Reading the tea leaves on Matt Hasselbeck

May, 4, 2011
5/04/11
1:00
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Matt Hasselbeck Jason O. Watson/US PresswireMatt Hasselbeck threw for 3,001 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Seahawks last season.
Matt Hasselbeck became a trending topic during the 2011 NFL draft without saying a word.

The longtime Seattle Seahawks quarterback continues to keep a low profile. He hasn't granted interviews since speaking with his hometown newspaper a couple of weeks before the draft. The things he said then -- that he wants to return to the team and he understands why there was no deal before the lockout -- were the opposite of inflammatory.

With a lockout in place, there shouldn't be much buzz.

Strong words from ESPN analyst and former Hasselbeck teammate Trent Dilfer changed the dynamics. Dilfer flatly told draft viewers that Hasselbeck would not return to Seattle in 2011.

It was time to reassess. Did Dilfer have inside information based on his association with Hasselbeck? The two shared NFL meeting rooms years ago. They share the same agent, still.

Or, was Dilfer merely stating his opinion based on any number of factors, including the idea that another team -- say, Tennessee or Washington -- could target Hasselbeck?

My money is on the latter, but lingering perceptions can easily masquerade as reality.

I've held back in analyzing the situation because I wanted to do some digging first. Perhaps there had been some sort of behind-the-scenes development that would hasten Hasselbeck's departure once the free-agent signing period opened down the line.

If anything, the opposite appears to be true.

First, the Seahawks did nothing during the draft to diminish Hasselbeck's value to them. They did not select a quarterback in the early rounds. In fact, the team has yet to draft a quarterback in any round since coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over the team in early 2010.

Second, the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, reached out to Hasselbeck and reiterated the team's interest in him during the brief window when teams were allowed contact with players over the weekend. Bevell seems to be about as by-the-book as they come. I highly doubt he'd reach out in that manner if it were all a lie.

Third, some of the prime landing spots for Hasselbeck outside Seattle appear less prime now. Minnesota used the 12th overall choice for Christian Ponder. San Francisco drafted Colin Kaepernick and laid the groundwork for re-signing Alex Smith. Arizona could still be an option, though I don't think Hasselbeck fits the Cardinals' downfield passing game very well.

But Dilfer could still be right.

[+] EnlargeWhitehurst, Carroll, Hasselbeck
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCoach Pete Carroll will have a decision to make at quarterback between Charlie Whitehurst, left, Matt Hasselbeck, right, or another NFL veteran.
Tennessee drafted Jake Locker eighth overall and might still be drawn to Hasselbeck as a mentor; Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt and multiple members of his front office worked for the Seahawks during Hasselbeck's prime years.

The Seahawks could head in another direction as well. They could make a play for Kevin Kolb or another quarterback with more years remaining than Hasselbeck has left at age 35.

Hasselbeck's run in Seattle could end after 10 seasons for a variety of plausible reasons. It's just that there seems to be nothing new boiling beneath the surface.

A few things to consider when seeking clarity for a muddled situation:

  • The lockout works both ways. The longer the lockout runs, the more convenient Hasselbeck becomes for the Seahawks in 2011. He's familiar with the passing game Bevell is bringing to Seattle. I also think the lockout could affect Hasselbeck's return negatively. Long-term strategic thinking can harden during extended periods without coach-player interaction. The Seahawks' long-range plans do not include Hasselbeck. Everyone understands that. Perhaps making the break now becomes easier if the lockout keeps the relationship on hold for too long. Schneider hasn't hidden his desire to make the Seahawks younger.
  • Whitehurst is a factor. The Seahawks have taken considerable criticism for their move to acquire quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Initial reports suggested the San Diego Chargers took advantage of the Seahawks during negotiations. Subsequent reports have focused on the price Seattle paid for a quarterback who remains a nonfactor. When Seattle failed to draft a quarterback over the weekend, Carroll pointed to the 2011 third-round choice that was part of the Whitehurst deal as evidence the team had addressed the position. Carroll also praised Whitehurst to a degree he had not done when Hasselbeck was entrenched as the starter. These are the sorts of things teams say when laying the groundwork for change. If Hasselbeck did eventually leave, at least Carroll's praise for Whitehurst would already be part of the public record.
  • Drama complicates matters. Dilfer's comments created only the latest buzz. Earlier this offseason, ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck stood up for his brother and made pointed comments during a Seattle radio interview. Tim Hasselbeck took shots at Marc Bulger and Carson Palmer, dismissing both as viable alternatives to Matt Hasselbeck. Strong comments from people with ties to Hasselbeck can leave the impression Hasselbeck is at least tacitly signing off on them, even if he is not. The effect can be corrosive with a lockout preventing direct communication. Could it affect whether the Seahawks come back with an offer as strong as the one they made previously?

Re-signing Hasselbeck makes sense on a few levels. Hasselbeck knows Bevell's offense. The Seahawks are recommitting to the ground game and remaking their offensive line, which would benefit Hasselbeck. Carroll and Hasselbeck got along well last season. Seattle remains in rebuilding mode, making it tougher to justify trading significant 2012 draft capital for an unproven quarterback such as Kolb.

There are also reasons to consider moving on. Carroll wants to emphasize the running game. Schneider was with Green Bay when the team turned away from Brett Favre without apology.

"I think Kolb gets you two more wins than Hasselbeck does next year," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "He has more playmaking ability. Maybe there are more misreads, but the arrow is going up on Kolb and clearly we have seen the best of Hasselbeck. But if you sign Hasselbeck, the plan has to be, 'We need to get a quarterback in the next draft unless Whitehurst unexpectedly lights it up.'"

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