Pete Carroll probably didn’t pay much attention to the news out of Tennessee on Wednesday, because the Seattle Seahawks coach was busy with All-Saints Week.
But when the curtain finally closes on a season that finds the Seahawks without a long-term resolution at quarterback – or even a public consensus on the short-term resolution, which was to identify Matt Hasselbeck as the first-round playoff game starter over Charlie Whitehurst – Carroll figures to be intrigued by the possibility of an old nemesis solving his QB quandary.
Vince Young, whose five-year relationship with the Tennessee Titans produced the kind of squabbles worthy of a supermarket-tabloid cover, has been informed he’ll play elsewhere next season. The When and How aspects of Young’s availability remain nebulous – the Titans owe him an $8.5 million on a contract through 2011, along with a $4.25 million bonus – and it’s uncertain whether Tennessee will try to command top draft choices for Young, or simply designate the quarterback as a free agent.
However the avenue turns between Tennessee and Young’s next stop, it’s one Carroll and general manager John Schneider should explore. If they thought enough of Whitehurst’s combination of size, speed and arm to acquire the career backup with a two-year contract worth $8 million, they’ve got to be drooling over the prospect of Young.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Young is bigger than Whitehurst, faster and shiftier than Whitehurst, more experienced than Whitehurst and yet, at 27, nine months younger than Whitehurst. But it’s Young’s passing ability that really distinguishes him from Whitehurst.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Young has steadily improved on his accuracy since he was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2006 – from a passer rating of 66.7 in his first season, to 71.1 in 2007, to 82.8 in 2009, to 98.6 in 2010, when he threw 10 touchdown passes with only three interceptions.
So how does a quarterback of such obvious talent, who’s merely approaching the fringe of his prime, become the most disposable commodity of a team as troubled as the Titans?
Simple, really. You draft a kid with the third overall pick, against the wishes of a headstrong coach, throw him to the Lions (and the Jaguars and the Ravens) and expect him to negotiate the ups and downs facing any starting NFL quarterback. Add a surprisingly fragile ego and some deeper emotional issues to the mix – perhaps depression, though Young disputes that – then react with disgust when he turns irrational during a postgame meltdown that follows a season-ending thumb injury sustained in an overtime defeat.
And, yikes, it was a meltdown. Young threw his shoulder pads into the stands and berated head coach Jeff Fisher in the locker room before storming off, ignoring the efforts of his closest friend on the team to console him.
A head case? Yes, of course. A hopeless head case? Perhaps, but consider this: Hopeless cases are Pete Carroll’s specialty.
The Seahawks, as everybody now knows, lost more regular-season games in 2010 than any playoff team in NFL history. Their 7-9 record is fodder for clever punch lines.
Less acknowledged is how Carroll’s team leads the league in another category associated with losses: Rehabilitated careers.
Receiver Mike Williams was out of pro football for two seasons before the Seahawks gave him an opportunity for redemption. Williams, who signed a contract extension the other day, is the most conspicuous member of Carroll’s denomination of lost souls.
Defensive end Raheem Brock is playing on his third team in three years. He was credited with nine sacks this season. Another defensive end, Chris Clemons, is playing for his fourth team. He was credited with 11 sacks.
Still another defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer, was regarded as a bust after San Francisco drafted him in the first round – the Seahawks traded a sixth-round pick for him – but he’ll be in position to bust some Saints ballcarriers Saturday. Before he was dealt to Seattle, running back Marshawn Lynch might’ve been the least popular of the Bills in Buffalo, which is saying something.
Carroll is not a miracle worker. His attempt to restart the stalled career of running back LenDale White didn’t work out, and the record will show that the head coach is 1-for-2 with receiver-reclamation projects named Williams. (Reggie, the ex-Huskies star, was cut before training camp.)
Still, Carroll, who was fired as head coach of the Jets and Patriots before reconfiguring himself as a college football icon at USC, is all about the idea of the second chance.
And if ever a second-chance candidate fit into the plans for the Seahawks, it is Vince Young, whose acquisition could allow the team to address other first-round draft needs besides quarterback. The playoff-clinching victory over St. Louis last Sunday left the Hawks with, at best, the No. 22 overall pick in the draft.
And Andrew Luck’s commitment to return to Stanford reduces the pool of coveted quarterbacks to Cam Newton, Ryan Mallet, Blaine Gabbert and the Huskies’ Jake Locker, who might be available at No. 22 but represents a project. With so many holes on the offensive line and a defense screaming to be upgraded everywhere, can the Seahawks afford to inherit a project?
Young also is a project, a project of a different kind. He’s as gifted as he was in the 2006 Rose Bowl, when the Texas quarterback might’ve delivered the most impressive clutch performance in the history of college football. (Carroll remembers that. He was on the other sideline, coaching USC.)
But Young’s NFL experience has deteriorated into an ugly mess. What he needs now is a coach he trusts – a coach who’ll offer a helping hand, an open ear, and those harsh but impassioned words capable of rerouting a potential Hall of Famer to his destiny.
You don’t have to believe in magic to imagine the Seahawks, behind Vince Young, emerging from playoff laughingstocks to bona fide Super Bowl contenders.
You just have to believe what Pete Carroll believes: the magic of the second chance.