By Jason Hirschhorn for TonySoftli.com
A great many things contributed to the Seahawks’ Super Bowl triumph this past February. During Seattle’s championship run, Russell Wilson’s emergence as a quality quarterback and team leader, the development of the league’s strongest secondary, and a dominating ground game that goes three deep at running back all garnered national attention, and rightfully so. However, had it not been for one particular low-cost move made weeks after the crazy spending of free agency concluded, the Seahawks may not have a banner to raise this September.
As with every offseason, teams overlook several good football players for one reason or another. In 2013, no player was more wrongfully snubbed than defensive end Michael Bennett. Despite coming off his best year as a pro (nine sacks, three forced fumbles, and nearly 1,000 snaps), Bennett languished on the open market for weeks due to concern over a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder. That Bennett played through the injury without missing a game failed to assuage his doubters.
The soft market that resulted for Bennett allowed Seahawks general manager John Schneider to scoop him up for a mere $5 million. For that paltry sum, the defensive end repaid Seattle with his strongest season to date. As part of one of the league’s best defensive line rotations, Bennett produced 8.5 sacks, 51 quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles, a fumble return for touchdown, and consistently spectacular run defense. While it’s impossible to say whether Seattle wins the championship without those contributions, Dan Quinn’s defense would be hard pressed to find an adequate replacement for Bennett’s 759 snaps.
Now as the Seahawks prepare their title defense, Schneider completed his latest shrewd move, one that gives the roster needed depth at the most important position.
Terrelle Pryor entered the league as the Raiders’ third-round pick in the 2011 supplemental draft. After riding the pine for two years, Pryor stepped into the starting lineup after Matt Flynn’s disappointing preseason. He displayed flashes of brilliance over the course of nine starts, including a 93-yard touchdown run to jumpstart the Oakland’s week 8 victory over the Steelers. However, Pryor’s efforts failed to convince head coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie of his potential to become their long-term answer at quarterback. This led to a prolonged standoff between player and team inevitably headed towards divorce.
Back in Seattle, Schneider identified Pryor’s situation as yet another opportunity to acquire a potential high-yielding talent for a fraction of the normal cost. While the Seahawks are set at starting quarterback with the aforementioned Russell Wilson, the depth behind him leaves the team extremely vulnerable should injuries intervene.
In today’s NFL, no team can bank on 16 games out of their starting quarterback. New injury protocol increases the likelihood of a player missing time, especially in cases of head trauma. While he’s yet to miss a start, Wilson’s stature (5-11, 203 lbs.) suggests a greater susceptibility to serious injury than the average quarterback. With Tarvaris Jackson as the only veteran backup on the roster — and a woeful one at that — Seattle faces a doomsday-like scenario should Wilson miss an extended period of time. To prevent such a dire situation, Schneider exchanged a seventh-round pick to Oakland for the disenfranchised Pryor.
While he doesn’t possess all of Wilson’s game management skills, Pryor’s abundant athleticism and versatility allows him to run the majority of coordinator Darrell Bevell’s playbook. Such is a critical trait for successful backup quarterbacks, as it prevents the offense from dramatically shifting their game plan and approach when Pryor is under center. The Seahawks don’t ask their signal caller to make many difficult throws. Instead, their quarterback need only complete short and intermediate throws to set up Marshawn Lynch and the other tailbacks. Not only can Pryor excel in this setting, but if pressed into action, his exceptional running ability and comfort level with the read option strengthen an already stout running game.
Adding Pryor also saves Seattle cap space should he win the backup job. At a base salary of $705,000, Pryor costs $395,000 less than Jackson. While releasing the eight-year veteran would create $150,000 in dead money, the Seahawks still gain $245,000 to spend elsewhere. Such becomes increasingly important for Seattle as many of the team’s best young players are approaching the end of their contracts. Additionally, the coaches provide themselves with an opportunity to examine Pryor for a full season and determine if he’s a part of the team’s future.
It’s entirely possible that Wilson once again starts every game for Seattle, thus rendering Pryor to clipboard duty and little more for the entire year. However, for a miniscule investment, John Schneider greatly bought the Seahawks’ additional margin for error for their title defense. In a division that includes three teams with double-digit wins a season ago, acquiring insurance at the most important position in sports could mean the difference between a deep playoff run and missing the postseason. Teams never know when they’ll need to find the next Jeff Hostetler, Earl Morrall, or Zeke Bratkowski. Even if the starting quarterback misses just one game, such often proves the difference between home-field advantage and a postseason on the road. The Seahawks may possess flaws that prevent them from a deep playoff run, but because of their GM’s smart shopping, quarterback depth shouldn’t be one of them.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He also serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Hook’em Headlines. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn