Expectations are somewhat subdued this season for the Seattle Seahawks. Many of the core players from the two Super Bowl teams have been traded or cut, and the rise of the Rams and the hype over the 49ers have rendered Seattle something of an afterthought in the NFC West. There’s still some talent remaining, though, and in a league where nine wins is sometimes enough to make a playoff run, an MVP-caliber quarterback (which the Seahawks still have) and a couple of guys on hot streaks at the right time can sometimes be enough.
But if that quarterback, namely Russell Wilson, gets hurt, the playoffs are a pipe dream. With the defense facing massive turnover and the running game sometimes as dependent on Wilson as the passing game, there is no one else capable of carrying the team for more than a game or two in his absence. But most teams are in the same situation. The Steelers are not going to the playoffs if Landry Jones starts ten games, and the Saints are out of luck if Taysom Hill is thrust into a major role. You need look no further than the Colts for proof of this. In Andrew Luck’s first three seasons, he played sixteen games each year; the Colts made the playoffs each year. The next two years, Luck struggled with injuries and missed a handful of games, and the Colts narrowly missed the playoffs. Last year, Luck missed the entire season, and the Colts were 4-12.
If Russell Wilson plays sixteen games this season, the Seahawks have at least a puncher’s chance of making the playoffs. After all, neither the Rams nor the 49ers have a long history of contention, and either could be sunk by a rash of injuries. If Wilson misses half the season, though, they are likely toast. In between, though, is the gray area. What happens to the Seahawks’ playoff chances if Wilson misses, say, two games? If he’s hurt during the November stretch that includes the Rams, Packers, and Panthers, that likely means a couple of losses, which could sink their playoff hopes. If it’s during an easier stretch of games, maybe Seattle can pull out a win or two and keep postseason hopes alive.
It depends greatly, of course, on the quarterback who fills in for Wilson. Presently, the top candidate is Austin Davis, a 28-year-old journeyman on his third team who signed a one-year deal this week. Davis has thirteen career touchdown passes and twelve interceptions, which speaks to both the fact that nobody has given him much of an opportunity and that he hasn’t exactly lit it up in the limited chances he has had. Most of his playing time has come with the Rams when they sucked, and, as we’ve seen from the development curve of Jared Goff, spending time with Jeff Fisher isn’t exactly a career booster. Still, it would be something of a leap of faith at this point to be confident that Davis could step in and keep the Seahawks on track for the playoffs if Russell Wilson goes down for an extended period.
Which makes the Colin Kaepernick situation all the more baffling. This is, after all, a team that prides itself on placing performance above personality in making personnel decisions. Guys like Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett thrived in Seattle after struggling elsewhere because the culture allowed them to find a comfort zone, whereas other teams worried about things like fit and conformity. So, if there was a place where Kaepernick could come in and put all the baggage aside and just play, this would be it.
The on-field fit would be close to ideal. One thing that any team wants from its backup quarterback is to be able to run the same basic offense as the starter so that the other ten guys don’t have to relearn everything. Few quarterbacks have run as often or as effectively as Wilson the past few seasons, both by design and by improvisation. In 2014, Kaepernick’s last season as a full-time starter, he ran for 614 yards. Austin Davis by contrast, has a career rushing total of 68 yards, averaging 2.8 yards per carry compared to Kaepernick’s 6.1.
There may be other factors behind this decision that we don’t know about. Kaepernick may have wanted more money than a typical backup, although that seems unlikely after not getting any serious offers for more than a year. You could also make the case that people with his determination to stand up for his beliefs tend to be headstrong in other ways, and maybe there’s enough evidence of that to scare teams off. You can be headstrong when you’re going to the Pro Bowl every year (witness Richard Sherman), but when your skills start to erode or you’re just expected to hold a clipboard, the general expectation, fair or not, is that you blend in.
Still, this is a better team with Colin Kaepernick than it is with Austin Davis. Just last year, the Packers and Texans were borderline playoff contenders until their quarterbacks went down. Rather than sign Kaepernick or any proven commodity, both teams went with familiar faces. Both missed the playoffs; the Packers were 4-3 with Aaron Rodgers but 3-6 without him, while the Texans were 3-4 with Deshaun Watson but experienced a 1-8 faceplant after he was hurt.
If you’re a Seahawks fan, you have a right to expect your team to do everything it can to make the playoffs. If you’re contemplating buying season tickets, or even tickets to a particular game, you expect that team to make whatever moves give it the best chance to win the games that you pay to see. Sure, this may be the start of a rebuild, and some moves might be more geared toward winning in 2020 than in 2018. But signing Austin Davis over Colin Kaepernick doesn’t help you win in either year unless you’re aiming for better draft picks.