GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — In the NFL, money doesn’t necessarily buy a starting quarterback.
That fact will plainly be on display when the Seattle Seahawks meet the Arizona Cardinals in the teams’ season opener today.
Millionaires Matt Flynn of Seattle and Kevin Kolb of Arizona will be watching from the sidelines as younger, less-wealthy quarterbacks get the start. The Seahawks will go with rookie Russell Wilson, the Cardinals with third-year pro John Skelton.
Flynn, formerly the backup to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, signed a three-year deal with Seattle this offseason with $10 million guaranteed. Just before the start of last season, Arizona sent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick to Philadelphia to acquire Kolb, then signed him to a five-year, $63 million contract extension, with $21 million guaranteed.
But both lost out in preseason competition.
“It never was about money and hopefully it never will be,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “This is a game that competitors play, and guys that win the battles should be playing. In my mind, they should be playing. I don’t care how much money they make.”
Wilson, a third-round draft pick from Wisconsin, lit up defenses in the preseason, but for the first time will face a defense that is game-planning against him. He also could be without star running back Marshawn Lynch, who is nursing a sore back that kept him out of the final two preseason games.
If Lynch doesn’t play, expect Arizona’s defense — a major reason the Cardinals won seven of their last nine last season to finish 8-8 — to home in on Wilson even more than originally planned.
“Being a rookie should help us out a lot,” said Calais Campbell, the Cardinals’ 6-foot-8 defensive end, “because he should be a little flustered. Preseason’s a whole different ballgame. It’s going to be a little bit more intense, a little more different. I think it will help us out a lot, him being young and stuff, but he is definitely an athlete so we have to be careful of him running the ball.”
Wilson is 5-11 but can scramble away from trouble and has been good at finding the passing lanes against big defenders. Skelton is 6-4 and shows poise in the pocket.
Wilson knows the Cardinals will try to confuse him.
“I definitely know that is something they do and I have to be prepared for that and just trust in the process of this entire week,” he said, “and learn as much as I can and play as much as I can and have a full grasp of what they are trying to do.”
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt calls Wilson “a sharp young man.”
“We are going to do what we do defensively,” Whisenhunt said. “Hopefully that will be confusing. We will see.”
Skelton, 5-2 as a starter last season, won a protracted competition over Kolb. A fifth-round draft pick from Fordham, Kolb has a strong arm but the ball sometimes has a tendency to sail on him. He has a knack for pulling out victories, though, engineering Arizona’s 23-20 overtime victory over the Seahawks in last season’s finale with a series of big passes to Larry Fitzgerald, including a one-handed grab that set up the winning field goal. Fitzgerald has more receptions and more yards receiving against Seattle than against any other team.
“Just a guy that catches crazy passes,” Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor said, “one-handed, between his legs, over his head. He’s just a tough competitor.”
Seattle’s defense finished ninth in the NFL statistically last season and figures to be just as tough or tougher this year.
“They’ve got a lot of the same guys back and they’re big and physical up front,” Arizona offensive coordinator Mike Miller said. “They’re fast off the edges. They just drafted 51 (Bruce Irvin) out of West Virginia that’s a lightning bolt off the edge — quick, fast with great technique.
“The linebacking corps is solid and they’ve got big, physical corners on the outside. They’re going to redirect and wear on you, so you’ve got to have a plan for them.”
The Seahawks face what could be a wobbly Arizona offensive line that lost left tackle Levi Brown to a season-ending triceps injury. The Cardinals’ two tackles, D’Anthony Batiste and rookie Bobby Massie, have never started an NFL game at that position, although Batiste had four starts at guard for Atlanta in 2007. Miller acknowledged that he might have to use additional players, a tight end or a running back most likely, to help out the line.
“It’s just how we’re going to protect it,” he said, “on which plays should we lean toward maybe giving a guy some help based on what type of fronts and looks that that defense is giving us.”
The Cardinals hope they can ease the pressure on Skelton by running the ball with the 1-2 punch of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams. Wells, who topped 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career last season, is still working back from arthroscopic knee surgery. Williams, extremely impressive when he’s healthy, missed all of his rookie season with a torn patella tendon.
“We’ve got some backs that look good right now,” Whisenhunt said, “but I know teams are going to try to load up the box and stop us, see if we can complete some passes, so we have to be able to do that as well.”
Wells has never faced a Carroll-coached team.
“Pete is a great football coach and he’s got a great team and he’s been coaching that defense up well,” Wells said. “It will be exciting to get me, Ryan, LaRod (Stephens-Howling) and WiPo (William Powell) going, because we have an exciting backfield.”
Just as Arizona has its sights on Russell, the Seahawks’ defense is aiming to fluster Skelton. Unlike the Cardinals, they are familiar with the quarterback.
“They’ve got explosive players, they’ve got Larry, they’ve got a good running game and it seems once their quarterback gets into a rhythm he seems like he can move the offense,” Seattle free safety Earl Thomas said. “We’re just going to try and disrupt him.”
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this story.
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