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Mailbag: Russell Wilson questions abound

5/16/2012

Coach Pete Carroll's declaration that rookie quarterback Russell Wilson would compete for the Seattle Seahawks' starting job made waves over the weekend.

The NFC West mailbag is brimming with Wilson-related queries, so here goes.

Scott from Spokane, Wash., read that Wilson "throws open receivers" and wondered what that meant.

Mike Sando: That term reflects a quarterback's ability to complete passes to covered receivers by leading them to spots where the reception can be made. Quarterbacks with the ability to anticipate where a receiver might come open have advantages over those more comfortable throwing to receivers only after they've gotten open.

Wilson was competing against rookies in non-contact drills, so we must guard against reading too much into the results. He did repeatedly throw open receivers (and tight ends) during the camp, however. I was impressed, as were viewers with much sturdier credentials for evaluating the position (Brock Huard was one).


Miles from Seattle asks whether the Seahawks' three-man quarterback competition benefits the Seahawks.

Mike Sando: It benefits them unless they name Wilson the starter prematurely, thereby undercutting the veterans on the roster. It's no big deal if Wilson goes into the season as a backup. He has time. It's more telling for Matt Flynn or Tarvaris Jackson if they're unable to beat out a third-round rookie.

Carroll thinks encouraging competition at the most important position sends a strong message through the rest of the roster. He realizes the Seahawks do not have an established starter, so he sees less risk in making Flynn and Jackson fight for the job. If Flynn or Jackson cannot handle the pressure associated with competing against a rookie third-round choice, are they really the answer? That is a question Carroll might ask.

There is some risk, however. What if Wilson is a much better practice player than Flynn? What if Flynn is much better than Wilson in game situations? Wilson could, in theory, win the job without being the better option. Of course, there's nothing stopping the Seahawks from naming Flynn the starter anyway.

There's a point in time when a head coach is best off promoting stability and clarity at quarterback. The Seahawks aren't at that point just yet. The salary structure for existing quarterbacks on the team tells us what we need to know. None of the candidates is earning enough money to identify him as the undisputed starter.


Rob from Augusta, Ga., asks what the impact would be on the Seahawks if Wilson indeed won the starting job heading into the 2012 season.

Mike Sando: Making that move would undercut Flynn and Jackson while signaling the team's belief in Wilson as a franchise quarterback. I think it's unlikely the Seahawks will make such a determination so quickly. Wilson would have to be spectacular and significantly better than the other two, in my view.

Flynn is most likely to emerge as the starter this season. The team already knows what Jackson offers. The team has more time to develop Wilson, who is earning less money and might benefit from seasoning.

It's clear the Seahawks think Wilson, like Flynn, has starting potential. But if Wilson and Flynn are pretty much even in terms of immediate readiness and perceived long-term potential, giving Flynn the first shot would make sense. Entering the season as a backup would be far more damaging to Flynn, a veteran acquisition, than for Wilson, who is just starting out.


Hideo from Seattle asks whether the contracts for Flynn, Jackson and Wilson carry combined value similar to the contract for Kevin Kolb in Arizona. "No matter who is chosen to start," he writes, "it seems that if we use Kolb as a benchmark, the Seahawks seem to come out well, at least from a salary perspective."

Mike Sando: Did you have to rub it in, Hideo? Cardinals fans will love you for that.

Every situation is different. The Cardinals badly needed a quarterback last offseason. They had already gone through a quarterback nightmare while suffering through a 5-11 record in 2010. They were not starting over with a new head coach. They were at a different point in their development. Arizona knew acquiring Kolb was a gamble. Sure, the Cardinals would have preferred paying less for Kolb, but they paid what they had to pay for a shot at improving the position. The immediate results were disappointing. This year is pivotal.

As for your question, Kolb's cap number for 2012 is scheduled to be $10.5 million. I would expect the combined cap numbers for Jackson, Flynn and Wilson to fall short of that figure.