Before the season gets into full swing, I decided to dust off an article I started months ago, but never got around to finishing. I was taken aback by a handful of articles I came across at the time of Matt Hasselbeck's departure, and the insinuation, or outright accusation, that Jake Locker was being handled with "kid gloves" by the organization.
It began with this article by Anthony Denmark on Rant Sports. As much as I hate to give attention to this type of dribble, I have included the link in case a reader would like to get fired up or feel their blood boil. In the article, Anthony offers up hard hitting shots to Locker such as these:
If the Wonderlick tested for mental toughness and competitive fire, Locker would have likely went undrafted.
In an effort to protect the confidence of the mentally fragile quarterback the Titans chose not to acquire another quarterback who would push Locker for the starting spot.
Another blog by Jamal Black, a writer I enjoy, caught my attention over at Titans Report. In his Gleanings From the Offseason post, Jamal also jumps on the idea of the Titans being overprotective of Locker in his Gleaning #3 and says that "Few players get this level of care and protection."
Mr. Black reflects the concerns of many as he insinuates that getting rid of veteran Matt Hasselbeck was in some way or form done to take pressure off of Locker and to not have him looking over his shoulder. If nothing else, to solidify his position on the team as a leader without having another alpha male in the pack. Others have said as much and more, that Hasselbeck was let go for fear of him winning a camp battle. I couldn't disagree more.
This particular move was about money and youth.
Matt Hasselbeck has constantly and consistently been a champion for Jake Locker. He endorsed Locker as the starting quarterback and made no waves after losing out to him in camp of 2012. Hasselbeck and Locker are family friends and hold each other in the highest of regards. What better person to have in your corner, in your meeting rooms, or on your sideline than Matt Hasselbeck, a savvy veteran who truly wants you to succeed in the bottom of his heart? One who can pour years of experience into Lockers head.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a starter in the league for years, but is also still relatively young. The backup QB is always the most popular player for the fans, especially when it's new blood. If Locker or the offense struggles early in the year, the fans will be calling for Fitz to take the field just as quick, if not quicker, than they would have for Hasselbeck.
Fitzpatrick signed a 2 year, $6.5M contract with only $1.75M guaranteed. Hasselbeck signed with the Colts hours after being cut for a 2 year $7.25M contract with $3M guaranteed. The cap hit for the first year saved the Titans over $1M.
The money saved by not paying the backup quarterback around $7M, was used in free agency to sign other weapons and players to place around the center piece that is Locker. As many have said since free agency and the draft, there are no excuses now. At least not for the offense.
Jamal also points out that Locker was afforded the rare opportunity to sit his rookie year behind a solid veteran as opposed to being thrown to the wolves as most rookie QBs are these days. The reasoning behind this is multifold.
Most teams that draft a quarterback with a top ten pick don't have the luxury of having a starting caliber quarterback such as Matt Hasselbeck on the roster. Combine that with the lockout as well as the depth of Chris Palmers offensive season and it made sense as the thing to do. I'm not saying that Locker was ready to go. But that the Titans had circumstances and luxuries that other teams normally don't have in the same situation.
What about the start of 2012? Does everyone remember the dread and the brutal schedule the Titans faced to start the year? It was widely speculated that Munchak would start Hasselbeck through the beginning stretch, and if all went well, they could ride him out. If not, the season is tanked, and you let the "rookie" quarterback get his feet under him with a softer second half schedule and no pressure.
But that's not what they did.
Instead they started Locker against an impossible opening stretch. He was injured early and they continued to roll him out there with a zero run game to lean on. Had the Titans been coddling Locker, I don't see how he would have started the 2012 season against the New England Patriots.
No. The Titans have not handled Locker with kid gloves, or made moves to massage his ego. If anything, the intangibles Locker has going for him is confidence, grit and determination. Locker may only have 12 starts under his belt, but it's a do or die year for both him and the coaching staff. Right or wrong, there couldn't be any more pressure on a quarterback than there is on Locker now.