Longtime Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck has moved on from the Emerald City, signing a lucrative contract with the Tennessee Titans as many outlets have been speculating he would. (Stay tuned for my thoughts on the Tarvaris Jackson signing.)
For the first installment in my "Hawks and Hasselbeck" series, in which I ruminate on Hasselbeck's achievements in Seattle and hopefully demonstrate why I'm not a hater, click here.
It was time. The franchise needed to part ways with Hasselbeck. It needed to look like it was operating with an eye towards the future, rather than having its identity rooted in the past. Allowing Hasselbeck to walk at the natural end of his Holmgren contract, coming off the high note of a good playoff run, was the right move at the right time. Now his legacy as a Seahawk will be protected, and despite the worries of whoever created this, there is no chance he will retire as anything but a Seahawk.
There will remain a contingent of loyal Hasselbeck fans who will keep wondering whether he still had a chance to rebound, who keep blaming the QB's troubles on the dearth of surrounding talent. Give him a decent O-line, a running game, and better receivers, and could he have improved his play?
The answer is yes.
It's always been yes.
But whether he could rebound was never really the question. The question was "To what degree?" And more importantly, "How much time and money can Seattle afford to invest in such a strategy?"
Brock Huard calls him (correctly) "the most prolific passer in the history of the franchise, owner of three Pro Bowls, five division titles, and a magnificent run to the Super Bowl". Other sources, like this, cite Hasselbeck's stats as a Seahawk in one lump sum, without regard to the ebb and flow of his career, as if his success came in one long unbroken stream and can naturally be expected to continue.
But it's unfair to both Matt and us to frame the discussion that way. The guy is coming off a three-year downward trend in which he's thrown 34 touchdowns to 44 interceptions and 19 fumbles. That's two turnovers for every touchdown. People need to quit looking at his entire career for interpretation of his present potential, and start regarding the recent stats as more pertinent.
Yes, the personnel issues around him had something to do with it. A lot, most likely. But he didn't need that excuse in 2007 when he carried the team to the playoffs despite no running game and iffy pass protection. That was the true Hasselbeck, excelling independent of circumstances like every good QB.
Conversely, there have been too many games in the last two years, such as 2009's Tampa Bay game, in which he should have prospered against putrid defenses and yet still collapsed. It's not Sean Locklear's fault that his passes hang dangerously and invite interceptions. There's too much going on to simply chalk up to the rest of the team.
But let's say, for the sake of argument, that Seattle decides to extend his run as a Seahawk for two more years, looking to him as a "bridge QB".
Well, Matt is 36. I'm not sure why people keep forgetting that, or treating it as irrelevant. The number has implications. Every QB gets old and their past accomplishments become just that, the past. Everyone has a decline. 36 saps arm strength and mental quickness. 36 makes it harder to recover from injury, which happens despite the best of O-lines. 36 is a proven barrier to continued success all over the league, with exceptions like Kurt Warner and Brett Favre requiring a base level of arm strength that Hasselbeck never had.
I guarantee you that if Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger, or Jake Delhomme walked onto this team after posting 12 TD's and 17 INT's the previous year and became the starter, they wouldn't get anywhere near the amount of trust Hasselbeck has, regardless of their past accomplishments. Far fewer fans would be talking about them as "the bridge to the future". They'd be talking about them as "washed-up" and throwing around "get younger" like they do with every other position on this team. It's sentiment and nostalgia that rule popular opinion of Hasselbeck, and those shouldn't be a factor.
If we're talking about surrounding talent, it's not as if Seattle is standing right on the doorstep of a better offense. The offensive line will start 2011 with two rookies, one sophomore who spent half his rookie season on the injury list, an injury-prone Robert Gallery, and probably Max Unger at center. That's a young, raw, untrustworthy line. There's every likelihood that it will struggle. The running game remains a question mark as a result, and the receiving corps is still in flux (the Sidney Rice rumors are welcome ones). That better surrounding talent that some want for Hasselbeck? It's probably two seasons away at least.
Additionally, a "bridge QB" is not what everyone thinks it is. You can't just plug a QB into an existing offense and expect him to steward it. A QB requires offensive teammates that fit him. Matt Hasselbeck would thrive best with short-yardage rhythm receivers. Matt Leinart would require a strong right tackle. Ryan Mallett would have called for genuine deep-threat guys. You can't invest in any QB, for any period of time, without having to expend resources to help him succeed. Those expenditures make no sense if they'll be playing for a QB who will only be around for a year, and if you do find such cheap, temporary players, they probably won't be that good. Hasselbeck's necessary system - a rhythm WCO - is at right angles with the offensive philosophy of Pete Carroll. It was a terribly awkward fit from the beginning.
Then there's the pure yuckiness of Hasselbeck's recent stats. People seem to assume that this is just your average, run-of-the-mill, oh-well "bad". 34 TD, 44 INT, 19 fumbles...that's not just bad. That's not Kyle Orton "Meh". It's not Donovan McNabb "Bad". It's absolutely horrible. The margin by which Hasselbeck has been the statistically worst starting QB of the last three years is much wider than most imply. His struggles, both fundamentally and statistically, place him completely outside the realm of "almost back to being good". Click on this chart from Pro Football Reference to see the shape of it for yourself.
Yes, Hasselbeck strutted his stuff in the playoffs last January and briefly looked like the QB he used to be. But not only were those performances somewhat overrated, they don't even happen if any one of a series of lucky circumstances doesn't occur for Seattle 2010. Leon Washington trips on his way to his second kickoff return TD against San Diego. The Rams find a wide receiver who can catch deep passes in Week 17. Kurt Warner doesn't retire. Go back and change any one of those events, and Hasselbeck's playoff opportunity doesn't even occur, because it wasn't earned through his own regular season performance.
With Seattle in the rebuilding phase, what sense did it make for Seattle to stick with an aging QB without upside, whose presence muddled the franchise's direction and whose performance is honestly no worse than most of the league's backups? What sense did it make for Hasselbeck to keep playing for a team that couldn't afford to set him up to succeed? Success for Hasselbeck requires a perfect storm of elements that's difficult, and time-consuming, to establish. How long do we wait?
Yes, this is harsh. It's heartless and business-oriented. But that's how the best teams operate - as a business with an eye toward the future. Everyone wants to be the New England Patriots - well, here you go.
Now Hasselbeck has the chance to keep playing, end his career on a graceful note, and enjoy a generous contract. (I'd already made the point earlier that Hasselbeck was probably asking for a bigger contract than Seattle could afford binding itself to.) It'll be interesting to see whether Tennessee asks him to start, or throws Jake Locker right into the fire and trusts to Hasselbeck's tutoring of him, which should be of the highest caliber. Locker could hardly ask for a better mentor.
Meanwhile, Seattle is forging ahead with a battery of stopgap QB's that lack Hasselbeck's ceiling but might improve on his floor with tight game management from Carroll. The worst-case scenario for 2011 is no different now than it would have been with Hasselbeck at the controls. The front office comes out of this with a sense of assurance and direction.
This decision truly is the best for both worlds.
Now we just have to deal with our sense of sadness over days gone by.
Matt Hasselbeck was a gravitational center for the hope of Seahawks fans for many years.
He was a beacon for fans older than I who lost their hair over the parade of incompetent QB's that marked the 1990's.
He was far more responsible for the Seahawks' Super Bowl run than most give him credit for, earning the label "a poor man's Tom Brady" for his accuracy and rhythm at one point in 2005.
He was the epitome of professionalism, grace, leadership, passion, and humility - all the things you look for in a QB.
I may sound hoity-toity sometimes, but I'll be honest - whatever franchise QB Seattle finds next has immeasurably high bar to hit.
He was one of the underrated greats of the last decade, and I'm glad that his stunning deep bomb to Mike Williams will be one of the last great memories we have of him.
And he has, I suspect, a fun and venerable broadcasting career ahead of him.
We'll miss you, Matt.