Drew Lock Experiment Is Worth the Risk for Seattle Seahawks
Tell everyone you're tanking without actually saying you're tanking.
The Seattle Seahawks have done just that with their commitment to Drew Lock as their starting quarterback for the 2022 campaign, though the approach isn't without merit.
Essentially, the team invested in a lottery ticket as part of the Russell Wilson deal. If it works out, the Seahawks will be ahead of the curve. If not, they can look to the 2023 NFL draft and reinvest in the quarterback position. Meanwhile, they can get back to basics without worrying what may or may not upset Wilson.
Lock, whom the Denver Broncos selected in the second round of the 2019 draft, still has upside.
"I think he'd have been the first guy picked [in 2022], of quarterbacks anyway" Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said of Lock during an interview on Sports Radio KJR (h/t Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith). "He'd have been the first guy in this draft. I don't have any hesitation saying that."
Yes, everyone can hear some snickering after reading that statement. But Carroll isn't necessarily wrong. Lock is only 25 and less than two years older than Kenny Pickett, whom the Pittsburgh Steelers chose as the top quarterback in this year's draft with the 20th overall pick. No other incoming quarterback prospect heard his name called before the third round.
"The first look at Drew, he's really athletic. He's really a confident athlete. You can see he's got a lot of body control. He's got quick feet. He's got a quick arm. He's got various ways he can release the football as his body's in different positions," Carroll explained. "He's got a real knack there. He's got a strong arm. He can throw the ball a mile down the field. ... He has a world-class arm, and all that."
It was smart for Seattle to pass on this year's quarterback class. Too many questions swirled about the group.
"You don't draft a bad quarterback for the positional value," an executive told The Athletic's Mike Sando. "You can take a year and see what you've got. Do you trade everything for a quarterback next year? Yeah, if it is the right one. That is something they have to figure out."
Instead, general manager John Schneider began rebuilding the foundation after it had eroded. With Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner no longer with the franchise, the Legion of Boom era can officially be put to rest. The Seahawks are now built around wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and safety Jamal Adams.
The incoming rookies have exciting upside with strong pedigrees.
This year's ninth overall pick, offensive tackle Charles Cross, immediately fills a premium position with an elite talent. While Alabama's Evan Neal and North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu received more attention throughout the predraft process, Cross was generally considered in the same tier as a legitimate top-10 talent.
The Seahawks paired Cross with fellow rookie Abraham Lucas, whom they drafted with the 72nd overall pick. The four-year starter at right tackle has allowed the second-lowest pressure rate since the start of the 2020 campaign, per Pro Football Focus (h/t Smart Football's Adam Carter).
Schneider took a similar approach with two other premium positions and
doubled down at cornerback and edge defender.
The second-round selection of Boye Mafe should give the defense more juice in the pass rush, while Tyreke Smith provides extra depth. Corner is more interesting because fourth-rounder Coby Bryant is the reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner and a sound, aggressive defender, whereas Tariq Woolen, who fell to the fifth round, has a similar background and traits to Richard Sherman as a bigger corner who converted from wide receiver.
An emphasis on those positions, particularly on defense, coupled with the second-round selection of running back Kenneth Walker III portends a throwback approach by Carroll and Co.
A mistake could be thinking that Lock is anything more than a placeholder until he proves otherwise. As a result, the Seahawks should once again be a run-first team, and they have the backfield to make it happen with a returning Chris Carson, re-signed Rashaad Penny and the newly acquired Walker.
"If Rashaad Penny can continue what he did late in the year, and now they have Walker, you know, with that quarterback situation, what's going to happen," an NFC coordinator told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "Those guys are going to get the ball a ton."
And they should.
Carson is a proven 1,000-yard ball-carrier when healthy, though he's coming off neck surgery. Penny finally looked like a first-round back when he ran for 671 yards over the Seahawks' final five games last season. Walker, meanwhile, is the most explosive back from this year's class. His 1,168 yards after contact in 2021 were the most by a Power Five running back since the 2019 campaign, per Pro Football Focus.
Considering the aforementioned youth at key positions, the team's incomplete roster and the uncertainty under center, the Seahawks aren't positioned to surpass the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals, let alone dethrone the reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, in the NFC West.
An eye should be toward the future.
"Their fascination with Drew Lock feels like a contrarian, 'Hey, we are going to win running the ball and our evaluation of Drew Lock was right,'" an executive told Sando. "Only a Super Bowl-winning coach who has tenure and is feeling secure can do that. This will either be the greatest 'I told you so' or it could be, 'Hey, you know what, I gave it a great run, and no one is going to remember this part when it is said and done anyway.'"
Only a lights-out season by Lock could and should sway the Seahawks from going in another direction next offseason. Granted, the team may still entertain the possibility of a Baker Mayfield trade, but he doesn't change the math when it comes to Seattle's current setup since the 2018 No. 1 overall pick isn't under contract after this season.
"I don't see us making a trade for anybody at all. I don't see that happening," Carroll told Sports Radio 93.3 KJR-FM last week (h/t ESPN's Brady Henderson). "But we're certainly going to continue to be open to chances to help our club, and meanwhile, we're just going to be battling and competing our tails off."
The coach also said that Seattle had "no intention" of trading Wilson about two weeks before that occurred. Still, the Seahawks won't take on much, if any, of Mayfield's deal based on their financial standing.
Seattle has $12 million in salary-cap space before it signs its rookie class. The rest can be rolled into the 2023 season when the franchise is projected to have the fifth-most salary-cap space at $62.9 million, per Spotrac.
Carroll and Schneider will also enter the next draft cycle with a pair of first- and second-round selections. They can use one of those picks or package a group of selections to acquire a quarterback in a class that already looks much stronger than the most recent iteration. The Seahawks can make a play for Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, Alabama's Bryce Young, Kentucky's Will Levis or whoever else works his way to the top of the draft.
Seattle has never won fewer than seven games in any season with Carroll as head coach. A pair of seven-win campaigns predated Wilson's arrival as a third-round rookie in 2012. The Seahawks are back to where they started. They're searching for a quarterback, and they'll try to grind out wins and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
In other words, they are dipping into the tank once again and hoping to come out of it with another big fish.