Only a couple of weeks ago I started sketching in the career eulogy column for Matt Hasselbeck.
I would tout his many achievements, leading the Seahawks to four division titles and a Super Bowl while remaining an unwavering team leader, citizen and role model.
In fact, in the 30 years I’ve been in this business, considering the many hundreds of athletes and coaches I’ve known, I’d list Matt Hasselbeck as the most admirable, multi-dimensional human being I’ve covered.
But, dang, he was an awful quarterback near the end of the 2010 season. And his team was going nowhere in the process.
He was 35 and had been beaten up. And, frankly, it was sad to watch. The old competitiveness was there, but the execution was not. The spirit strong; the arm weak.
There were times, especially when he took off his helmet, I thought of the great old photo of the aging Y.A. Tittle at the end of his career, blood running down his face, looking tired and near the end of the line.
Over a dismal one-month span, Hasselbeck threw 10 interceptions and lost three fumbles. Yes, he was hurt, he had little blocking and no diversionary running attack. So he tried to do too much and ended up too often doing the wrong thing.
It was time for him to be profusely thanked for his many accomplishments and have the franchise move on toward the future.
But only a few weeks later, given his late revival and curious league circumstances, I’d argue that the best thing the Seahawks could do is try to lock him up for a couple more years.
He’s a free agent. But because of the looming labor lockout, nobody knows exactly what will happen in the market place – who else will be available, and when.
Hasselbeck, though, is a known commodity, and to tie him down would be solid insurance against an unsteady future. This debate would have seemed ludicrous in the final weeks of the season.
Aside from a few good stretches here and there, his past three seasons (34 touchdown passes, 44 interceptions) have been a series of injuries and disappointments. We may point out that he’d had three offensive coordinators, three schemes and three head coaches in that time.
When his hip injury against Tampa Bay caused the staff to sit him in the final regular-season game in favor of backup Charlie Whitehurst, it was a pivotal moment. Whitehurst managed the team to a division title-clinching victory over St. Louis, but in his limited opportunities this season, he did not offer compelling evidence that he’s an elite quarterback in the making.
The win stretched the season, though, and Hasselbeck returned against two of the best teams in the conference, and had memorable performances. In a first-round upset of New Orleans, he threw four touchdown passes, and added three more in the second-round loss to Chicago.
All the things the Seahawks have listed as priorities – better talent on the offensive line, focusing on developing a rushing attack – will make Hasselbeck a more effective quarterback.
Now? Well, if you end up letting him go, you’d better find a better alternative. Even if you like somebody in what appears to be an unimposing pool of free-agent talent, it might be months before you settle this critical issue.
Meanwhile, there definitely will be a market for Hasselbeck, perhaps even among division brethren, who could quickly alter the competitive balance with a veteran quarterback.
If you can sign him for a reasonable cost for a couple of years, you can draft a prospective replacement and let him be groomed by Hasselbeck. He has said he has no problem with that, and understands that’s a part of the game.
He won’t just step aside, but he also won’t be an obstruction. He might be the ideal veteran to teach a young quarterback what it takes to be a professional – in all the ways that are important.
“I want to win … I’d love to do it here,” Hasselbeck said in a radio interview last week.
Hasselbeck is one of those players with enough perspective to understand that a career is about more than contract figures. But if a competitive team comes calling with a high salary in mind, he’d have to listen.
And that’s why it’s crucial for the Seahawks to fully communicate their plans, and convince Hasselbeck of his value here. Both Hasselbeck and coach Pete Carroll said that there was an almost immediate discussion about the matter following the Chicago loss.
Carroll called it “a good starting point.”
Nobody expects Hasselbeck to be the starter here for long. But he looks like the most reliable option for bridging the Seahawks’ present to their future.