As coach and team president of the Seattle Seahawks, Pete Carroll commands a salary paying him some $6.5 million a year.
That’s a lot of money, and Carroll, despite his eagerness to adapt to the times (at the age of 60, he might be World’s Oldest Serial Tweeter), holds this old-fashioned belief he’s supposed to earn it.
Carroll isn’t the type of lunatic whose idea of unwinding after a marathon work day is to flop on an office cot for a few hours – even if he were, he’d have the good sense to keep it a secret – but the next cavalier hunch Carroll makes will be the first cavalier hunch he makes.
Still, some decisions shouldn’t require more agonizing than they deserve. The decision to start rookie quarterback Russell Wilson in Kansas City this weekend, it seems to me, contains the approximate degree of difficulty as the decision to turn off the stove after the chicken is cooked.
We’re halfway through a Seahawks exhibition season whose story line continues to be the quarterback competition between Wilson and Matt Flynn. After two games, the notes assembled by a neutral scout would look something like this:
MF: Solid, steady, not fazed. Arm OK. Could start season opener and won’t spit up on himself. First-team offense still looking for some rhythm with him at QB – a TD drive would be nice – but Hawks never saw a superstar when they signed him. They saw a serviceable game manager. He’s exactly that. Overall grade: B.
RW: Wow! Crazy! Sky is the limit! A first-round draft choice trapped in the body of a third-round draft choice! Overall grade: Incomplete.
The incomplete grade, of course, has nothing to do with Wilson. The incomplete grade is steeped in doubts about the quality of his competition: Relegated to the second halves of two exhibition games, Wilson is facing a lot of the guys he schooled in college.
And in college, as a University of Wisconsin senior, Wilson set an NCAA record for passing efficiency (191.8).
Now it’s Wilson’s turn for a test against an actual NFL team, and Flynn’s turn to see what he can do against defensive players who’ll be fortunate to survive the first big roster cut Aug. 28.
A no-brainer, right? If this is a legitimate quarterback competition, Wilson ought to be allowed the same opportunity Flynn got, right?
The coach isn’t so sure.
“We’ll see what the film looks like,” Carroll said after the Seahawks’ 30-10 victory over Denver on Saturday night. “We have to evaluate all that.”
In other words, Carroll is determined to agonize about an issue seemingly absent of nuance.
With Flynn, he’s got a quarterback who’s completed 17-of-26 passes for 109 yards, with no touchdowns, against first-team defenses. With Wilson, he’s got a quarterback who’s completed 22-of-33 passes for 279 yards, with three touchdowns (a fourth touchdown was scored on a run) against fringe-roster defenses.
So flip-flop their roles in Kansas City, and apply the most basic principle of elementary science: No experiment is conclusive unless Sample A and Sample B have been tested under the same parameters.
A common concern about Wilson is that he’s a rookie, and rookies can’t be depended upon to exude the maturity demanded of field generals in a sport as complex as pro football. It’s a valid point, I suppose, undermined only by two facts.
Fact One: Wilson might be a rookie, but he’s an old rookie, not merely in terms of his age – he turns 24 in November – but in terms of sports competition. He’s a former pro baseball player who was a second base prospect for the Colorado Rockies.
Wilson had trouble hitting, which didn’t bode well for his baseball career but provided the aspiring NFL starting quarterback with priceless experience.
He knows failure is inevitable. He also knows that failure isn’t an excuse to mope and sulk on the sideline.
Fact Two: First-year quarterbacks no longer are put on a long-term apprenticeship.
Between 1967 and 2003, the only quarterback named Associated Press offensive rookie of the year was in 1970, when the Buffalo Bills’ Dennis Shaw won.
But over the past eight seasons, five quarterbacks received the award: Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Vince Young (2006), Matt Ryan (2008), Sam Bradford (2010) and Cam Newton (2011).
In 2012, between Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Robert Griffin III in Washington, Brandon Weeden in Cleveland and Ryan Tannehill in Miami, it’ll be a surprise if the offensive rookie of the year isn’t a quarterback.
Russell Wilson is as smart as any of them, as capable of electrifying a crowd as any of them, as confident as any of them.
But Wilson won’t emerge as a rookie of the year candidate until he’s able to start a game, and he won’t start until he proves himself against better defensive competition than he’s seen against the second-half scrubs from Tennessee and Denver.
No need to lose sleep over this one, Pete.
Start Wilson in Kansas City. See if the kid, who’s not really a kid anymore, is the game-changing dynamo a lot of us suspect he is. Then turn the second-half duties over to Flynn, whose passing numbers figure to improve, substantially, by the prospect of not having to target Terrell Owens as a first-option receiver.
If Wilson struggles against a legitimate defense, while Flynn thrives against the temps, the conclusions you make will be difficult. But they’ll also be informed.
Just know this, Pete: Russell Wilson hasn’t struggled on an athletic field since the last time he geared up to hit a fastball that arrived as a curve.
I’m excited about the possibility of a Seahawks rookie quarterback taking the ball and never giving it back.