The Seattle Seahawks' anointed successor to longtime quarterback Matt Hasselbeck(notes) is a lot mellower now, and that's a good thing. Otherwise, at some point during the previous three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Jackson would have reacted to the dismissive treatment he received from then-coach Brad Childress by throwing a Christian Bale-sized tantrum.
"Oh man," Jackson said last Thursday from the Seahawks' training facility, shortly after completing his first official practice with his new team. "If I still had my temper, I would've got kicked off the [Vikings] a long time ago."
Instead, T-Jack kept his cool and engineered an exit on his terms. Following three consecutive offseasons in which he sat atop Minnesota's depth chart, only to be supplanted by veterans Gus Frerotte(notes) (three games into the '08 season) and Brett Favre(notes) (during each of the following two training camps), Jackson bolted shortly after the lockout ended.
It's not hard to deduce that the Seahawks are trying to prop up a psyche that took its share of beatings in Minnesota, especially during Favre's melodramatic and volatile two-year run with his former NFC North rivals.
"He has not been in a good situation," Carroll says of Jackson, a second-round draft choice of the Vikings in 2006. "He's been jerked around. We wanted to put him in a stable situation."
Seattle general manager John Schneider was even more blunt: "He's 28 years old, and quite frankly was [expletive] on for four years."
As counterintuitive as it might sound, the Seahawks view Jackson's presence as a stab at stability. Though Hasselbeck spent 10 years in Seattle, most of them as the starter, and performed brilliantly in the 'Hawks' stunning playoff upset of the New Orleans Saints last January, his age (35) and rash of injuries in recent years made him less attractive to Carroll and Schneider as they prepared for their second season.
Two other factors convinced the coach and general manager to pursue Jackson over Hasselbeck, who ended up signing with the Tennessee Titans: The presence of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, whom Carroll hired after cutting ties with Jeremy Bates last January, and the lockout-induced lack of an offseason program.
Bevell had spent the previous five years as the Vikes' offensive coordinator, and with no opportunity to work with Seahawks players before training camp, Jackson's familiarity with the system made him an appealing option. Backup Charlie Whitehurst(notes), acquired early in the Carroll regime from the San Diego Chargers for a swap of 2010 second-round draft picks and a third-round selection in 2011, clearly hasn't impressed his coach enough to be seen as a viable starter.
"What we were thinking should have been really obvious, really clear," Carroll says. "Any quarterback that we acquired that wasn't in the system was going to be really behind. We had great background information on [Jackson] because of the five years he spent with Darrell Bevell. I like that he's a young guy with something to prove."
It didn't hurt that Seattle's top free-agent target, former Vikings wideout Sidney Rice(notes), happened to be one of Jackson's best friends. Sure enough, the Seahawks scored the package deal, landing Rice late last month for $41 million over five years.
"I feel comfortable with T-Jack," says Rice, whose breakout 2009 season came with Favre in the lineup and Jackson on the bench. "A lot of people don't see why. But I feel like he has a hidden talent that he was never able to let loose."
Early on, Jackson's combination of mobility and arm strength made a conspicuous impression in the Twin Cities. After starting the final two games of his rookie season, Jackson emerged as the Vikings' starter in 2007, throwing only nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions as Minnesota went 8-8.
From that point on, Childress began treating his young passer like a gawky date he was trying to dump at a school dance. It was awkward, to say the least.
The next offseason, after Favre announced his retirement following 16 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Jackson sweated out rumors that the future Hall of Famer would return to football in a Vikings uniform.
Instead, Favre was traded to the New York Jets, but after the Vikings lost their first two games, Jackson was pulled for another aging passer – Gus Frerotte, whose play propelled Minnesota toward an eventual NFC North title. Childress, however, reinserted Jackson into the lineup when Frerotte was injured late in the season and started the young quarterback in a first-round playoff defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles, with regrettable results.
The following offseason, after Favre retired once more and secured his release from the Jets, there were consistent rumblings that the veteran would join the Vikes, culminating with Childress' turn as Favre's chauffeur after the unretired quarterback flew in from Mississippi in the middle of August.
Did Childress ever address the situation with Jackson?
"Not at all," Jackson says. "Even the first year ['09], we [players] never really got an explanation, a heads-up or something. But it was coach's decision. We pretty much knew and had our feelings about what was going on. In the back of our heads and our hearts, we pretty much knew he was coming."
After Favre nearly led the Vikings to the Super Bowl, with Minnesota losing an overtime thriller to the Saints in the '09 NFC championship game, Jackson prepared to take over a talented, experienced team.
Favre stayed non-committal about his future over the 2010 offseason, once again skipping the start of training camp. "I don't think Brett had fully recovered from the previous season, mentally or physically," Jackson says. "When he came back, it was more of a surprise.
"I had a [phone] conversation with him before the first preseason game. He was wishing me luck, saying, 'Go out there and be yourself. Be the quarterback you can be.' So I figured he was really retired. A couple of days later, there he was talking to me in person, like, 'Hey, I'm back.' "
The Vikes' 2010 season was a well-documented disaster which included the end of Favre's NFL-record streak of 297 consecutive starts and, on Nov. 22, the firing of Childress. Suffice it to say that Jackson, who went on injured reserve in December after suffering a toe injury in his lone start, wasn't overly broken up when owner Zygi Wilf replaced Childress with Leslie Frazier.
Though sometimes portrayed as Childress' pet, a perception which stemmed in part from the coach's reported resistance to a 2008 trade for former Houston Texans backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels(notes), Jackson insists he never felt the love.
"Obviously not," Jackson says, "because he kept bringing Brett in. In some ways, we were joined at the hip, but I wouldn't say I was Chilly's pet. Think about 2008 – after Game 2, I got pulled. How many quarterbacks lose their jobs after two games?"
To Jackson's credit, he resisted the urge to go public with his anger, and he remained composed enough to refrain from creating a problem in the locker room.
In private moments with Rice, he let his frustration show.
"Of course," Rice says. "Just sitting back thinking you've got your shot and somebody comes in and takes over. It's difficult. You've got to be a man of character. That's one thing I learned about Tarvaris through this situation – he never complained."
Though it's not a fair analogy, Jackson's restraint was somewhat reminiscent of that displayed by another quarterback whose career was impacted by Favre's indecisiveness and mood swings: Aaron Rodgers(notes). Even in the most adverse of circumstances the Packers' young passer kept his cool, and we all know how that turned out last February.
"I was around Aaron when Aaron went through it," says Schneider, who spent eight seasons (2002-09) in Green Bay's front office. "Seeing that firsthand, a guy that can handle all that – it's an impressive thing. I think Tarvaris did that. And, let's face it, Pete's great for this situation. He has an innate ability to instill confidence in people. That's Pete's God-given gift."
Coming off his strained relationship with Childress, Jackson is grateful for Carroll's approach.
"Oh yeah, it's a lot different," he says. "Here it's all about positive feedback. You can appreciate it as a quarterback: All the dog-cussing and yelling really isn't good when you play this position. You know when you mess up, when you did something wrong. Here, it's a focus on what you did right and how you can get better. I'm comfortable with that."
Realistically, Jackson's play will determine how his teammates respond to his leadership. He already has plenty of people pulling for him in his locker room – and in some other locker rooms, too.
"I know a lot of guys around the league know what was going on, and know about the road he took to get here," Seahawks halfback Marshawn Lynch(notes) says. "I'm pretty sure now that he has this opportunity, a lot of 'em are saying, '[Expletive], about time. Time to take over and do what you do.' "
That's Jackson's plan – and he feels like the past several seasons have prepared him well.
"Yeah, man, it was frustrating," he says, "but you know what? I just took it like, OK, everything happens for a reason. God's testing me to see how I'll react. And I feel like I handled it well. Other players on my team and around the league have expressed to me that I did.
"I'm not saying it was easy. Believe me, I had my days. I just stayed really quiet, tried to hide my frustration and keep working."
Now, beginning with the Seahawks' preseason opener against the Chargers in San Diego on Thursday night, Jackson is ready to be the quarterback he can be. Forgive him, however, if he'd prefer not to hear those words from a certain ex-teammate.
- Brad Childress
- Tarvaris Jackson