The quarterback position is amongst the hottest debates amongst us right now, and by extension, so is Matt Hasselbeck. The few mentions I've made of him so far have been pretty negative, and since I'm about to embark on another series of posts about the position and how Hasselbeck fits in, I find it important to explain my position on our favorite QB and how I see him and his successor.
How do you let go of a long-term relationship that needs to be let go? You've had a few great years together, but it's become obvious that you need to move on. The future is daunting, the past seems unrepeatable, and the denial is constantly threatening to keep you in the same comfortable spot rather than step out on your own, take new risks, rebuild from the ground up - especially if the relationship you're ending is the best you've ever had. Hard to imagine anything better.
That's kinda how I feel about the 12th Man's relationship with Matt Hasselbeck. He's obviously the best, or at least the most accomplished, quarterback to ever play for Seattle. He's helmed this ship through its proudest moments and stayed at his post through some of its roughest and most embarrassing. That he has caused some of those embarrassments directly does not negate his past accomplishments. He is to be in the Seahawks' Ring of Honor the moment he retires from pro football, and if the Seahawks organization fails at that, I'll have something to say about it. He is the greatest Seahawks quarterback of all time.
And it's time to move on.
How do we judge the guy fairly? It feels disloyal and ungrateful to move on from him as our franchise quarterback, like we're ignoring what he's done. But I don't see it that way. Matt looks terrible right now. In the last three seasons, he's thrown 34 touchdowns to 44 interceptions and 19 fumbles. Results-based analysis is a bugger, but games are won with touchdowns and lost with turnovers. There is a certain level of failure that can't be ignored. Those stats have a legitimate place in the discussion.
Maybe I'm just better at compartmentalizing than some, but here's how I see it: I want Hasselbeck's reputation as the Seahawks' greatest QB to be protected. I want dignity for him. I don't want to watch him flail and struggle any further when it's obvious that Mike Holmgren won't be coming back to steady him. I don't want to see him turn into his mentor, Brett Favre. There's a time and a place to end a career quietly on a good note - Kurt Warner did it nicely - and Hasselbeck is coasting on as good a note right now as any. He deserves his Ring of Honor status right now, and I fear that any more time under center will only taint our remembrance of him.
Yet there remains a contingent of Seahawks fans who cling to the belief that Hasselbeck can return to Pro Bowl form if only given a better team. They're amongst the fans who are conditioned, both by Seattle's unusual playoff run under Mike Holmgren and the myopic Seattle media who analyzed it, to believe that the offensive line is all-important and defense even more so. If a championship team can be built that way, they reason, then such a team could be duplicated with enough draft picks and a quarterback added once the team is secure. Basically, they believe that a quarterback is a product of the team, not the other way around.
But this line of thinking has all the signs of denial. It ignores history; Hasselbeck did not stand idly by and watch every other player carry us to the Super Bowl. That season doesn't happen with Trent Dilfer under center. It ignores the current shape of NFL football; talk all you want about defense and O-line, but look around the NFL and you don't see a lot of playoff teams without good quarterbacks. The rare exceptions - Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and Hasselbeck - are cited often by the "O-line first" folks, but without context and without perspective. It ignores economics and time management; it takes heaps of time and money to perfect a team before adding a QB, and by the time that perfection is reached, players are likely to be moving on or lost to injury or retirement, and the team becomes a dog chasing its tail. There's just too much being ignored in favor of hope, and I cannot in good conscience go along with that line of thinking.
And I'm not being condescending or looking down my nose at anyone here. I feel the "devil you know" mechanism the same as anyone else. When Darrell Bevell was hired as the new offensive coordinator, my spirits rose as I realized that Bevell might be the best fit for Hasselbeck in three years. When he defeated the decent Saints defense during the regular season, hope sprang eternal as I envisioned a late-career renaissance. When he completed that amazing long touchdown to Mike Williams against New Orleans in the playoffs, I saw light streaming through a crack in the space-time continuum, leading to past days of Seahawks glory. And on every single play he runs, I see Hass's fire and competitive spirit. A rickety, immobile QB who runs downfield with his offensive line to block for his running backs - well, that's not a QB who's thrown in the towel. He believes he can play. That kind of belief deserves another chance.
But let us be perfectly clear - the foremost reason, by a long margin, of Seattle's continued struggles the last three years is Matt Hasselbeck. Only the most loyal and hopeful of fans would continue to support a QB who throws 12 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, and only the most desperate of teams would court such a QB. Hass's arm strength has declined to the vanishing point. He's sustaining injuries without even getting hit - how is it that people who fear a rookie QB getting sacked are somehow perfectly fine with Hasselbeck getting sacked? He looks jittery and uncertain in the pocket, has looked that way ever since Walter Jones' departure.
There have been too many games (e.g. Tampa Bay in 2009) where Hasselbeck has enjoyed good protection and still thrown the game away. He couldn't deliver in the red zone against a porous Arizona defense at all this year. Linemen and defenses don't throw interceptions or fumble the football. The spurious factors just aren't enough of an explanation. It's him.
Many have argued that the only reason Matt Hasselbeck succeeded in the first place was because he's a classic system QB in a classic system - a pure West Coast offense - and when that scheme left Qwest Field with Mike Holmgren, Hass was forced to succeed on the same playing field as other quarterbacks and couldn't hack it. I personally agree with the argument, but not with the tone I depicted it with. It's too harsh. Is a quarterback invalidated just because he was a system QB? I think not. Schemed football is a perfectly legitimate way to get along in this league. As much of an asterisk as Seattle's playoff years bore in some ways, only a purist would completely dismiss lofty results like eleven playoff games, a Super Bowl appearance, and a Pro Bowl selection.
Also, Hass may have been the product of a system, but he was not the product of the team around him. He made the team around him better like a good QB is supposed to do. Otherwise, 2007 doesn't happen. The post-Seattle careers of Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram, and D.J. Hackett imply that Hass made them good, not the other way around. Shaun Alexander wasn't giving Matt his usual cushion of 100-yard games in 2007. The defense was wildly up and down during his peak years. Those who claim that the QB is only as good as his team might not be aware of the environment in which Hasselbeck prospered.
A person who breaks up with a significant other often feels compelled to justify the breakup, and so sets about trying to judge or find fault with the other person so that there will appear to be good reason. That's an understandable reaction, but it's not honest and it's not fair. Truth is, there's nothing to retroactively dislike Hasselbeck for - nothing at all. He was the best QB we've ever had, and the necessity of our breakup isn't because of him. It's because of pro football. Sometimes time just passes you up and forces you into tough choices. It's easier to accept a breakup when the other person mistreated you; it's harder when they were awesome and you simply needed to move on. But the latter is the reality for us.
Whatever I say over the next few days (and it's nothing you haven't heard before), understand that my words and emotions are directed at the quarterback position and the conservative approach that some of my fellow fans are taking towards it - not at #8. Never let the last three frustrating years re-shape your image of him - that is disloyalty. Seattle must begin the search for the next franchise quarterback, should have begun years ago, but no argument you can make will convince me that Matt Hasselbeck is anything short of the greatest Seahawk of the 21st century so far. He was the leader, the cog at the most important position in football, and his jersey will remain in my closet for many years as a memorial to the glory days of my favorite team.