Terrelle Pryor may be the greatest athlete ever to have his career derailed by a tattoo scandal.
If you want to know how such an extraordinary talent landed in Seattle, in the shadow of Russell Wilson and in a competition with Tarvaris Jackson just to be the Seahawks’ backup quarterback, think back four years ago to a silly NCAA controversy.
Back then, Pryor was starting to live up to his legend. He came to Ohio State as one of the most sought-after recruits in college sports history. Sports Illustrated dubbed the ultra-athletic quarterback’s college announcement “the most anticipated signing day announcement in history.” By 2010, Pryor was a junior who already had a Rose Bowl MVP on his résumé. Then, as the Buckeyes were preparing for the Sugar Bowl in late 2010, the NCAA suspended Pryor and four teammates for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling championship rings, jerseys and awards and receiving improper benefits from a tattoo parlor.
Over the next six months, various media reports claimed Pryor had received other improper benefits, including cars. Amid all the innuendo, he withdrew from Ohio State. He became eligible for the NFL supplemental draft in 2011, and the Oakland Raiders selected him in the third round.
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No surprise, that wasn’t the route to NFL stardom.
Now Pryor, still just 24, is the latest reclamation project on a championship team known for giving — and profiting from — second chances.
The Seahawks traded a seventh-round pick to try to revive Pryor’s career, and if the quarterback takes advantage of the opportunity, he can alter his career forecast in dramatic fashion. He can’t become the Seahawks’ franchise quarterback, obviously. But if he approaches this situation with humility, if he’s willing to learn and compete, he can turn into a useful NFL player.
The question is what “useful NFL player” means in his case. It could be as modest as developing into a dependable backup quarterback. It could be as electric as turning into a new age, Kordell Stewart-like, “Slash” type — only Pryor could be even more dangerous as a multi-positional offensive threat because he’s a 6-foot-4, 233-pound specimen who can run 40 yards in 4.38 seconds. It could be as fairy-tale as learning from Wilson, figuring out the nuances of quarterbacking and getting a starting job elsewhere in the future.
But right now, Pryor comes to the Seahawks as a raw athlete with a career 69.3 passer rating. He started nine games last season for the Raiders and didn’t establish himself.
For the Seahawks, this is a low-risk acquisition of a player who is clearly an NFL athlete. You need a microscope to see his value as an NFL quarterback at this moment, but the talent is obvious.
Pryor began a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season with a 93-yard touchdown run. It was the longest touchdown run in NFL history for a quarterback, and it also broke Bo Jackson’s Raiders record. Coming out of high school, Pryor was heavily recruited in football and basketball. There was debate over which sport he should choose.
Considering the Seahawks’ stability at quarterback, they might want to reinvent Pryor. While it’s highly irregular for a quarterback to change positions three years into his NFL career, Pryor has the kind of talent to do it. He isn’t just a fast quarterback. He is, as general manager John Schneider said in a statement, “an incredibly explosive athlete, and we’re excited for him to come in and compete.”
As long as Schneider and coach Pete Carroll are in charge, the Seahawks will always be the land of opportunity, for both undervalued talent and for wayward prodigies. Marshawn Lynch regained his form here. Bruce Irvin was embraced despite his past. Wide receiver Mike Williams had his only productive NFL season in Seattle.
Not everyone experiences a resurrection, of course. LenDale White, a star running back when Carroll was at USC, lasted just a month after Carroll joined the Seahawks in 2010. Terrell Owens lasted three weeks. Kellen Winslow Jr. was cut before the regular season.
On this team, track record means little. It’s a wonderful thing for players determined to make the most of today. It’s an awful thing for players averse to being challenged. Which one is Terrelle Pryor?
Well, this much is certain: He needs this chance more than the Seahawks need him. Pryor can fail, and the Seahawks will still be contenders to win another championship. And even if he succeeds, he probably won’t play enough to move the needle. The reward of this alliance is so lopsided. Can Pryor see it? Will he capitalize on it?
If he has any fight in him, he can redirect his career.
If he wants to be defined by a tattoo indiscretion, well, not even the Seahawks can save ’em all.