I caught a lot of flak for advocating that Seattle draft Ryan Mallett a couple of years ago. We all agreed that a franchise QB was needed to push this team over the top, but we didn't agree on the timing. The thought was that the 2010 team was a disaster for a rookie QB and that more support - a stronger run game and a tough defense amongst them - was needed to protect him, keep him from having to do too much.
And over time, I realized that those folks were right. A rookie QB before 2012 would not be walking into an ideal situation. Pete Carroll and John Schneider thought the same thing. (Not to mention Ryan Mallett being about as good a fit for Seattle as Pehawk for an Amish colony.) So I sat back and waited with everyone else as Pete - faster than even he expected - put together an elite defense and returned Seattle to the top of the NFL's rushing stats.
Yet now that Pete has (largely) delivered that ideal supporting team and the rookie QB to grow on it, everyone's now saying "Nope, forget the rookie, I just want to win now."
Wait, what? What happened to protecting our investment at QB? What happened to an ideal environment? Didn't everyone WANT this for a rookie? That run game and defense weren't just supposed to help us win, they were supposed to take pressure off the rookie. Now people want to bench Russell Wilson rather than let this prime opportunity accomplish its goal?
I get that this team seems tantalizingly close to a championship run (though I don't get the underlying assumption that this run game and defense won't be here next year). But the strong team wasn't intended to support a benched QB. The idea was that the QB prospect would carry a smaller workload thanks to the run game drawing attention and the defense keeping scores lower. Are we going back on that now that we have Matt Flynn around?
People show a lot of urgency in saying that we should let Flynn carry us for now while Wilson develops. Once I distilled my thoughts into discrete disagreements, I found I had five major ones.
1. I don't think Flynn will do any better. This argument is underway in 5,471 other threads, so I won't drag it in here. Besides, there are other concerns.
2. The run game and defense aren't going anywhere. This stuff isn't just a bandaid for lack of a Drew Brees; it's central to Pete's philosophy. He didn't build it to last one year and then collapse. He'll keep it going. There are plenty of models all over the league for effectively reloading a defense (Pittsburgh and Baltimore are great examples).
3. We do NOT have all the pieces to win now. Everyone keeps saying we do, but I never saw it and I still don't. Our O-line isn't built to pass-protect, at all. This wasn't a problem for anybody a month ago, until they remembered that a QB can't be running all the time and started bashing Wilson for doing so. (Bevell, for his part, has seemingly forgotten about the existence of bootlegs, rollouts, and general movement-QB plays).
Receiver situation, same issue. This might be a good group for a developed QB, or for a Wilson with four years under his belt, but a rookie simply needs much more help. We have a nice #2 WR in Sidney Rice, a #2 TE in Zach Miller, and...that's pretty much it. Nobody else approaches the status of field-stretching true #1 WR, security blanket TE, or general quarterback-helpers. Edwards, Obomanu, and Tate are the kind of guys to benefit from a superstar, not benefit a superstar. This receiving corps needs further development, probably reloading, before I'd look at this roster and say all the pieces are in place. It badly needs a Larry Fitzgerald, a Vernon Davis, or an A.J. Green.
And in the end, the most importance piece of "winning now" is the QB himself, so once again we're back to Argument #1.
4. Neither Flynn nor Wilson is the type of QB to develop from the bench. Neither is the second coming of Peyton Manning; both will be heavily dependent on scheme and surrounding talent all their careers. Flynn will need solid pass protection and precise timing receivers; Wilson will need solid pass protection and speedy, improvisational clutch catchers. Each QB needs a different crew.
No matter which QB Seattle picks, if they really want either one to become anything, they need to commit to him - play him, believe in him, scheme him, give him the right WR's. Either that or get rid of both and draft a #1 who's immediately ready, which isn't any easier a proposition.
So once again, it goes back to Argument #1.
5. Nobody's actually going to want a 28-year-old playoff QB benched when decision time arrives. If it were an over-the-hill veteran like Hasselbeck or Favre, then sure. But people see Matt Flynn as another young-Hasselbeck situation...a finished product and an immediate solution. (Whether that's true or not is, yet again, Argument #1.)
Let's say for the sake of argument that Seattle starts Flynn and goes deep into the playoffs with him, if not further. What exactly will be so different next year? What will make people suddenly predisposed to Wilson then? A deep playoff run will convince precisely zero people to sit the QB involved and start a rookie, especially a rookie that requires heavy scheming. Fans are conservative and want the bird in the hand. The cries for Flynn will only strengthen, and Wilson will become simple trade bait in the fans' eyes.
And if you DO think we'd somehow be more favorable to letting Wilson start over Flynn in 2013 and suffering his growing pains - what's wrong with letting that be THIS year? It needs to happen eventually (unless Flynn is gold, which AGAIN goes back to #1). Rookies rarely dazzle right away. We're just putting off the inevitable by delaying Wilson's development until next year, at which time we'll be wasting THAT season and its defense and run game.
Developing a QB isn't "wasting a season". It's preparing for years of contention, another phase of the rebuild. Nobody was calling it "wasting a season" during the last two years when our talent was clearly not playoff-ready. Well, this year, the quarterback is part of that talent that still needs growth, and our offensive talent is still developing/being found. So it shouldn't be "we're blowing an opportunity", anymore than 2010 or 2011 was. It's "we're not ready yet".
What would really be blowing the season would be PC bowing to fan pressure and switching to Flynn after a perfectly acceptable 3-2 record (which some people seem suspiciously determined to downplay and dismiss), only to find out that hey, Flynn's performance falls exactly in line with the implications of Carroll's decision to start Wilson to begin with. THEN we'll have lost valuable games over an experiment that seemed foregone in the first place and was largely spurred on by pure impatience.
"Save the season and let Flynn win now. Maybe Wilson will be ready for us later." That's the popular sentiment, but it strikes me as kinda hollow. It's probably not going to work like that either way. It keeps coming back to this question: which QB is the better gamble as QBOTF? It's either one or the other.
But it's not fair to call developing a rookie QB "punting a season". It's also not fair to expect a franchise QB from someone who hasn't been given the time and the offense to succeed. Rarely can you find an immediate silver bullet; rarely can you separate a successful QB's talent from his scheme and growth. Either commit the time and resources to support a QB (which Seattle has done at the request of its fan base) and then equip him (which we haven't yet done completely), or don't draft a guy at all. There's really no way around that for me.