Nine games into the final season of his existing contract, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is still proving himself.
And as the season progresses, the question of his future with the team will become an increasing focus – and a polarizing topic – among fans.
It seems as if any fan who can type has filed a blog-post opinion, and those who can dial the phone have called into radio stations to say either that Hasselbeck is in serious decline or that he’s the best thing the Seahawks have going for them.
What is clear is that Hasselbeck won’t just go away without a battle.
The Seattle front office traded with San Diego for Charlie Whitehurst, who was expected to at least challenge Hasselbeck. He hasn’t.
Then Hasselbeck suffered a concussion and had to sit out the game against the Giants; Whitehurst did nothing to take over the position. And on Sunday at Arizona, Hasselbeck broke his left wrist only to come back in the second half and finish up an important 36-18 win over the Cardinals.
“From what I’ve known about Matt, he’s always been a great competitor (who) wouldn’t let anything get in the way of him playing and helping his team,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Hasselbeck’s wrist injury came on a quarterback sneak late in the second quarter. After getting X-rayed and treated at halftime, he returned in the third quarter and practically had to be restrained.
“I would say this: He wasn’t just willing to go back and play, he couldn’t wait to get back out and play,” Carroll said. “I’m holding him back on the sidelines; he wanted to go in as soon as he came on the field. I had to get him to take a couple snaps, do a couple handoffs … it was kind of fun to watch him respond.”
It is obvious that the rest of the team watched it, too.
“I think his teammates appreciated it, too,” Carroll said. “He goes in at halftime and he’s got a broken wrist and then he comes back out raring to go and play. I think it was a very good moment for Matt; the guy is your captain, your leader, and to see him do stuff like that is good stuff.”
“Definitely attests to his toughness,” said receiver Mike Williams. “He’s our leader. … He makes us go.”
But the critics have valid ammunition. He’s 35, he’s missed 10 games in the last two and a half seasons because of injuries, and his 75.3 passer rating is 28th in the league this season.
Games like Sunday, though, (333 passing yards with a 106.6 passer rating) freshen the argument.
Among the options? Make an offer to extend him – short or long term. Wait until the end of the season and see how he finishes up. Let him walk and move on.
Other influencing factors will be how Hasselbeck and other prospective employers view his value, and how willing he might be to go elsewhere. Divisional rivals such as San Francisco and Arizona would seem to be far closer to contention with a veteran quarterback on hand.
Another possible approach would be to draft the next franchise quarterback next spring. But is Whitehurst capable of being the “bridge” quarterback you would need to keep the team afloat during the new guy’s apprenticeship? Or would Hasselbeck serve as a better mentor and team leader during the process?
Hasselbeck is a fine ambassador for the team and a gentlemanly presence. He’s been to three Pro Bowls and led the team to its only Super Bowl appearance. None of which plays a factor in these decisions.
But he has proven he is tough and is a respected team leader, which are legitimate factors.
The best path for now? Watch him seven more games. Gather more evidence. See if he can stay on his feet. See if he can lead the Seahawks to more wins like the one against Arizona.
Hasselbeck has had to prove himself any number of times since he came into the league.
Let’s see what he can do the rest of the way and then decide.