This off-season was going to be an interesting one for the quarterback market. There were going to be two immediate starters in rookies Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, at least another first round pick in Ryan Tannehill, and some veterans that would be moving on for one reason or another.
Due to the Indianapolis Colts “earning” the first overall pick in the draft, they set their sights on reconstructing their entire franchise, including the all-important quarterback position.
That meant Peyton Manning would become a free agent after missing the entire 2011 season due to neck surgery. Not everyone anticipated he would hit the open market before winter, but we did have an idea of one QB’s free agent status for a long time: Matt Flynn.
Flynn, a seventh-round pick out of LSU in 2008 by the Green Bay Packers, has spent the past four years exceeding expectations. He succeeded 2007 first overall draft bust JaMarcus Russell as the LSU starting QB in 2007, winning the offensive MVP of the BCS Championship Game against Ohio State after passing for four touchdowns.
He was the second of two QBs taken by Green Bay in 2008 to help succeed Brett Favre, but Flynn outplayed second-round bust Brian Brohm from the jump, earning a backup job behind QB Aaron Rodgers.
As Rodgers established himself as a Super Bowl MVP and 2011 league MVP, Flynn showed in his limited opportunities that he could produce big numbers. Aside from the preseason, he had a start against the New England Patriots in 2010 and the Detroit Lions in 2011.
Flynn was actually the first backup QB to start for the Packers in 18 years.
The last time anyone saw Flynn, he was torching the Detroit for 480 yards and six scores, completing 31 of 44 attempts in a 45-41 shootout victory over Matthew Stafford (520 yards, 5 TDs) in Week 17.
Would he take his talents to South Beach and reunite with his former offensive coordinator and new Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin? Would he sign with former Packers and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, now the president of the Cleveland Browns?
In doing so, Flynn was following in the footsteps of another former Seattle Seahawks QB who, as a late-round draft pick, backed up another former Packers MVP QB before becoming a starter out west: Matt Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck was a sixth-round pick out of Boston College in 1998. He would back up three-time MVP QB Brett Favre for three seasons, becoming a preseason favorite in the process. In 2001, Hasselbeck’s former coach Mike Holmgren traded for Hasselbeck after two seasons of QB Jon Kitna, who threw for 41 TDs but had 35 INTs and finished with a 14-13 record as a starter.
Now, as a cautionary tale for the 2012 Seahawks (and a reason why Carroll is making Flynn “earn” the starting QB job despite Flynn being guaranteed $10 million), Hasselbeck wasn’t exactly lighting things up as a starter right away in 2001. He was pretty shabby that season, as he threw for just seven touchdown passes with a 54.8 completion percentage. He was also sacked 38 times and finished 5-7 as a starter.
He was outplayed by Trent Dilfer, who threw for seven touchdowns to four interceptions with a 59.8 completion percentage at 8.3 yards per attempt. Dilfer also displayed a 92.0 passer rating, suffered just 10 sacks and finished 4-0 as a starter.
Hasselbeck would improve though. By 2003, he was a Pro Bowler. By 2005, he had taken the team where it had never been before—the big stage. With the help of Shaun Alexander (27 rushing TDs in 2005), Hasselbeck was the starting signal-caller on a Seahawks team that lost a controversial Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That was Hasselbeck’s best season (24 TDs, 9 INTs, 98.2 passer rating).
Hasselbeck started for an entire decade (2001-2010) for the Seahawks before joining the Tennessee Titans as a free agent.
That left the QB job to former Minnesota Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson and former (and future) San Diego Chargers QB Charlie Whitehurst in 2011. Three things were clear at the conclusion of the 2011 season:
- The team needs to re-sign RB Marshawn Lynch, as the offense needs to go through him.
- Tarvaris Jackson is much better than Charlie Whitehurst.
- The previous fact represents the urgency of a new long-term solution at quarterback.
I can envision Flynn earning the starting job from Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson (the new Seneca Wallace, by the way) to start the season. But I can also envision Flynn being spotty, necessitating the need for Jackson and/or Wilson’s presence as a handcuff in 2012.
In addition to the 1SKILLZ Gameplan linked earlier in the article, I covered his first start at New England (not the strongest pass defense in the world), acknowledging Flynn’s ability to move the ball well but also pointing out some questionable decision-making and critically indecisive pocket presence.
Flynn doesn’t have the elite physical tools such as Rodgers, but if he is comfortable in what he is doing on the field, he can overcome that. This is a similar profile when comparing Brett Favre to Matt Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck was never going to match Favre’s ability to wing it, but Hasselbeck was at his best when he was comfortable in Holmgren’s offense—and handing the ball off plenty to Shaun Alexander.
In all, it is reasonable to expect Matt Flynn to be the next long-term Seahawks starting QB, but only if the early expectations are kept fairly moderate.
Flynn is leaving a passing team in Green Bay that featured underwhelming talent in the backfield and elite receiving talent (Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley, James Jones) to play quarterback for a team that has question marks in the passing game, questions in pass protection, and “Beast Mode” at running back.
Really though, as long as Flynn doesn’t come back to Green Bay and does this, he should be fine. (Actually, if this becomes Flynn’s first Pro Bowl season and he takes the team to the playoffs and winds up winning the NFC all together two years later, Seattle would forgive him if he did this.)