When Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll interviewed for head-coaching jobs in 1997 he insisted he would go only where there was a franchise quarterback.
Thirteen years later, Carroll hasn’t changed … but his quarterback has. Instead of Bledsoe he draws Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and once upon a time he was a franchise quarterback.
Not anymore. Not with Hasselbeck turning 35 this season and coming off two subpar, injury-plagued seasons. So the Seahawks go out and acquire Charlie Whitehurst, and now the fun begins.
Common sense tells you that Hasselbeck is Carroll’s starter. He’s the incumbent. He has the experience and success Whitehurst doesn’t. And he took the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Whitehurst hasn’t taken an NFL team to lunch.
But be careful, people. If you listened to Carroll at this week’s annual owners’ meetings, you heard a head coach who offered a lukewarm endorsement of his starter while declaring the position open. “It’s a competition, and we’ll see how far it goes,” Carroll said. “But Matt’s our guy.”
He is now. But Pete Carroll didn’t acquire Matt Hasselbeck; he inherited him. He acquired Charlie Whitehurst and paid dearly for someone who hasn’t thrown a pass in his NFL career. But that tells you he has a conviction about the guy. More than that, it tells you he thinks Whitehurst has a future and that he can win with him.
And what does it tell you about Matt Hasselbeck? We’re about to find out.
“Matt gives us the experience,” Carroll said. “We know he can play. He’s in good shape. He’s excited about his opportunities coming up and all that. So we’re counting on Matt to take the leadership spot for sure.
“Ideally, I would like to see Charlie compete and push him and make statements … and then see what happens in the competition. Competition is the central theme in our programs forever.”
The last time I heard something like this it was Rex Ryan talking about an open competition at quarterback last summer with the New York Jets. Only there was no competition. The New York Jets were dead set on sticking with their first-round draft pick, Mark Sanchez, not holdover Kellen Clemens. The competition was close, but in reality, the competition never existed.
Clemens was drafted by Eric Mangini; Sanchez was drafted by Ryan. Check, please.
The difference here, of course, is that the holdover has been enormously successful and a starter for years. Hasselbeck led the Seahawks to four straight division titles and five straight playoff appearances. But that was a different administration and a different coaching staff. All bets are off now that Carroll is in town, and, frankly, that’s the way the new head coach likes it.
“Everything is a competition for us,” Carroll said. “My job is to put guys in position to show what they can do, find out what they bring uniquely to our team and then pull that into our style of play.
“At the quarterback position, one of the things I like about this is that that statement is so obviously out there: That we’re about competing; about putting our guys into a competitive environment to show what they can bring to our football team.
“So here you are at the quarterback spot where everybody is scared to death of controversy and who’s going to be the guy, but you will see it all unfold. I told [former USC quarterbacks] Carson Palmer, I told Matt Leinart, I told John David Booty and I told Mark Sanchez. Every time those guys went out they were competing for the job. Every single spring football and every fall football camp, and that was the only way we were going to look at it.
“I want Matt to feel our quarterback situation. I want him to feel the guys coming who are battling to come into the game. I want to create that as much as I can; to orchestrate that to bring out the best everybody has to offer.”
A year ago there wasn’t much of anything good about the Seahawks or their quarterbacks. Hasselbeck had as many interceptions (17) as touchdowns (17) and the club was 5-11. Over the past two seasons he has 22 touchdown passes and 27 interceptions, with the Seahawks 9-23, and that’s one reason Carroll wants to challenge the guy.
But another is that he wants to “fortify” the game’s most important position, and that’s not a bad idea considering his options. For years Seneca Wallace served as Hasselbeck’s caddy, but the club traded him to Cleveland. Now it’s Whitehurst who sits behind Hasselbeck, and while Carroll talked about him as a quarterback he would like to develop he might not have that luxury.
Face it, when you’ve won nine games in two years you don’t talk about retooling; you talk about rebuilding. And you don’t rebuild with 35-year-old quarterbacks. The Seahawks overspent for Whitehurst, but they did it because they believe in him — and what they believe is that he’s better than any quarterback out there they could have acquired with a third-round draft pick.
“He’s a really quick athlete,” Carroll said. “For [6-feet-5], he moves beautifully. He’s a natural athlete, he has a strong arm and he’s capable of making all the throws. This is a guy with four years under his belt, with really good coaching and good people around him and someone who would give us a good shot at someone who might be able to be the guy we can look toward the future and develop into our top quarterback. ”
The key word there: Might.
Nobody is sure what Whitehurst offers, though Arizona was willing to pay San Diego a third-round choice. Others were interested, too, and San Diego coach Norv Turner explained why — saying he sees a lot of Trent Green … or maybe Matt Cassel … or even Matt Schaub … in Whitehurst, which is great. Except if that’s the case, how come he couldn’t beat out Billy Volek?
“I think Pete did a good thing,” Turner said. “They evaluate a guy who’s ready to compete for a job and ready to go play at a high level. I think people knew why he wasn’t playing. We had two good guys. So I think it’s worth taking a shot on him.”
The question is: Was it worth spending two high draft picks on him? Seattle won’t know for a couple of years, but I wouldn’t rule out Whitehurst making a push for the starter’s job this season. Neither will Carroll, and that tells me unless Matt Hasselbeck pulls a Brett Favre and turns back the clock, we might be looking at Charlie Whitehurst sooner rather than later.