Matt Hasselbeck: QB Hopes to Return to Seahawks, but It's Seattle's Move
Less than a week after the Seahawks' unexpected postseason run came to a close, the stage was set. Pete Carroll made it crystal clear in his postseason presser: “[Re-signing Matt is] the top priority in the program. ... I don’t think there is any other way to look at it. Matt’s our starting quarterback.”
Nearly three months later and in the depths of a lockout, the top priority remains unfinished.
Various reports surfaced as to why Hasselbeck and the Seahawks were unable to get a deal done after extensive negotiations pre-lockout.
ESPN’s John Clayton reported the sides were far apart in their terms, Hasselbeck rejecting a new deal just before the lockout began; Clayton has become increasingly convinced Hasselbeck is interested in going elsewhere.
Now, Hasselbeck is currently stuck waiting for a new collective bargaining agreement, and Seattle is expected to make a statement towards the direction of the quarterback position in 2011 on draft weekend; how big of a statement remains to be seen.
But first, let’s focus on Hasselbeck.
Does Hasselbeck Want to Return?
In a Boston Globe article released yesterday, Hasselbeck shed light on the situation. He truly thought he would have been one of the few that got a deal done before the collective bargaining agreement ran out, simply because both sides wanted it done.
But Hasselbeck maintains it's OK and he understands the unsure nature of the 2011 season. He’s definitely hopeful he remains in Seattle: “I think it's genuine, I think it's sincere that they want me back, it’s just a matter of how badly.”
Heck, according to the article he was recently throwing passes to tight end John Carlson in the rain, in front of both a Goodwill and a mattress store; he's now working out in Phoenix, Arizona. There is no denying Hasselbeck wants to be a part of Seattle’s plans in 2011.
But he hit the nail on the head; it all depends on how badly Seattle wants him. We already know there is a disparity in terms. To some extent, there is also a disparity in outside opinion as to how Hasselbeck should be viewed by the organization going into 2011.
2010: A Year of Mixed Reviews
In the Boston Globe interview, Hasselbeck reflected upon the 7-9 season as a success because they came together as a team to finish the year in the most improbable of ways, “and it could have been better”—the nearly 300 roster transactions and countless injuries only obstacles on the way to the division title.
The season started well, the offense sputtering during a 4-2 start, on top of the division; Hasselbeck bounced back from a midseason concussion to string together two strong road performances in Weeks 10 and 11 to get to a 5-5 record; the wheels came off over a 1-4 stretch that saw Hasselbeck turn the ball over 13 times and get injured on a non-contact play in Week 16.
Playing backup in Week 17 as Charlie Whitehurst won the division served as a drink from the fountain of youth for Hasselbeck; the victory against New Orleans had everyone wondering if we had time-traveled to 2006.
I celebrated the 2006 NFC Championship Game inside Qwest Field, the atmosphere jovial and fulfilling.
But the pandemonium I experienced during the 2011 BeastQuake run was unmatchable in grit and elation.
Sober as a peacock, I blacked out when Lynch cut back at the 15. Just another wacky-wild-waving-inflatable-tube thing—you can find them waving outside a car dealership—jolting in exhilaration as we witnessed one of the biggest plays in team, maybe playoff, history.
Most of the 2010 Seahawks have bought into Pete Carroll and his philosophy of championship football, and I was lucky enough, with almost 70,000 others, to see Carroll’s season-long phrase “getting it right” finally happen, in person; the Rams game was fun, but this was the Seahawk program's coming-out party.
Matt Hasselbeck carrying son Henry off the field, the Drew Brees-like image of the 2011 playoffs; a big moment to leave a franchise and fanbase remembering, but also a taste of the bigger moment to chase. In the words of Lawyer Milloy, "We're all we got, we're all we need."
A loss in Chicago with a legitimate silver lining; the creation of a team.
Glorious as it was—the video will provide context for the Milloy quote above—the expectations set up the possibility for a very disappointing 2011. Thud?
Now the elephant in the room: One great game doesn't erase a whole season of evaluating Hasselbeck.
There are many opinions as to how this shift in Hasselbeck's play happened, why it happened and what it means going forward. Without going through every option, I want to briefly explore two perspectives.
His Playoff Performance Proves He Should Remain in Seattle
After a season of struggling to learn the new philosophy and playing with an injured left wrist, sitting behind a marginal backup for the final week of the season caused it to finally click.
Hasselbeck's playoff performances were a clear as high definition reminder he is still a solid NFL quarterback when he has an average offensive line and a decent supporting cast; when on his game, he remains among the game’s most efficient veterans.
With both Charlie Whitehurst waiting for his shot and the option of taking a quarterback in the 2012 NFL draft first round, Seattle could decide it is good with what it's got going into 2011; once free agency hits, the offer to Hasselbeck may change. $6 million or $7 million guaranteed per year may change to $9-10 million, one guaranteed year increased to two.
In that scenario, Seattle would be able to easily move on from Whitehurst if it chooses, ready to start anew in 2012.
Seattle would have one year to convince Hasselbeck to stick around beyond 2012, at a reduced rate or as a coach/front office man. Whoever plays quarterback in 2012 would be coming into a more solid team, partly because quarterback wasn’t seen as an early-round need in 2011.
The chance of a Mark Sanchez early success situation—Matt Barkley for those who truly believe Carroll is waiting for his former USC quarterback in 2012—becomes a legitimate possibility. But there are those that think 2012 is too late and the time is now to head into the future at the quarterback position.
Is There Really a Chance It’s Not Hasselbeck Under Center in 2011?
Yes. This side of the argument sees Hasselbeck on the decline since 2008. His play in the first half of the 2010 season was below average before his Week 8 concussion.
Then, the non-contact injury on a touchdown run in Tampa Bay early Week 16 is too much to overlook; 1-1 in the playoffs is nothing special with your career on the line.
The Saints game was a historically perfect storm, and the Seahawks didn’t show up until the fourth quarter in Chicago, the game never really in range. It’s been a good decade, but it’s time to move on; a different veteran, Whitehurst or even a rookie in 2011...anyone but Hasselbeck.
A veteran backup/spot starter could help Whitehurst mature in 2011 and would certainly come at a cheaper price than Hasselbeck; at worst Seattle loses Whitehurst, a championship win and nothing more. In the end, Seattle would have no limitations in finding its quarterback of the future in 2012.
Matt Hasselbeck Ready and Willing to Usher in the Future?
So if Seattle takes a quarterback in the first round of the 2011 draft, that presumably spells the end for Matt Hasselbeck, right?
Here’s what Hasselbeck had to say to The Boston Globe about playing next to a young quarterback:
“And I understand it could be a reality with me this year, whether it’s with the Seahawks or wherever that I’m with a guy like that, a young guy.’’
And don’t think for a second that Hasselbeck would resent a young upstart. Being a mentor as his career winds down is something that interests him.
“I was fortunate in my career to be around some great veteran quarterbacks and just learned so much from them,’’ Hasselbeck said. “I’m kind of excited for that kind of an opportunity to maybe be on a team with a really talented young guy and just get the opportunity to pay that forward just a little bit, things that I’ve learned along the way. If I can share that with a really talented guy that’s willing to work and listen, that could be a really fun thing. And at the same time hopefully be on a really good team.’’
Surface translation: I know I’m past my prime, and I’ve accepted holding a starting job may entail beating out a youngster; I was lucky enough to have the guidance of a veteran when I came into the NFL, and I’m willing to do the same with someone who wants to learn from me. I want to go out having fun, and I want to win.
Does this mean that Charlie Whitehurst wasn’t that guy for Hasselbeck, but a 2011 rookie will be? Maybe.
Matt Hasselbeck and the 2011 NFL Draft
The Seahawks will likely face the decision of selecting a quarterback in the first two rounds, but as many as five first- or second-tier prospects have been tagged as it for Seattle.
Part of the reason for the variety in choices is no one really knows the changes coming under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line/assistant head coach Tom Cable.
Hence the question: Is it possible we may see Matt, Charlie and a 2011 first-round quarterback in Seattle next season? That seems unlikely, especially given the holes throughout the roster and salary potentially allocated to the quarterback position. It would be a bold, expensive statement. It could work.
Seattle could also invest early in the defense or offensive line, give Hasselbeck a talented prospect he can relate too, outside the first round. Replace that first rounder with maybe even the second, likely a fourth- to seventh-round pick, and Hasselbeck is staring at himself in the mirror--a sixth rounder coming out of Boston College.
As a player doubted coming into the league and currently facing similar concerns, for all we know Hasselbeck hopes he can replace the lack of a championship ring—or still get one—with the personal satisfaction of grooming the heir to his throne.
There is no way of knowing if Hasselbeck is trying to communicate with the Seahawks' front office less than two weeks before the draft, but either way Seattle could be listening.
I’ll maintain that it would be a gaffe for the Seahawks to fail in re-signing Hasselbeck; the expectations placed on the situation before the offseason set up the Seahawks for a possible PR disaster.
It’s hard to twist success from failing to achieve the No. 1 offseason priority, especially when that priority was made clear to the public from the onset.
I am not saying, however, he should be the sure starter in 2011; a combination of reduced base salary, incentives and player/team options I believe is the best strategy for creating an acceptable contract for both sides. However, a variation of that strategy may have driven Hasselbeck into free agency.
I think Seattle must be cognizant of what Hasselbeck brings to the team past this next contract. The experience of 10 playoff games, six playoff appearances and a Super Bowl appearance is tough to replace, especially when that player is eager to share beyond his playing career; let’s not forget Pete Carroll and his “uncommon vision” for his Seattle program.
A nugget of the past: Carroll told current Seahawks secondary coach Kris Richard to “look him up” when Richard was done playing at USC in 2002, hoping to land Richard as a coach when his playing career finished. Six years later, Richard was a graduate assistant under Carroll. Don’t put it past Carroll to do it again with Hasselbeck, if he hasn’t already.
As of draft day, Seattle has gained nearly two months to evaluate the negotiations with Hasselbeck and its current quarterback situation. Has it come up with a contingency play that turns the possible gaffe into a springboard?
Without reading too much between the lines, I believe Hasselbeck has weighed his pros and cons and ultimately decided he wants to stay in Seattle, even if that means competing with and mentoring a young quarterback.
Will Pete and John Schneider return the favor? In less than two weeks, we’re going to get an indication as to which side of the pros and cons list is longer for the Seahawks. At the 2011 NFL draft, they have their first and only offseason chance to respond to Hasselbeck, loud and clear: check, or checkmate.