 Bledsoe.
“To me, he has the Montana movement,” Walsh said in an interview with The Seattle Times in 1993. “Rick has a very good arm. He is sharp, a natural football player who I think is just the ideal quarterback prospect ”noting one reason is that“ the taller man is inherently less able to move and avoid. ”
The failure of the Mirer pick, though, led to Seattle wandering through the QB desert the rest of the decade, turning the job over to John Friesz, then signing 41-year-old Warren Moon (who won a Pro Bowl berth in 1997). and then giving the job to Jon Kitna (signed as an undrafted free agent) before Hasselbeck finally secured it in 2002. He held it until 2010, which eventually led to the pick of Wilson.
So what now?
After striking gold with Wilson but the relationship running dry, Seattle is starting over.
While even apparent sure-thing quarterbacks often bust, one complication this year is that there aren’t any regarded as potential sure things.
While a QB has gone first overall the last two years – Joe Burrow (2020) and Trevor Lawrence (2021) – there is debate this year whether any is worthy of a top 10 pick.
Conversely, as many as five are considered as possibilities to go in the first round – Liberty’s Malik Willis, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder.
“I don’t know if any of them are going to guys that right you would pin that ‘franchise quarterback tag’ on that they are a guy you are going to win Super Bowls win,” said Jim Nagy, who was the Seahawks’ southeast area scout from 2013-17 and is now the executive director of the Senior Bowl. “I don’t think any of them are in the Justin Herbert category coming out. But there is something to like about all of them. And history shows that a couple of these guys are going to be, at a minimum, solid NFL starters. “
Of the class, Nagy says, “I think Pickett, Willis and Ridder are definite locks. And the more I’m hearing, Howell is going to sneak in at the end. I think Corral is kind of the wild card, the guy teams are all over the board on right now. “
Mueller says his top two are Pickett and Ridder. Of Pickett, he says, “He checks all the boxes. He’s 6-3, he has the vision, he has anticipation, he’s the most accurate guy. I don’t have a lot of doubts about him. “
Of Ridder, he says, “He’s the other guy who fits the size (6-3, 211) and talent boxes and he’s got (48) starts so he’s a fairly proven commodity. But I still think he’s a lot more inconstant than a normal first round pick would be and has a lot to grow into. “
Seahawks general manager John Schneider on Thursday assessed the class as having “a quietness about it. … There doesn’t seem to be a lot of buzz right now. “
But he compared it to 2011, when after Cam Newton went first, there was plenty of uncertainty. Three QBs ended up going from eight to 12 – UW’s Jake Locker (eight, Tennessee), Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert (10, Jacksonville) and Florida State’s Christian Ponder (12, Minnesota). That none of the three ever so much as made a Pro Bowl shows again the precarious nature of evaluating quarterbacks.
The importance of the position, though, means teams will always be tempted to err on the side of reaching.
Wilson may be Exhibit A of causing teams regret, as Nagy knows firsthand.
Nagy was a national scout for the Chiefs in 2012 when Matt Cassel was their starting quarterback. Kansas City had the 74th pick – one before Seattle.
Nagy says the Chiefs had done extensive work on Wilson but kept coming back to his height – officially just a hair under 5-11.
“That was a time when teams were still really leery of the height thing,” he said.
So the Chiefs passed on Wilson and instead took Oklahoma offensive tackle Donald Stephenson. Stephenson started 21 games in four years for the Chiefs and has been out of the league since 2017. And with Cassel and Brady Quinn at QB, KC went 2-14 in 2012, resulting in the firing of coach Romeo Crennel and much of the staff. , including Nagy, who landed on his feet with the Seahawks.
Seattle took Wilson, spurring the best decade in the team’s history.
“He definitely changed a lot of people’s life paths,” Nagy said.
That’s an eternal truth of finding – or passing on – a franchise QB, a decision that after 10 years of not having to worry about it will once again weigh heavily on the Seahawks when the draft begins.