Author's Note: I'll preface this by saying I have yet to form an opinion in this matter, but it is a question I've put a lot of thought into these last few days (since the Titans' season is over). Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section.
Who should start for the Tennessee Titans at quarterback next season?
This season, the answer was obvious. The Titans were in rebuild mode and Jake Locker was probably not at all ready to be a full-time starter, so Hasselbeck was obviously the guy. Hasselbeck was the present, Locker is the future.
However, after free agency and the draft, the Titans will be pretty close to the end of the rebuilding process. Throw another wide receiver, plus a rushing defensive end and a couple of offensive linemen in the team and you've got a group ready to compete in the postseason.
After all, the Titans won nine games this season, and that's with four rookie defensive players starting. Next season, I expect Jurrell Casey to continue being the interior force that he has been. Karl Klug will be a little bigger and stronger, and the two of them will make Tennessee's interior defensive line complete.
Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy were already pretty good, but next year they'll have more experience reading an NFL offense and won't be as apt to make rookie mistakes and give up big plays.
The offensive line has struggled on the inside, but I expect improvement there next season. As the Titans were one of the least penalized offensive lines in the NFL, we can see that they're already getting more disciplined under O-line coach Bruce Matthews. A new guy could take them over the top.
Assuming Chris Johnson improves next year (and as bad as he was, it ought to be nearly impossible for him not to), Tennessee will be back to having a decent run game. With Kenny Britt returning, perhaps with some help from a rookie receiver too, the Titans will have a dynamic offense on the ground and in the air.
With just those few improvements offensively and defensively, the Titans will be a playoff contender next season. Because of this, the Titans will have to start the best player they have at quarterback to guide the team into the playoffs. So who is it?
Locker showed flashes of greatness in his limited playing time, but they were just flashes. He still completed less than half his passes, and his tendency to run always puts him at risk for injury. He's far from fully developed.
Hasselbeck, on the other hand, played well, but wasn't exactly a dynamic play maker and he isn't getting any younger. He may decline next season. Even if he doesn't, do the Titans want to have to switch quarterbacks mid-season if Hasselbeck doesn't deliver or gets injured?
Putting Locker in does a few things: first of all, it brings stability to the team. Instead of watching Hasselbeck and wondering what will happen when they do eventually switch to Locker, they'll have their franchise signal caller already on the field.
Second, it allows the offense to get used to Locker's playing style and adjust accordingly, finding the weaknesses and strengths and figuring out how to best use them to win games.
However, it also puts the ball in the hands of someone who is essentially a rookie and throws him into a high pressure situation which may hinder his further development.
There are pros and cons to starting Hasselbeck as well. First of all for the positives, by starting Hasselbeck, they'd put the more experienced player on the field, which is almost always better.
Second, it would allow Locker to keep being coached in a lower pressure environment, which will probably help his development in the long run.
Unfortunately, it also keeps your team in a state of waiting. Having the future face of the franchise waiting in the wings just makes the team feel like it's waiting for something before it can play at its highest level.
Obviously, if one player looks much better than the other by the time the season rolls around, then that player should be the starter. The problem is that, that will probably not be the case. Locker and Hasselbeck will look very different, but will probably play at similar levels. That, plus you don't really know who's better until you put them on the field and see what happens.
After all, look at Denver. They thought that Brady Quinn was looking better in practice than Tim Tebow, but once Tebow took the field, he was better than people expected (even though I'm still not sold on him, he does deserve some credit).
If I were guessing, I'd say that Hasselbeck will still be the starter at the beginning of 2012, but that Locker will take over by the season's end. Is that how it should play out? I have no idea. Only time will tell.