Top Priority: Matt Hasselbeck

The Seahawks are driving. Matt Hasselbeck is cool and efficient. Seattle has exploited short field, mixed short passes with an effective run game and are deep in Buccaneers territory. Tampa has stuffed two consecutive runs by Marshawn Lynch and forced third and one from the one. Seattle sets: two tight ends, I-formation. Guard Chris White sets at H-back. It's a formation that screams run or play-action pass. It's a formation a mobile quarterback could boot out of. Hasselbeck takes the snap and motions handoff towards fullback Michael Robinson. Robinson motions left and then cuts hard right, behind the line and angling towards the end zone. Outside linebacker Anthony Hayward is on him. Hayward closes and bumps him off his route. Hayward is the unwitting mark. Hasselbeck rolls, tucks, runs to the left of Robinson, braces for a Geno Hayes hit that never comes and gingerly scrambles into the end zone, untouched. Touchdown.

An Olindo Mare extra point pushes Seattle's win probability to 71%. Seattle is up 7-0 on the road against the heavily favored Bucs. Hasselbeck capped a 11 play, 62 yard scoring drive with a scramble for a score. It was the last regular season snap he would take in 2010. He missed next week's season defining game against the Rams. He wasn't benched. Nothing about Charlie Whitehurst's ensuing 11 for 18 for 66 yards performance earned him the starter's job. Hasselbeck attempted a one yard scramble and injured himself trying.

Pete Carroll has said that re-signing Matt Hasselbeck is Seattle's top priority this offseason. This despite Hasselbeck struggling all season; despite passes by Hasselbeck accumulating fewer points above replacement in the last four season than Shaun Hill, Jon Kitna or Kerry Collins did in 2010 alone (and each as backups); despite Seattle finishing 7-9, with the 23rd ranked scoring offense, the 28th ranked point differential, and the third weakest strength of schedule in the NFL. Pete Carroll has said that re-signing Matt Hasselbeck is Seattle's top priority this offseason despite overwhelming evidence that the move would be not just a mistake, but one with ramifications that could last for years.

Hasselbeck is 35. He played most of the 2010 season as a 35-year old. According to Pro Football Reference, quarterbacks of Hasselbeck's age produce at 76.8% of their career peak. Hasselbeck's peak was in 2005 at 30. He averaged 7.1 adjusted net yards per attempt. Most quarterbacks peak at 29, and so Hasselbeck is pretty typical. If he had performed at 76.8% of his peak in 2010, he would have averaged 5.5 ANY/A. The league average in 2010 was 5.7. Hasselbeck's actual performance was 4.9 ANY/A. That, his last three seasons and his susceptibility to injury suggest Hasselbeck is declining at a faster rate than a typical quarterback. He turns 36 in September. His projected performance would be 5.0 ANY/A. That is below average. Hasselbeck's actual performance would likely be worse.

Seattle is prioritizing signing a 35-year old, regularly injured quarterback that has underperformed historical averages, and that, for three consecutive seasons, has performed like one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Seattle is prioritizing signing a 35-year old quarterback to a team that needs to replace over half of its roster. Seattle is prioritizing signing a 35-year old quarterback to a team that was the first ever to make the playoffs with a losing record, that was by every objective standard one of the five worst teams in the NFL, that has no meaningful road to contention but dramatic improvement or historical ineptness from the other three teams in its division. To say the move would be unwise is understatement approaching absurdity. Signing Matt Hasselbeck is the most damaging move the Seahawks can make within the realm of realistic moves the Seahawks could make. This isn't burning down the VMAC or trading the entire 2011 draft class to trade up and draft Mark Ingram, but within the realm of realistic moves the Seahawks could make this offseason, signing Hasselbeck is unambiguously the worst.

Pete Carroll has chosen to prioritize it.

Is it possible that Hasselbeck could buck history and become the latest quarterback to enjoy a late-career revival? Of course. Is it possible that Seattle spends resources on another flier like Charlie Whitehurst and develops a successor while still starting Hasselbeck? Of course. Is it likely, supported by evidence, history or anything but a desperate attempt to rationalize an indefensible move? No. Carroll wants to sign and build his team around a player that couldn't scramble into the end zone without injuring himself. That injury contributed to Hasselbeck missing the most important game of the regular season. There's no spin there. Carroll has never wavered in his support of Hasselbeck, has never indicated that the Seahawks must improve the position and is now publicly courting Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck did injure himself by running and without contacting any other player. That injury prevented him from playing in week 17. A game that decided if the Seahawks would make the playoffs or finish 6-10. A game that the greatness and glory of beating the Saints at Qwest was wholly dependent on.

We are probably a few days from the announcement, and though I fear the die has already been cast, it's imperative something must be said. This is a mistake. The unlikely upside is competent play by Hasselbeck with the ever-present possibility of injury. The likely downside is one of the worst teams in the NFL setting back any kind of meaningful building towards the future and potentially miring themselves in loss and failure. At the very least, the very, very least, Seattle absolutely must avoid committing too much guaranteed money to Hasselbeck. If it does sign Hasselbeck, it must sign Hasselbeck fully aware that the signing is at best a partial solution.

Older Seahawks fans talk about losing Dave Krieg and the aftermath. Aftermath spelled: Gelbaugh, Stouffer, McGwire, Mirer. But losing Krieg did not cause the Seahawks ensuing half-decade of irrelevance. After leaving Seattle, Krieg had one more winning season left in him for a one-and-done playoff team: the 1992 Chiefs. He was never again the primary quarterback for a winning team. The lie that losing Krieg led to the misery of the early nineties is written into Seahawks lore. On Krieg's Wikipedia page it reads:

The Seahawks finished a disappointing 7-9, leading to the resignation of Coach Knox. Seattle General Manager Tom Flores decided to retain Stouffer and McGwire, and to let Krieg become a free agent. That decision helped doom the Seahawks to several seasons of misery and mediocrity under a succession of uninspired quarterbacks.

"That decision helped doom . . ." suggesting if only the Seahawks stuck with Krieg, the failure of the early nineties would have been avoided. But that's a lie. Four seasons after moving on from Krieg, the Seahawks did something a Krieg-led Seahawks team hadn't done since 1987: finish in the top ten in scoring. Seattle would do it twice more in the next three seasons. One of the quarterbacks selected to replace Krieg, super-bust Rick Mirer, was later traded for a first round pick from the Bears. That pick turned into Pro Bowl corner Shawn Springs.

Seattle wasn't doomed because it traded Krieg. It was committing to the hard, often painful process of becoming a good team again. It was accepting that even the best are not the best forever, and when a player can no longer perform or stay healthy, it is no longer rational to depend on them. They were making a mature, rational decision that could not guarantee success, but guaranteed progress--that ugly, divisive and slow moving process.

The Seahawks have that same decision in front of them, and the person we pay to make it is telling us that in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, at odds with team history, he wants Matt Hasselbeck to be the Seahawks starting quarterback. If that decision is made, if the contract is written but for the particulars, Seattle may not know just how important and potentially damaging the signing is for years to come. Maybe this time we will remember that letting go of something safe and familiar and suffering the search for something better is painful, but holding on to something that's already gone is denial at its most damaging. That Hasselbeck didn't bring the downfall, but refusing to acknowledge Hasselbeck's own downfall did.

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