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How Matt Flynn 'fell behind' Russell Wilson & if history repeats itself
Seaside Joe 1251: A timeline of everything that happened in 2012 and why it appears similar to how Pete Carroll talks about Geno and Drew
The Seahawks play a game on Saturday. They play their second preseason game only five days after that, and their third preseason game on the August 26. But two days before Seattle’s third preseason game this month will be the 10-year anniversary of the most impactful preseason game in franchise history:
Russell Wilson turning the Seahawks’ QB competition on its head against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The preseason is one game shorter these days, but Drew Lock could already be on the “Wilson path” towards the starting position. Even if he’s no Russell Wilson.
Or if Geno Smith doesn’t have quite as many believers going into a season as Matt Flynn once did.
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March 18, 2012 - Seahawks sign Flynn to three-year, $26 million contract, but Tarvaris Jackson “is well ahead”
Coming off of a 7-9 season that was disappointing, but hopeful because of Marshawn Lynch and the defense, Seattle’s quest to be better at quarterback started by parting with Charlie Whitehurst before signing Matt Flynn near the start of free agency. Flynn’s contract had a $10 million guarantee, the total cost of what Seattle paid to have a backup quarterback for that season.
Seahawks fans were understandably excited that the team made any financial commitment to a quarterback, even if it was a relatively modest amount for a potential starter.
Some expected Flynn to lead Seattle to an NFC West title.
Some fans even made Matt Flynn throwback jerseys.
At the time, nobody expected Flynn would never start a game for the Seahawks. But cut to the week before signing his deal to compete to start, Pete Carroll held a workout for Flynn to see if he could look as good in practice as he did during his few appearances with the Green Bay Packers: In two starts, Flynn threw for over 700 yards and nine touchdowns. Still, Seattle didn’t sound sold on Flynn by that film.
"I was totally up for it and we had fun out there. It was real laid-back," Flynn said. "It wasn't a pressure cooker or anything like that. They kind of just wanted to see me in action I guess."
What the Seahawks saw was impressive enough for them to offer up a three-year deal for Flynn that was more appealing than other opportunities for one of the hottest free agents. That's even though Flynn was completely aware when he agreed to come to the Pacific Northwest that he was entering an open competition with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job.
And yet, nine touchdowns, a good workout with the team, and $10 million was not enough to convince Carroll to say that the Seahawks were holding a 50/50 competition between Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson. No, what Pete said after Flynn was signed was:
“Tarvaris is well ahead and he's the guy here working for us now.”
Flynn signed with a team that is more famously “Always Compete” than any other franchise and yet Pete Carroll made a point to say that he had to catch up to Jackson, a quarterback who no fan wanted to see more of after a season in which he struggled to manage a single touchdown per game.
Flynn said he was happy to do whatever it would take to help the team, even if he hadn’t been handed the starting job.
"I've always been a very competitive guy, a very confident guy and a guy who believes in working his tail off and doing the best he can," Flynn said. "I know I'm going to come in here and be in a competition and whatever happens, whatever my role is, I want to make Seattle a better football team. I think there is an opportunity there to have a very special football team."
Would that quote have been any different if Flynn was asked the same question on April 28?
April 27, 2012 - Seahawks draft Russell Wilson with 75th overall pick
The 2012 draft, much like the 2022 draft, did not have an ideal setup for Seattle to draft a quarterback. The only benefit that existed ten years ago that wasn’t the case this past April is that the 2012 class was exceptionally deep: Four first round quarterbacks and another in round two didn’t stop Wilson, Nick Foles, and Kirk Cousins from being available in rounds three and four.
At pick 12, the Seahawks could have attempted to move up for Ryan Tannehill or they could have taken a massive risk by selecting Brandon Weeden.
Instead, Seattle focused their first two picks on defense before making their play for Wilson in the third round. The decision was met with a heavier share of skepticism than excitement, but there were some fans who did feel that if not for his height, Wilson should have been an early first round pick.
However, even the Seahawks’ own website advertised a week later that the competition between Jackson and Flynn—and only Jackson and Flynn—was set to begin.
Jackson had spent a year with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Flynn was paid $10 million based on a “maybe.” But Wilson had the uphill battle of not only being a rookie…he was a rookie that didn’t have nearly as much fan support as if he had been every draft analyst’s favorite quarterback instead of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
That support would come later, but not that much later.
May 13, 2012 - Pete Carroll says that Wilson has “shown” the Seahawks that “he’s going to be in the competition”
Barely a week into practicing with the team, Wilson was showing Carroll, Bevell, and the coaching staff that he was not a normal rookie quarterback. After rookie minicamp, Carroll emphasized that Wilson would be dead center in the middle of Seattle’s quarterback competition, a fact that not even Pete Carroll was aware of when the Seahawks picked him on April 27.
A week after that, John Schneider was referencing Drew Brees and not because of their respective height similarities at quarterback: “From an accuracy, anticipation standpoint, he’s closest to Brees.”
Matt Flynn was already looking over his shoulder and he wasn’t even in the lead.
The “height thing” would not go away for Wilson, but neither would the rumors that Seattle was seriously considering starting a third round rookie in Week 1 over two veterans with significant reasons to believe they would be the QB1.
On at least one day of 2012 OTAs, Wilson was working with the starters throughout and Flynn was barely working at all.
Reports between OTAs and training camp may have insinuated that the pecking order was: Jackson, Flynn, Wilson. And what’s most notable about that in relation to the 2022 competition is not necessarily that the eventual starter was third…it was that Tarvaris Jackson was “first” based on Carroll’s own comments about the position.
July 28, 2012 - Seahawks training camp begins, Wilson remains in third
Reports out of training camp suggested that Matt Flynn was all but guaranteed a red carpet towards the starting job in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. But who would have been foolish enough to believe that?
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July 31, 2012 - “QB competition is over”…for some maybe
So will it be Flynn or will it be…Jackson?
Early August, 2012 - Flynn is the starter, but for appearance’s sake
With Flynn getting many of the first team reps in practice, Pete Carroll announced on August 7, 2012 that he would play the entire first half of Seattle’s opening preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Then Wilson would take over for the entire second half, while Jackson would sit for the entire game.
August 11, 2012 - “Russell Wilson shines as Seahawks top Titans”
Fittingly, Wilson’s first NFL preseason game came against Matt Hasselbeck. Kind of.
On the first play of the game.
"I was just like 'No, you've got to be kidding me!'" Hasselbeck said.
Hasselbeck threw a pick-six to Brandon Browner on the first play of the game, signaling also that the Seahawks were brewing something special in their secondary.
When Wilson took over in the second half, he threw a 39-yard touchdown to Braylon Edwards to give Seattle a 17-3 lead. Then ran for a 32-yard touchdown late in the game to cap a 27-17 preseason win.
"I felt like I did a really good job, especially for the first time being out there," Wilson said. "I was really, really calm (and) just trusted what I saw."
"The quarterbacks did a really nice job," Carroll said. "Nothing but good stuff came out of this game."
Flynn finished the game 11-of-13, but it was noted by ESPN that he “never once challenged the Titans’ second downfield” and that his longest completion went for 13 yards. It was mostly a short field passing attack for the taller QB, and a downfield attack from the shorter QB.
Wilson went 12-of-16 for 124 yards and rushed for 59.
After one preseason game, the “competition” may have been over for everybody other than Pete.
August 14, 2012 - Pete says Seahawks will follow same plan for game two
A preseason game is only a preseason game and Pete Carroll wasn’t moved enough through one exhibition to change the pecking order in Seattle’s QB room. He also wasn’t making it seem like Tarvaris Jackson had any realistic chance whatsoever, basing it on his previous familiarity with the team as compared to the two others.
Still, many were still not buying that Wilson was a legitimate threat to start.
Wilson disagreed, saying “I definitely believe I’ve moved closer.”
August 18, 2012 - Wilson, Broncos, something something?
Russell Wilson can’t escape his career being somehow tied to the Denver Broncos, whether it is the Super Bowl, a trade, or a key moment in his rookie development. Facing off against Peyton Manning, a 2012 free agent that Seattle had intended to woo that year if Manning hadn’t spurned their advances, the Seahawks again held off Wilson until the second half.
Wilson entered with a 10-9 deficit, but left the game with a 30-10 win.
The second half was all Seahawks as they scored on Kregg Lumpkin's 16-yard run before rookie Russell Wilson (10 of 17 for 155 yards) threw TD passes of 34 yards to Tyrell Sutton and 8 yards to Cooper Helfet.
Matt Flynn was 6-of-13 for 31 yards.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere… “fatigue” set in.
August 23, 2012 - Matt Flynn has arm “soreness” and “fatigue”
With no warning, but after two lackluster and discouraging preseason performances, Flynn was sidelined with arm soreness.
The 27-year-old Flynn certainly can't be too happy with this development, as he's already seemingly falling behind rookie signal caller Russell Wilson in the quarterback derby. Head coach Pete Carroll elected to start Wilson in Seattle's third exhibition game this Friday against the Chiefs, a telling sign considering most coaches use the second-to-last preseason game as the dress rehearsal for their starters.
But Bevell wanted to make it clear that the decision to start Wilson had less to do with Flynn’s arm and more to do with…everything that was pointing to Wilson all offseason and training camp long.
“Matt has a little bit of soreness in his arm, but [the decision to start Wilson on Friday] has nothing to do with his arm, it has nothing to do with the throws or anything,” Bevell told “Bob and Groz” on Thursday. “This is just part of the process that we decided to go through.”
Let’s remember that line: “This is just part of the process that we decided to go through.”
That process included a specific set of instructions on when Wilson would play with the 1s, when Flynn would, and when they would switch places. It sounds exactly like how Pete and Shane Waldron have talked about the process with Drew Lock and Geno Smith.
August 24, 2012 - Russell Wilson beats the Chiefs, Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson
Getting his first “start” in Seattle, Wilson led the Seahawks to a 44-14 preseason defeat of the Chiefs and while preseason is preseason, this was a game that mostly featured starters on both sides in the first half. Wilson led Seattle to a 23-7 halftime lead, throwing for 185 yards and two touchdowns, rushing for 58 yards.
"He's done everything we've asked of him," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "This is the guy we hoped he would be. All of the talk about how tall he is and all that stuff, I don't see it being a factor. I don't see it, and I have watched more carefully than anybody could ever have watched, and I don't see it being an issue. It isn't to me."
Carroll didn’t name him the starter that night.
But he would.
August 26, 2012 - Pete names Russ the starter for Week 1
Flynn was named the backup, because he was owed too much money, and Jackson was released.
And THAT is how the Seahawks quarterback competition actually went 10 years ago. Does this quarterback competition have enough similarities to think that Wilson vs Flynn vs Jackson will give us insight into Lock vs Smith?
Yes and that should be obvious: Pete held many QB competitions at USC because that’s the nature of college football. I have no doubt that he has a system and philosophy for this as he does anything else.
August 8, 2022 - Who is Matt Flynn, Russell Wilson, and Tarvaris Jackson?
While it is obvious that Lock is Wilson in this case (this is not a comparison meant to imply that Lock and Wilson have similar potential to be good, only in the roles that they are playing in this competition), the surprising exclusion is not Tarvaris.
It’s Flynn. There is no “Matt Flynn” on Seattle’s roster right now. I think that would only be the case if the Seahawks were to somehow acquire a third veteran between now and Week 1 and obviously it is too late in the game to expect anyone else to enter the chat at this stage in the process.
That’s because I think that if anything, Geno Smith is “Tarvaris Jackson” here, not “Matt Flynn.”
Smith is the one who Pete Carroll keeps saying “has the lead” going into the competition based on his past experience with the team. Jackson was going into his second year with Bevell, Smith is going into his second with Waldron.
But an advantage in knowing the playbook is far less valuable than an advantage in arm strength, talent, decision making, mobility, etc. Because Lock can always learn the playbook (which Geno Smith and Waldron and Jacob Eason have all been helping him with for the last five months) but Smith and Eason can’t just learn how to do the good things that Lock can do.
Even if Lock hasn’t been able to curb the bad things in the regular season yet.
Of course, my take on the real competition beneath the competition is that the Seahawks acquired Lock with the intention for him to be their starter. They just didn’t see any advantage towards letting anyone know that other than the people in house, which is that “plan” you keep hearing Waldron talk about.
It makes more sense to me that Seattle would note that Geno Smith does indeed have a head start on the playbook and chemistry with his teammates; he’s a viable option if Lock completely shits the bed during his attempt to win the starting role; having Smith “ahead” of Lock helps motivate the younger quarterback to take steps every day towards building a lead; with every day, practice, or preseason game that Lock does something positive in that direction, it builds a sense of belief with the team (externally and internally) that Drew Lock is a capable starting option for Week 1.
And step by step through camp, that has been the case:
Lock did not get any reps with the starters, until getting one rep on Friday
Smith got the first two drives in Seattle’s mock game on Saturday, then Lock got the next two
Lock looked a lot better than Smith, according to all reports
Next, Lock should get a few more practice reps behind the starting offensive line, but Smith should get the start against the Pittsburgh Steelers this Saturday. Lock would then enter the game and we might again see that noticeable difference between a quarterback who can throw more than 15 yards down the field and one who can’t.
Since the preseason is one game shorter these years, Lock might start as soon as preseason Week 2 against the Bears on August 18. A good enough game there, Carroll might not want to risk him in the preseason finale on August 26, which is one reason for the Seahawks recently meeting with free agent quarterback James Morgan; they’ll need someone to split reps with Jacob Eason in the game.
I’ve predicted that the Seahawks will name Drew Lock the starter in the days before or after their final preseason game. Does that mean Geno Smith arm’s start going “sore” on August 24?
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