The Seahawks’ (very public) tour of the top quarterbacks in this NFL draft has ended.
The last stop: The most intriguing one.
Coach Pete Carroll chatted up Anthony Richardson. He patted the prized passer on the shoulder at the start of Richardson’s Pro Day workout Thursday at his University of Florida. Carroll and Seattle general manager John Schneider stood next to Carolina Panthers coach Frank Reich and GM Scott Fitterer a few feet from where Richardson then threw impressive darts, 75-yard rainbow passes — and even performed gymnastics.
Carolina owns the first pick in next month’s NFL draft. The Seahawks own the fifth. That’s where the intrigue lies, with Richardson and three other coveted QBs in this draft.
Richardson completed 55 of his 62 throws Thursday. He ended his Pro Day practically prancing through a roll-out pass. He launched the ball more than half the field. Then he did a round off back flip. Yes, right in the middle of the field.
It would have impressed an Olympic gymnast.
Not that there are any 6-foot-4, 244-pound Olympic gymnasts.
And this is how Anthony Richardson closed his pro day throwing session. He’ll join us shortly on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/DVQVFzYQkg
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 30, 2023
In the last week Carroll, Schneider, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson have made their presence obvious at the Pro Days of C.J. Stroud at Ohio State, Bryce Young at Alabama, Will Levis at Kentucky and Richardson.
“Yeah, it has been a freakin’ blast,” Carroll told reporters this week at the NFL’s annual owners meetings in Phoenix. “It was so much fun to get out there. ...
“To be right in the middle of the football world right there, in the specter of this whole quarterback thing and the draft thing coming up and all, and to hit one after another after another, the three guys that we saw and the whole orchestration of it, the circus of it all, and the way they handled it, was just so impressive. And it was just really fun.”
The 71-year-old former USC coach said it was like he was back on the college recruiting road.
“It reminded me of old times, spring recruiting. We used to travel around and do the same kind of thing,” he said. “And it was great to be on the road with the staff and all. But most of all, it was the guys. They were really impressive under the most scrutiny and the most tension of having to come through, in the moment, everybody’s on you, cameras are everywhere.
“Different than a game. It’s not the same as a game. And to see them come through so well, so impressively, I thought it was really amazing. It was great.”
Seattle’s rare chance
Carroll, Schneider and the Seahawks leaders have just about sneaked into Pro Days before past drafts. They didn’t want to advertise interest in certain prospects.
But this spring is just the second time in more than a quarter century the Seahawks have had a pick this high in a draft.
Seeing Richardson in person and talking with him Thursday ended a QB Pro Day tour that was partly to get the rest of the league to know the Seahawks are seriously considering drafting a top quarterback, even through they just re-signed Geno Smith off his Pro Bowl passing season. The idea is to attract a quarterback-needy team — Atlanta? Tennessee? Anyone? — to make a wowing offer to Seattle to trade up to five.
These visits are also because they may draft a quarterback. Especially if Richardson is still available.
The Seahawks love his physical skills: huge arm, big athleticism, large size. The fact that he’s made just 13 college starts has two meanings. Richardson is not as proven and experienced as Stroud, Young and Levis. But Richardson has the most room to improve, to reach the potential his prodigious physical talent suggests.
He has, as scouts love to say, a higher “ceiling.”
That is why Richardson may not be available for Seattle, even if the Seahawks want to draft him.
Richardson has starred since the league’s scouting combine at the beginning of March; he was the talk of that event in Indianapolis. That, Young’s and Stroud’s championship-level performances at the top level of college football, Levis’ strong throwing arm and how coveted the best prospects are at the sport’s most important position make it possible QBs go 1-2-3-4 in this draft. Possible, if not likely.
As Schneider said at the combine of elite quarterbacks: “They don’t grow on trees.”
If the first four picks are all quarterbacks, the Seahawks would have every defensive player in this draft available to them at five. They also own the 20th pick in round one. Seattle’s biggest need is on defense, in its front. It’s what Carroll and Schneider have said. It’s what they’ve spent $66 million in March fixing, in free agency.
It’s why they brought back six-time All-Pro Bobby Wagner last weekend on a one-year deal worth $5.5 million with another $1.5 million possible through incentive bonuses.
On April 27, with their fifth pick, the Seahawks could be choosing between top (though recently troubled) interior lineman Jalen Carter from Georgia or Will Anderson from Alabama, the top edge rusher in this draft. Or ANY other player who could help their needy defense today. Then Seattle has four more picks in the top 52 of this draft.
It’s a uniquely great place for the team to be sitting while visiting these quarterbacks’ Pro Days.
No wonder it’s been “a freakin’ blast” for Carroll and the Seahawks.
Geno Smith, Drew Lock know
Tennessee, Atlanta and Washington are among the teams that need quarterbacks and could plausibly trade up with Arizona to the third pick. Arizona last year signed quarterback Kyler Murray to a $230 million contract extension that runs through the 2028 season. The deal takes the Cardinals out of the top-passer market.
Smith’s incentive-filled contract with the Seahawks is only for three years. Seattle could get out of it after the 2023 season with a salary-cap charge potentially as low as $8.7 million on a $75 million deal.
Back in January, Carroll and Schneider explained to Smith — and to Drew Lock, the veteran backup Seattle also re-signed this month — why they are interested in this draft’s top quarterbacks.
“We talked to both of those guys about it when we were hitting free agency,” Schneider said. “In our exit interview, Pete and I both had frank conversations with them and said, ‘We haven’t been in this spot in a long, long time, so we can’t guarantee you that we won’t take a quarterback.’
“You just put all the information on the table so everyone knows what they’re getting into. There’s no second guessing.”
That led to Carroll, Schneider, et al, flying on team owner Jody Allen’s private jet from Columbus to Tuscaloosa to Lexington to Gainesville (via the league meetings in Phoenix) to see these top QBs over the past week.
“It’s a blast,” Schneider said, using Carroll’s word at the league meetings this week. “Jody has been awesome letting us use her plane. So last week, being able to jump around like that to see those guys, it lets you be that much more efficient with your time.
“And it’s just fun because (Carroll’s) brain is just on fire. He’s just always going… It’s fun — especially being at, like, Alabama, he’s hanging out with Coach (Nick) Saban.
“It was awesome just talking ball, talking players and the draft.”