By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer
Pete Carroll was giddy.
A few hours after watching Russell Wilson up close for the first time during the Seahawks‘ rookie minicamp in May 2012 — just two weeks after selecting him in the third round — the Seattle coach couldn’t stop smiling.
Wilson owned the field during the two-day session, with the ball rarely touching the ground. Afterward, Carroll said Wilson would compete with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and big-money free-agent addition Matt Flynn for the starting quarterback job.
Little did we know that Wilson’s impressive debut would lead to him earning the starting job and taking the franchise on a historic, 10-year run that featured two trips to the Super Bowl, including a victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Now, Carroll and general manager John Schneider must find their next franchise QB after trading Wilson and a fourth-round selection to the Broncos for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round selection and three players, including quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant and defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
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Much like Carroll and Schneider did when they took over in January 2010, the Seahawks will try to replicate that competition at the quarterback spot, bringing in a couple more QBs to compete with Lock.
“The competition is on,” Carroll told reporters last week. “It ain’t no different than when Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson went at it. It’s the same kind of deal to me.”
And just like in Carroll and Schneider’s first year together, when they made a league-high 286 roster transactions, the Seahawks will look to get younger and build more depth throughout the roster.
“It’s all about acquiring young talent, developing young talent and putting them out there to compete,” Schneider said of his team’s successful approach that started when he joined the Seahawks. “That was our core philosophy.”
Carroll will once again put on his recruiter hat from his days at USC, looking to sell his program and culture to prospective free agents looking for a chance to remake themselves.
That said, here’s a look at five quarterback options that make sense for Seattle as the team moves on from Wilson.
Schneider says he liked Lock coming out of college at Missouri and points to his 4-1 mark as a starter at the beginning of his NFL career with the Broncos as a glimpse of what he could become for Seattle.
When Schneider and Carroll took over in 2010, they made a trade with the then-San Diego Chargers for strong-armed quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to compete with Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job.
This time, Schneider and Carroll again look to the AFC West for another strong-armed QB in Lock to compete for the starting job.
Selected in the second round by Denver in the 2019 draft, Lock is 8-13 as a starter in three NFL seasons. He has one year left on his rookie deal at $1.45 million, allowing the Seahawks to take a flyer on him for the 2022 season before deciding whether to commit to Lock beyond this season.
Carroll believes Lock can fulfill his vision for an effective quarterback in his system, serving as point guard and efficiently delivering the football to his playmakers and avoiding turnovers while the Seahawks lean on stingy defense and good special-teams play.
“It’s an absolute second chance for him … to take us back to where we knew him to be,” Carroll said of Lock. “And we’ll find out.”
Added Schneider: “He can move in the pocket, has a hose. We’re really excited to get him into our culture.”
He’s a free agent, but Carroll said the Seahawks want to bring back the West Virginia product because he knows Seattle’s offense, having played with the Seahawks the past three years.
Smith finished 1-2 as a starter last season, subbing for an injured Wilson. Smith completed 68% of his passes for 704 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception.
For his career, the 31-year-old Smith is 13-21 as a starter, completing 59% of his passes for 6,917 passing yards, with 34 touchdowns and 37 interceptions.
In the fourth quarter, Smith has completed 58% of his passes for 1,877 passing yards, with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He has been sacked 30 times and has a 71.7 career passer rating in the fourth.
Those numbers do not inspire confidence in Smith’s ability to lead a team to victory in critical moments at the end of a game.
There’s a lot to like about the former No. 1 overall pick, who has one year and $18 million left on his rookie deal. In Cleveland, Mayfield ran a version of Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s West Coast offense.
Baker Mayfield’s options
According to a report, Cleveland wants a first-round pick in a potential trade for Baker Mayfield. Another report says that if he gets cut, the Steelers would “pounce” to sign him. Shannon Sharpe predicts how this will play out.
Mayfield has shown that he can play at a high level. But staying healthy and avoiding turnovers are two key issues the Seahawks would have to be concerned about if entertaining a trade for the former Heisman winner. Mayfield showed toughness last season, playing through pain with a torn labrum in his left shoulder that required offseason surgery.
He also had 68 turnovers in four years in Cleveland.
At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, with good speed and the ability to create second-reaction throws, Willis has some of the skills that made Wilson successful in Seattle. Like Wilson, Willis is charismatic and confident in his abilities. Willis also possesses humility and authenticity that would play well in Seattle.
He completed 61% of his passes for 2,857 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his final season in college. However, Willis threw nine of those interceptions in his final seven games, so limiting turnovers and developing as an NFL passer will be important for him.
Seattle quarterbacks coach Dave Canales attended Willis’ pro day. The Seahawks also brought back associate head coach Carl Smith, who was critical in mentoring Wilson at the start of his career.
Willis is unique because of his ability to run the football, rushing for 2,131 yards and 29 touchdowns in two seasons at Liberty. With Willis, the Seahawks could lean on heavier personnel, focusing on running the football and creating deep shots off play-action, like they did in the first part of Wilson’s career.
But Willis will likely go in the first round of the draft, and with other needs to address — such as left tackle, edge rusher and the secondary — the Seahawks might be tempted to wait until the second round for a quarterback such as Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder, who has a similar skill set to Willis’.
In 2001, the Seahawks made a trade for one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history when Mike Holmgren secured Matt Hasselbeck by swapping first-round selections with Green Bay and giving up a third-round selection.
However, acquiring another Green Bay QB did not work out as well. In 2012, former Packer Matt Flynn signed a three-year, $26 million deal but spent only one season with the Seahawks, losing a three-man competition for the starting job with Wilson and Jackson and ultimately being traded to the Raiders in the 2013 offseason.
Might the Seahawks try the Green Bay connection again?
Perhaps Schneider and the Seahawks will look to add QB competition by seeking a trade for Jordan Love. With a strong arm and fleet feet, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Utah State product was selected in the first round of the 2020 draft. He has played sparingly, sitting behind four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Now that Rodgers is signed for another three years, maybe the Packers would make him available.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @eric_d_williams.
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