What was the biggest difference between the Seattle Seahawks and the New York Jets last year? Well the easy response is that the Seahawks made the playoffs last season and the Jets didn't.
While this is true, there was one reason above all that had the biggest affect on these teams' seasons: their offseason QB competitions.
The Jets entered the 2012 season fresh off of a disappointing 8-8 finish in 2011 where quarterback Mark Sanchez regressed in a major way.
New York had already brought in a couple of quarterbacks to backup Sanchez but Jets general manager at the time, Mike Tannenbaum, couldn’t pass up the chance to trade for Tim Tebow once the Denver Broncos made it clear they were trying to trade him.
While most believed that Tebow was brought in to push Sanchez and also add an extra element to the offense, Jets management decided to double down on the enigmatic Sanchez signing him to a very lucrative contract extension rather than forcing him to prove he actually deserved to remain the starter.
During this same offseason, the Seahawks would sign Green Bay Packers backup QB Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million dollar deal. They also drafted Russell Wilson in the third round of the draft and kept a few more guys around to compete for the job.
You see despite Flynn's obvious front-runner status to win the position, head coach Pete Carroll was not about to “award” the starting spot to Flynn the way the Jets did to Sanchez. If Flynn wanted to lead the Seahawks he still had to earn it.
Looking back we now see how these decisions played out for their respective teams. The Jets fired their GM while their current coach enters a make-or-break season in 2013 after stubbornly sticking with Sanchez despite his continued regression throughout the season.
The Seahawks advanced to the second round of the playoffs last year and are looking like Super Bowl contenders after their moves they have made this offseason.
Now it’s possible the Seahawks could have still made the playoffs with Flynn at the helm and there is no guarantee the Jets would have been better with either Tebow or one of their other quarterbacks under center.
The more likely scenario though is that the Jets would have played a little better without Sanchez throwing 18 interceptions and committing numerous fumbles. Tebow would not have turned the ball over nearly as much.
Tebow also could have helped the Jets’ defense the way he did Denver’s by eating up the clock as he would have operated out of a ball-control, read-option offense. This still doesn’t guarantee the Jets would have made the playoffs but they could have done better than the 6-10 record they had last season.
Russell Wilson was the right choice for Seattle though. He’s a very accurate passer but his athleticism brought a dimension to the Seahawks offense that they couldn’t have gotten from Flynn.
Teams were forced to account for Wilson on every play and the Seahawks exploited this on the way to an 11-5 record and a trip to the playoffs.
The best example of a coach allowing a player to play his way into the starting lineup came from the Seahawks division rival, the San Francisco 49er.
Although quarterback Alex Smith was playing well for the 49ers, backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick used the opportunity he got to showcase what he could do.
Kapernick showed that he could take the team to greater heights and 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh stuck with him. It paid off in a big way as the 49ers advanced all the way to the Super Bowl.
Letting a guy’s play speak for itself should be an automatic response for a coach but some coaches can’t resist the urge to play it safe. Let’s see if the Jets figure it out this year.