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The Brewery

A gathering place for sports analysis and opinion with Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer.

July 27, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Seahawks move on, but to what?

Posted by Jerry Brewer

HasselbeckMar.jpg
Seahawks are now without a proven leader in the huddle. (Seattle Times file photo by Rod Mar)

His last pass was for a touchdown, at least. Matt Hasselbeck threw 192 of them, counting the playoffs, during his Seahawks career, and this was one of the most unmemorable and insignificant. We didn't think to preserve it. We didn't remember that goodbye is inevitable.

It's right there, though, in the scorebook. Hasselbeck was hustling, defiant to the end of a game that had long been lost. Shotgun snap, 46-yard pass to Ben Obomanu. Nine yards from the end zone now. No huddle. Oh, he was so good in a no-huddle offense! He sees Brandon Stokley open. Touchdown.

A minute and 27 seconds later, the Seahawks walked off Soldier Field with a 35-24 playoff loss to Chicago.

Three days later, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll insisted re-signing Hasselbeck was the team's "top priority."

Six months later, Hasselbeck is gone.

It was a strange ending: abrupt in one sense, lengthy in another. We saw it coming, and we were still blindsided. Some consider the decision defensible, others reprehensible. But within every reaction, there's a common emotion -- sadness.

No, we didn't remember that goodbye is inevitable.

It happens to everyone, athlete or otherwise, at some point. The professional sports world is about perpetual transition. Loyalty is a mere luxury here; it's only worthwhile when the statistics say it's worthwhile. Save the storybook endings for the Disney sports movies.

And so Hasselbeck, the most successful quarterback in Seahawks history, is now a victim of the awkward nature of change. His Seattle story: Uneasy come, uneasy go. Mike Holmgren brought him here 10 years ago, and he was immediately cast as a handpicked nobody. Matt who? Why isn't his name spelled Hassleback? Let's see if he can play first. Then, we'll worry about spelling correctly.

Boy, Hasselbeck proved himself. He wasn't a great quarterback, not a Brady or Manning. But he was good: three Pro Bowls, five division titles, 10 years of stability at a position that had been anything but stable for the Seahawks. He led the franchise to its first Super Bowl in 2006. He grew from Matt who? to a classy star and community icon.

Then he left as he came, uneasy.

Really, Hasselbeck got dumped.

Breakups like this one are familiar. They usually involve a dude who is too young and too stupid to realize he has a good thing. He gets bored and wants to pursue the possibility of something better. Or he experiences a fundamental change. Or he fears committing past a certain point. But he's too afraid to have the breakup conversation, so he dumps the girl gradually. He keeps pulling back and pulling back, and for some reason, the girl doesn't get it. So he starts to stray.

And then, oh crap, she finds him in a compromising position with someone far less attractive. The dude figures, "Well, at least now you know."

So here are the Seahawks, canoodling with Tarvaris Jackson now. And there goes Hasselbeck, off to Tennessee to serve as Jake Locker's mentor and placeholder. Remember when people thought, even hoped, that scenario might play out here? Well, now Nashville is officially Seattle South.

For certain, the Seahawks didn't say yes to Jackson. They said no to Hasselbeck.

Carroll and general manager John Schneider wanted Hasselbeck only on their terms. They were unwilling to enhance their offer past a contract that paid him starter money for just one year. They didn't want to have Hasselbeck, who turns 36 in September, for multiple years because they feared being stuck with an old, overpriced quarterback. They took a hard stance, and if No. 8 was willing to stay on their terms, fine. If not, well, they weren't going to marry him anyway.

It's harsh, but that's pro sports. As much as I like Hasselbeck for the incredible person he is, as much as I advocated the Seahawks re-signing him to a two-year deal because he was still their best option, I'm not willing to say the Seahawks treated the quarterback with disrespect. I think it's the wrong move, but it's not an irredeemable act. And I could be wrong myself. There are no absolutes in this Hasselbeck discussion, which makes for oodles of polarity.

Continuing with the romance metaphor, if you know you don't have a future with someone, it's usually best to break up sooner rather than later. The pain you'll save is much better than the pain you'll feel. So, I can understand that part of the Seahawks' rationale.

Here's the problem, though: They moved on and found a five-year NFL quarterback who has never averaged more than 159.2 passing yards a game. Clearly, Jackson isn't the answer. He's just a space filler. A temp. And now the Seahawks' rebuilding efforts have become more complicated.

A quarterback succession plan seemed to be the right call. That plan involved keeping Hasselbeck until the Seahawks found their QB of the future. That way, the Seahawks could bridge the two eras without a stretch of disastrous quarterback play. Well, that can't happen now.

Don't blame Carroll and Schneider solely for this. The problem goes back to former general manager Tim Ruskell's failure to draft a good backup quarterback with upside. Then, in 2009, he used the No.4 overall pick on a linebacker (Aaron Curry) who hasn't made a great impact. I agreed with Ruskell's decision at the time, but in hindsight, the Seahawks would've been better off taking Mark Sanchez, who went fifth overall, or even trading down to select Josh Freeman.

In 2009, it seemed like the Seahawks still had time to figure out their quarterbacking future. Ruskell was still committed to Hasselbeck. So was the new coach at the time, Jim Mora. Now, a new front office is in town, Hasselbeck is gone, and the quarterback options are Charlie Whitehurst and Jackson*.

* I'm sorry, but every time I think of Tarvaris Jackson, I find myself wishing that he was the son of LaToya Jackson. I've thought about making that a running joke, about including the parenthetical (you know, LaToya's son) every time I mention Tarvaris this season. But that's silly and disrespectful to his family. So, I'll do my best to refrain. OK, back to this disheartening analysis ...

No more Hasselbeck. Way more hassles.

Carroll, Mr. ComPETE, will present training as a quarterback competition between Whitehurst and Jackson. But as you should know, a quarterback competition, especially in the NFL, is a farce. It means you're a train wreck at the most important position in team sports.

The Seahawks let go of Hasselbeck for a train wreck, huh? Why? It doesn't make complete sense. The best explanation is they're letting go because they now consider Hasselbeck only decent -- yes, better than Whitehurst and Jackson, but still just decent -- and they didn't want to pay good money for decent. Jackson cost less than half of what it would've taken to get Hasselbeck. So the Seahawks would rather spread the money they saved around, improve the rest of the team and fix the quarterback situation later, either in next year's draft, through a future trade or via getting lucky with T-Jack or Chaz or some other young QB.

Well, uh, it's a plan. A good one? Have my doubts. But now there's no other choice than to see it through.

It would be best for the Seahawks if Whitehurst won the job because they gave up some valuable trade assets to get him last year. But Jackson was with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in Minnesota, so he has an advantage. I was hoping the premature reports would prove true, and Matt Leinart, Carroll's old USC quarterback, would join the Seahawks so that we could have fun with a "Three Stooges" or "Three Amigos" anti-marketing theme. But Leinart is re-signing with the Houston Texans.

So, for now, the Seahawks are stuck with Jackson and Whitehurst. It's like having short-game and long-game QBs. Jackson is a great athlete and fits a run-oriented offense, if that's where the Seahawks are headed, but he's both inaccurate and gun-shy when it comes to throwing the ball down the field. On the other hand, Whitehurst has a cannon arm and throws a gorgeous deep ball.

Jackson = putter.

Whitehurst = driver.

But the Seahawks aren't playing golf, of course. This is football. And Hasselbeck, the face of the franchise, isn't here anymore. They'll miss him in film sessions, where he thrived in breaking down the game. They'll miss him on the field, where he was adept at making adjustments and giving the Seahawks a chance to win. And they'll miss him in the postgame, where he always provided a sense of calm regardless of how the team had performed.

Most will remember Hasselbeck's last home game the best. He had one of his greatest games, throwing for four touchdowns, in an improbable playoff upset of New Orleans. And then he soaked in the atmosphere afterward with his son, Henry, resting atop his shoulders. It was a touching moment for the Hasselbeck family and for Seahawks fans. But it was his ceremonial goodbye.

His real goodbye came a week later, on a cold and snowy day in Chicago. The Seahawks were pounded, 35-24. It wasn't even that close. They trailed 28-3 entering the fourth quarter.

But in what others would consider garbage time, Hasselbeck gave one final reminder of his virtue. He wouldn't quit. He had never quit before, despite injuries and boos and bold coin-flip proclamations, so why would he in this game? He threw three touchdown passes in that fourth quarter to make the game interesting. His final pass created a beautiful personal ending, but a disappointing final score obstructed it.

We didn't know then that it would be Hasselbeck's last pass as a Seahawk, just like we didn't know when it was Shaun Alexander's last run, or Walter Jones' last down, or Darrell Jackson's last catch. The once-great team that Holmgren built is a memory now, spread across memories and box scores and old newspaper stories. The Seahawks have moved on, as every franchise must. Goodbye is inevitable.

But there is a difference between moving on and moving forward. Something tells me the Seahawks will discover soon, sometimes painfully, that they are in the premature stages of a difficult transition.

Fed up with my long-winded ways? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter (@Jerry_Brewer) for more, um, succinct interaction.

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