Failure to solve quarterback dilemma quickly will haunt Pete Carroll, Seahawks

If it’s the end of an era, it’s also the beginning of a headache.

If Matt Hasselbeck’s catastrophic performance Sunday — from getting booed to getting benched to getting embarrassed by fans chanting the backup quarterback’s name — proves to be the climax of his three years of struggle, it also triggers what will be an excruciating transition process at quarterback for the Seahawks. It will be painful not because Hasselbeck’s 10 years of solid service is irreplaceable, but because the franchise has failed to build a sturdy bridge between the incumbent and his successor.

And that’s where coach Pete Carroll has messed up in Year 1. In pursuit of a quickie playoff berth, Carroll and new personnel ace John Schneider eschewed more reasonable options to solve their quarterback dilemma for the long term, stuck with Hasselbeck and came up with only a foolish and costly trade to make 28-year-old Charlie Whitehurst their QB of the future.

Those decisions, as well as Hasselbeck’s increasingly poor play, came to a head Sunday at Qwest Field. The result was a 34-18 defeat against the Atlanta Falcons and a quarterback controversy that pits an aging starter on a turnover binge against a backup who needed five years before he was trusted to throw an NFL pass.

You know the old saying: If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none. And if neither option possesses a high upside, you actually have no future.

So there’s a big hole in the new regime’s rebuilding plan. The ideal plan would’ve been to draft or acquire a young quarterback (25 and under), groom him from the start and watch him improve at the same rate as the entire team. The Seahawks might have thought they did that with Whitehurst, but while they didn’t exactly misjudge his raw talent, they traded for a guy approaching 30 who has enormous — and maybe even irreversible — shortcomings.

Therefore, Hasselbeck has remained the Seahawks’ best hope this season, but when your best hope has committed eight turnovers the past two weeks, and has 13 giveaways over the past month, your team is hopeless nonetheless. The only positive is that, with a veteran quarterback, the Seahawks are still alive for that quickie playoff berth despite their 6-8 record. However, as Seattle shuffles to the finish looking like an unworthy contender, that possible postseason appearance looks less desirable by the game, especially because, in the big picture, being this “competitive” might have come at the expense of fixing the most important part of the team.

Here’s the problem: Even if the Seahawks slip into the playoffs, they’ll head into the offseason with major uncertainty because of their quarterback situation. And if they don’t slip into the playoffs, they will have lost a year and stunted their growth, at least at quarterback.

Some teams spend years searching for a quarterback they can build around. Some teams spend just as long developing The One. This is the third consecutive season the Seahawks haven’t even come close to fielding a true contender. Yet, for all the high draft choices and roster turnover and ample opportunity to find Hasselbeck’s successor, they’re left with Hasselbeck in the final year of his contract, a green Whitehurst who cost them $8 million (as well as 20 spots in the second round of the 2010 draft and a 2011 third-round choice to satisfy the trade with San Diego), and no one you can trust to guide this franchise into the future.

As bad as it felt watching Hasselbeck, a good quarterback and better person, get booed and benched for his lousy play in the third quarter Sunday, it was even worse when fans started chanting “Char-LEE! Char-LEE! Char-LEE!” after Whitehurst led the Seahawks on a meaningless touchdown drive.

The reaction seemed to be in celebration that the status quo had been altered, that suffering with Hasselbeck had stopped and that there was a chance to see the mysterious, hairy quarterback the Seahawks invested so much in. But if fans think they’ll ever be chanting “Char-LEE!” for real, then they’re probably buying extra cookies and milk this week, just in case Santa Claus is feeling gluttonous.

Carroll was noncommittal when asked which quarterback will start this week. The fact he didn’t immediately say Hasselbeck spoke volumes. Carroll is going to pick whomever he trusts to manage the game without multiple turnovers. Sadly, at this point, it’s hard to think Hasselbeck is that guy. His eight giveaways the past two games have led to 37 points by the opponent. Seattle has lost those games by a combined 35 points.

Looking back, Hasselbeck says, he wishes he wouldn’t be so impatient and do “stupid things” when the Hawks are trailing in games.

Looking back, the front office probably wishes it would’ve found its quarterback of the future last offseason.

Looking forward, you wish you could cover your eyes as the Seahawks begin this painful, treacherous, delayed search for a signal caller.