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April 30, 2014 at 8:57 PM

Some thoughts on the Titans not picking up option on Jake Locker’s contract

This isn’t really Seahawks news, but it does involve one of the bigger-name football players to ever come out of the Seattle area, so I figured it’s fair game for discussion here.

And that topic is this story that broke today that the Tennessee Titans are not picking up the option for the 2015 season on the contract of quarterback Jake Locker, a former Washington star and Ferndale native.

That makes the 2014 season a pretty pivotal one for Locker, who is entering his fourth year in the NFL.

As the story notes, a few things are at play here in preventing the Titans from committing to Locker right now:

— He’s been injured a lot, missing 14 of a possible 32 games the last two seasons when he has been the acknowledged starter.

— The team has a new coach in Ken Whisenhunt, who may be more than willing to consider other options at the QB spot for the long term, though he has said Locker his guy for 2014.

— And the team could still easily retain Locker by putting the franchise or transition tag on him, or simply giving him a new deal if the 2014 season turns out well. For now, the Titans are hedging their bets, knowing they can still keep him around if they want.

Still, this will add to the perception that Locker is on a quarterback hot seat in 2014, especially if the Titans draft a quarterback next week.

It also makes it hard not to reminisce a little about the decision Locker faced following the 2009 season to leave Washington and declare for the draft or stay for one more year.

Locker, recall, didn’t take long to make his decision, telling the school in mid-December, only a few weeks after the season had ended, that he would stay. A few months later, Mel Kiper Jr. said it was “etched in stone” that Locker would be the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, hinting strongly that he would have been No. 1 in 2010 if he had come out.

Turned out that stone was erasable as Locker fell to No. 8 overall after a 2010 season that was more of a struggle than many imagined as he battled a few nagging injuries while Washington went 6-6 in the regular season, needing to win the last three games to get to a bowl. It all seemed worth it, though, when UW pulled a big upset of Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. And his first-round selection by the Titans in the draft made it look as it if had all worked out in terms of the NFL, as well.

Also recall that Locker always said he wasn’t really worried about the money when he decided to remain at UW. Stories at the time often cited a variety of reasons for why Locker stayed, usually having to do with football-related stuff such as having another year to hone his game and improve his accuracy and all of that.

My take has always been that Locker stayed mostly because he just wanted one more year of college life, a life he could easily share with his family and huge network of Ferndale friends. Locker — for whom family has always meant more than anything — often said he wanted to make the decision he wouldn’t regret later in life. I always took that to mean mostly that he didn’t want to look back some day and remember things like how his friends and family could drive down in the FernDawg RV to see him play and regret that he cut that a year short (and that’s just one example, but that’s the kind of thing I think drove his decision more than thinking that one more year would help with his footwork or something).

It may turn out to be a really good thing that the money wasn’t really a factor, though.

A big topic at the time when it came to discussing Locker’s decision was the new collective bargaining agreement and how that would impact the salaries for rookies — the 2011 draft class was the first one that worked under the new CBA.

Consider that the No. 8 pick in the 2010 draft, linebacker Rolando McClain drafted by Oakland, signed a five-year, $40 million deal with $23 million guaranteed.

A year later, with the new CBA, Locker, taken at the same spot, got a four-year deal worth $12.58 million, all reportedly guaranteed.

Obviously, that’s still a lot of money — Locker got a signing bonus of $7.65 million.

But the numbers are what they are, and Locker has gotten about half of what he might have had things turned out exactly the same in terms of draft positioning.

And that’s a conservative take — Locker was pretty darn hot following the 2009 season, if you recall, having played the best statistical game of his UW career in the final game of the year, a 42-10 win over Cal in which he threw for three TDs and ran for two others.

It’s not a stretch to thinkĀ  he might have been picked higher in 2010, a year when Sam Bradford, who had missed almost the entire season due to injury, went first to the Rams, getting $50 million guaranteed.

Another thought at the time, though, was that while the new CBA meant Locker might give up some money in his first contract by staying, the extra year at UW would make him better prepared for the NFL, and put him in a better spot to earn a big second contract, which would be the real key to long-term security and a huge payday.

As today’s news reinforced, that hasn’t happened yet. And the 2014 season will go a long way toward determining if it will.






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