Monday, August 27, 2012

Carroll picks Wilson's performance over Flynn's pay

By Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY
This was not a Moneyball type of deal.

In March, the Seattle Seahawks landed the hottest quarterback in free agency when they gave Matt Flynn a $6 million signing bonus and guaranteed $10 million of a three-year contract.

It seemed a given that Flynn, after prepping as Aaron Rodgers' backup with the Green Bay Packers, would get the chance to prove he could be a starter. That chance might ultimately come.

    MORE: Seahawks player notes

But not now.

Coach Pete Carroll is rolling with the most stunning move of the preseason, naming third-round rookie Russell Wilson as his starter. This is unquestionably the right move, because Wilson won the job on merit.

Wilson, all of 5-11 and 206 pounds, will become the lowest-drafted rookie quarterback to open a season since fourth-rounder Kyle Orton for the Chicago Bears in 2005. Wilson was chosen in the third round, 75th overall. He received a signing bonus of roughly $620,000 and has a base salary of $390,000.

In this salary-cap age — when many positions are slotted before training camp — it is rare that Carroll will let his big-money quarterback ride the bench while a rookie runs the offense.

Yet it is also another indication that Carroll — who sprung the shocker of the draft when he selected West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin 15th overall — is a high-risk gambler who cannot be easily predicted.

Carroll picked Wilson the old-fashioned way, allowing the rookie to compete for the job with Flynn and since-traded incumbent Tarvaris Jackson.

Maybe Carroll, 14-18 in his first two seasons, has finally found his man. Since arriving, he has kicked Matt Hasselbeck to the curb, traded for Charlie Whitehurst, signed Jackson and Flynn as free agents and drafted Wilson.

Athletic, with a rocket arm, Wilson will be among a record five rookie quarterbacks to start in Week 1 — and the only one who wasn't a first-rounder.

He won Carroll over a little bit at a time, from the predraft evaluations to the minicamps, from training camp and through the preseason.

In his first exhibition start Friday at the Kansas City Chiefs, Wilson led the Seahawks to scores on his first six possessions, had a 134.8 passer rating that included two touchdown throws and rushed for 58 yards on two carries. Meanwhile, Flynn nursed an elbow injury that Carroll maintains did not factor into the decision.

Wilson also directed 11 drives off the bench in his first two preseason games, producing five TDs and a field goal. In 10 preseason series, Flynn hasn't guided the first team to a touchdown.

"Times have shifted, and if we don't acknowledge that, then we're just putting our head in the sand," Carroll said during a conference call. "Times have changed with the young guys. And it goes to their upbringing. They've come to us with a savvy that's just about unrecognizable, because they know so much."

In Week 1, 10 teams will field a quarterback in his first or second season. That seems astonishing when considering how much is invested in the most difficult position in football, if not in all sports.

After spectacular debuts in lockout-squeezed 2011 by Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers and Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals, the bar on rookie quarterbacks undoubtedly was raised. Jon Gruden, who quizzes rookie quarterbacks for his predraft specials on ESPN, gave Wilson a thumbs up Monday.

"Special kid, man," Gruden text-messaged. "I loved him. Got into a big argument with Mel Kiper on the draft set."

Wilson played three years at North Carolina State in a West Coast system similar to the Seahawks' scheme. He played his final season at Wisconsin in a vertical, play-action system. He's a fast learner and big-time leader. He went to Wisconsin as a grad student, learned the playbook in three weeks and was voted a team captain.

Why did he last so long in the draft? He isn't the prototype when it comes to size. But neither is Drew Brees. Wilson has built his game to compensate for his lack of height with his playbook wit, timing, rhythm and athleticism.

Expecting him — as a rookie — to get the best of the ferocious defense fielded by the division-champion San Francisco 49ers might be asking too much. Yet with Carroll's gutsy decision, Wilson will get the chance.

Contributing: Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell


Post a Comment