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Originally published December 14, 2009 at 10:01 PM | Page modified December 15, 2009 at 9:55 PM

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Steve Kelley

Jake Locker, Cliff Lee anticipation just what Seattle fans need

News that Jake Locker would return to Washington and Cliff Lee may be heading to the Mariners is exactly the right prescription for a dark Monday hangover after a horrific Seahawks loss in Houston.

Seattle Times staff columnist

So maybe you woke up Monday morning with a Houston hangover. On the morning after, you still were feeling the effects from the morning before.

Maybe that sellout Seahawks defeat, where their defense made Texans quarterback Matt Schaub look like Peyton Manning and the offensive line acted as if it were conspiring to shorten the career of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, still made you feel queasy.

And when you finally fought to open your eyes, you saw the typical gray of Seattle in December and felt the somber anticipation of so many more days just like it.

Maybe you begged for some ray of sunshine to get you through the day. Some burst of good news to help you forget everything you saw and felt from that Sunday knockout punch in Texas.

Well, you got it. Maybe you even got a double dose.

First the certainty:

Washington quarterback Jake Locker is returning. He is passing up the chance to be a top-five NFL draft pick next April, instead accepting the challenge to make Washington a winner.

Maybe Locker had nightmares of what his life might have become if he were drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Maybe he imagined how he would feel if he became their opening-day starter next season and struggled along the steep NFL learning curve.

Perhaps he imagined the buzz on the talk shows as fans screeched, "Why did we pick this guy? He never had a winning season in college. Never went to a bowl. Was only named honorable-mention quarterback last season in his conference?"

Because Locker wouldn't have had the great college success that, say, New York Jets rookie Mark Sanchez had at USC, his world could have been rocked by a rocky start in the NFL.

Maybe he thought about the confidence hit he would take from the callers in St. Louis. And he imagined the sound of the boos of about 20,000 fans rattling off the empty seats inside the cavernous Edward Jones Dome.

Locker is returning. He is making the right choice, the kind of who-cares-about-the-money choice that defines who he is.

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And while the news of Locker's decision spread across Seattle like a sunny tsunami, the Mariners were inching close to a deal that would bring former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Cliff Lee to Seattle in the kind of three-way deal that would make the Los Angeles Angels swoon with fear.

In the proposed trade, which probably hinges on whether the Philadelphia Phillies can sign pitcher Roy Halladay, the Mariners only would have to give up prospects, like reliever Phillippe Aumont.

Locker and Lee? What a daily double for a dreary day in December.

Think of a Mariners season with Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee at the top of the rotation. Co-aces. Would they be willing to share the 2010 Cy Young?

Cliff Lee — the antidote to Erik Bedard.

Imagine the idea of the Huskies returning to their first bowl game since 2002 and the Mariners getting back to the postseason for the first time since 2001.

Locker is giving himself another year to ripen as a quarterback. He's getting another year of teaching from one of the top QB tutors in the country, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.

Arguably one of the best athletes this region has produced, Locker still is a very green quarterback. In his first three years at Washington, his growth was restricted by bad coaching and a bad thumb. He needs another season of seasoning.

And with Lee, fresh off his amazing postseason in Philadelphia, the Mariners would be giving themselves the chance to take over the American League West. They would become the talk of the offseason and a threat in the postseason.

How far could Hernandez and Lee take them in October?

Locker has unfinished business on Montlake, and the Mariners have unfinished business at Safeco.

Locker and Lee. Think of the possibilities.

They are just the newsmakers Seattle needed on a bleak Monday morning after.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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