Search for the Seahawks' next quarterback

Seattle can draft Ryan Tannehill, sign veteran Peyton Manning or stick with Tarvaris Jackson. Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS -- Coach Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks came to the NFL scouting combine in search of their next quarterback.

That was two years ago. And last year. And this year.

Call it the longest-running unsolved mystery in the NFC West, the division's most compelling draft drama.

"We're looking for a great competitor," Carroll said.

An obvious requirement for a coach claiming "Always Compete" for his mantra.

"We're looking for a guy that can really carry it when it's tough and make plays when you need it to happen, that affects guys around him in a real positive way because of what he brings," Carroll said.

That stands to reason. The Seahawks, twice 7-9 under Carroll after turning over more of their roster than any other team, were one of five teams without a fourth-quarter comeback victory last season.

"There's a lot more to it than just physical stature," Carroll said, continuing to outline his quarterback requirements, "but really, we'd like to have a guy that can run a little bit and complement the running game and do something for us -- get out on the edge and threaten enough to keep the run game that we're so committed to alive and at its best."

Carroll knows what he wants. The Seahawks can't be sure when they'll find it -- in the draft, free agency, by trade or not at all. They could be back in this position a year from now.

Every option carries risk. Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. offered thoughts on some of them during a roundtable discussion with ESPN.com bloggers at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Drafting a QB in the first round

The Seahawks hold the 12th overall choice. Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill would be the favorite in this spot.

"I think if they like him, they will take him there, because he is not going to go much later," McShay said. "I'll be shocked if he’s not gone by No. 20."

Andrew Luck is the consensus No. 1 overall pick, with Robert Griffin III looking like the favorite to go second. Trading up from 12th to second for Griffin might be cost-prohibitive. It's tougher still envisioning the St. Louis Rams, owners of the second pick, conspiring to arm a division rival with a potential franchise quarterback. Besides, at least three other teams seeking quarterbacks hold picks between second and 12th.

Back to Tannehill. He started 20 games at quarterback, a relatively small number, but he played receiver previously. A broken foot prevented him from working out at the combine. He plans to perform for scouts during a March 30 pro day.

Tannehill played in a West Coast offense under former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman at Texas A&M. The Seahawks run a version of the West Coast scheme. Sherman is now with the Miami Dolphins, who hold the eighth choice. How much does Sherman like Tannehill? Enough for the Dolphins to consider him that early? And how much will the Seahawks value Tannehill in the end? Specifically, how will Carroll value him? He'll make the call.

Tannehill could have been reading from Carroll's quarterback handbook when he described his strongest traits.

"A couple of things I do well is move and throw on the run," Tannehill said. "[Sherman] likes to move the pocket -- bootlegs, nakeds, whatever it may be. Get outside the pocket and make throws downfield."

Texas A&M struggled in second halves. Tannehill wasn't able to rally them. Dropped passes were a persistent problem. The results reflected poorly on everyone, contributing to Sherman's firing after a 6-6 season.

Drafting a QB early, but not that early

Arizona State's Brock Osweiler and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins project in the next tier. Osweiler rested a foot injury at the combine. Like Tannehill, he'll work out for scouts March 30. Cousins worked out at the combine.

"Cousins is starting to get a little more love for his ability to distribute the ball and be consistent and make good decisions," McShay said, "but I think Cousins is a third-round quarterback who might go in the second."

Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout described Cousins as a 2012 version of Andy Dalton -- smart and from a pro-style offense. Like McShay, he projects Cousins as a second- or third-rounder at this point.

Cousins stands 6-feet-3, weighs 214 pounds and could stand to gain weight. He appeared overwhelmed as a junior in a bowl game against Alabama. Two late picks against Georgia in a bowl game this year could not stop him from rallying the Spartans to a triple-overtime victory.

McShay's take on Osweiler lined up exactly with what Carroll said he wanted from the position. That was striking to me because I hadn't shared Carroll's comments with McShay. Neither did I ask McShay about Osweiler specifically in relation to Seattle.

My question was whether Osweiler, listed at 6-8 in college and officially a tick under 6-7, possessed adequate athleticism.

"I think he’s really athletic," McShay said. "That is the thing that surprised me the most."

McShay had previously seen Osweiler as a too-tall quarterback flailing away.

"Limbs everywhere," McShay said. "He was off-balance, he was always kind of falling off to the left like a pitcher off the mound because he didn’t have good balance at the end. So, I didn’t think I was going to like him at all."

McShay watched four Arizona State games in a row one night. Osweiler grew on him.

"He is accurate enough, can still improve in that area, he makes a lot of tough throws that you need to make in the NFL, he feels pressure really well and has such better initial quickness and mobility than a guy like Ryan Mallett," McShay said. "He can actually move out of the way, reset his feet and throw. That is what Mallet can never do. He also is unbelievably competitive."

That last part was Carroll's No. 1 requirement.

"I fell in love with him as a competitor," McShay said. "Just the little things he can do, just diving for a first down, guys hanging from his legs and throwing. He does a lot of little things that I think go unnoticed. He only has 15 starts, so it scares you to death to spend a really high pick on him. Now, if you can get him in the middle of the second round, you feel really good about that."

Going after a veteran instead

Matt Flynn? Peyton Manning? Both could be options.

Green Bay controls whether and how Flynn hits the market when free agency begins March 13. The Packers could simply let him leave, increasing their chances for receiving a compensatory draft choice. They could name him their franchise player, then try to trade him.

Manning's future with Indianapolis appears to be fleeting. He might not be healthy enough to sign right away. If the Seahawks did nothing about the position in the meantime, they would be in position to add Manning later in the process. But it's unclear how well Manning would fit their offense, whether he'll be healthy enough, how willing Seattle would be to make concessions, how eager Manning would be to sign with the Seahawks, etc.

Standing pat at the position

Tarvaris Jackson has one year remaining on his contract. He could start entering the 2012 season even if the Seahawks draft a quarterback. Charlie Whitehurst appears unlikely to return as the No. 2 quarterback. Josh Portis could be back, likely as the third option.

One executive for a rival team, asked to project the Seahawks' starter for 2012, took the field over Jackson by about 2-1.

Is this the year the Seahawks find their next guy?