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FAQs: Quarterback

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That was fun. Here's another conversation with myself.

Why do you hate Matt Hasselbeck?

I don't hate Matt Hasselbeck.

Come on.

Okay, maybe I kind of hate Matt Hasselbeck, but not the person or even the player. I hate the quagmire.

Look at it like this: You're managing a team of workers and they're loading a truck full of freight. The team is broken into three groups: One that moves it towards the truck, one that moves it into the truck and one that actually loads it. We will call these three groups: feeders, loaders and the middleman.

Because of the setup, there is a bottle neck at the point where the freight actually moves into the truck and so only one person comprises the "middleman" team. The team moving it to him, the feeders, work collaboratively and so does the team receiving the freight from him, the loaders, but all freight must at some point move through this one employee, the middleman.

Now if the people feeding him are too slow, it's inefficient. And if the people receiving from him are too slow, it's inefficient. If the people feeding him are fast but the people receiving are slow, it's also inefficient and visa versa.

You have managed this same line for years and years, and once upon a time it was one of the best lines in the factory. It just zipped by. Five years back it started to slow. There were wholesale changes to the people feeding the middleman and wholesale changes to the people receiving from the middleman, but the middleman stayed the same.

Over the last three years it's been a goddamn mess. Bosses were fired. Feeders and loaders were swapped out left and right. Some have moved on to success on other lines and some haven't. Some succeeded before joining this line and some were total new hires. All of them are difficult to evaluate because their performance relies on the middleman. If the feeders are fast but the middleman is slow, the feeders must slow or have work build up. If the feeders are slow, we can't know how fast the middleman is. If the loaders are fast but the middleman is slow, they are stuck standing and waiting. If the loaders are slow but the middleman is fast, the middleman has to slow down and so appears slow.

And though that middleman was once the very best middleman you ever saw, he sure looks slow as molasses now. Is it possible the feeders or loaders are to blame? Yes and yes At the same time, there's a history of middlemen like your middleman, and most of them have really, really declined right around his age. Not everyone though, and you would hate to make a hasty generalization, but he fits the profile and certainly looks the part, so it's hard to ignore.

The frustrating part is that the middleman is revered throughout the factory and even up in corporate. He is highly paid and secure. Short of a sick day, there is almost no chance to compare him to anyone else. But when he's been sick, well, it hasn't been that bad. And your replacement middleman is Seneca Wallace.

How do you evaluate the feeders and loaders when their performance depends on the middleman? How do you evaluate the middleman when his performance is dependent on the feeders and loaders? And at what point, even if you're not 100% certain it's the middleman's fault, is it necessary to change the middleman if only to know for sure who is really at fault?

The line you manage suffers year after year, and the work becomes a chore, and nothing really seems to fix anything. New feeders don't help. New loaders don't help. New plans to streamline the process don't help. New motivational tactics don't help. Threats don't help. Nothing works, and though that doesn't confirm who is at fault, it makes the process insufferable, especially because the most basic fix possible, replacing the under-performing employee that all other employees are dependent on, is not allowed.

Wow, that was long.

I get paid by the character and my pay is low and my greed great.



Anyway . . .

So I have begun to hate the Hasselbeck dilemma.

But isn't it scary moving on from success towards the unknown?

It is, and it wouldn't be unprecedented for Hasselbeck to move on to another team and have success. The chance that Hasselbeck can succeed in Seattle is very remote. Even if we assume Hasselbeck is capable of success with another team, there are tangible barriers to him succeeding in Seattle.

The first is, if Hasselbeck isn't succeeding with the team as constructed, and he isn't, then we assume an overall investment must be made that is commensurate with how much he's struggling. For instance, if Hasselbeck was performing a little below average, a slight overhaul might push him towards average, a modest overhaul might push him towards good and a complete overhaul might push him towards great. But Hasselbeck is playing like one of the worst quarterbacks in football, and so a complete overhaul is probably necessary to achieve above average, and that requires a large investment of resources. Investing major resources into fixing the offense means in the short term the defense is neglected, and all the while Hasselbeck is nearing 40. So, best case scenario, Seattle makes huge strides improving the talent around Hasselbeck, and it's a bit better in 2011 and a lot better in 2012. But even if we assume Hasselbeck is able to defy aging, the Seahawks are still only sporting an above average offense in his age 37 season, and the defense hasn't progressed much if at all.

So Seattle is working against the clock, and while they're working against the clock one simple fact might be undermining the whole process: Hasselbeck could be bad. That's the next big barrier. How can a team build around an already 35-year old player completing a stretch of three straight bad seasons? As much as I like commitment to method even in the face of initial failure, there is stubbornness and perseverance and then there is throwing good money after bad. The Hasselbeck experiment has lasted a long, long time and all evidence indicates it's a failure.

The final hurdle is that Hasselbeck is a free agent in 2011. Quarterbacks are expensive, pretty much without variance. Seattle can't pull a Ruskell and tell him to test the market and come back to us, at least not if they're interested in re-signing him. So they would probably have to extend an offer and they probably couldn't ask Hasselbeck to take a pay cut. And so to even start this seemingly doomed process, Seattle would have to dish out $6 million a season with something like $20 million guaranteed.

That's a turd of a contract.

So how about Charlie Whitehurst? What's his story?

More than anything, Whitehurst is a kind of sloppy control group. Maybe he's good, probably not, but the Seahawks should find out. Of equal importance, the Seahawks should see how their offense performs with a different middleman taking the freight and feeding the loaders.

A year ago, most Seahawks fans thought Deion Branch was washed up. Well he's clearly not. Rob Sims is earning respect in Detroit blocking for Maurice Morris. Even someone as reviled and unestablished as Julius Jones has found success outside of Seattle. None of these players went the way of Shaun Alexander. Talent that has failed in Seattle has found success elsewhere.

For the last three years, the assumption that Hasselbeck has battled on despite overwhelmingly bad surrounding talent has dictated the Seahawks offense. How it is constructed and how it is run. Each season new players were shuffled in and each off-season failed players were shuffled out. And nothing improved. Three coordinators in three seasons, and not one seemingly called for what Hasselbeck was capable of. Even when Holmgren was calling the shots and Gil Haskell was the offensive coordinator, people said the Seahawks should run more shotgun and three receivers sets and that what Matt really needed was a talented tight end.

Allowing Whitehurst to start could actually boost fan perception of Hasselbeck. It would certainly help clarify how good the rest of the Seahawks offensive personnel is.

Yeah, but what about Whitehurst himself?

Whitey was a third string backup with good tools that sat behind an All-Pro starter that never gets hurt. His time in San Diego is a blank slate.

When I watched Whitehurst and evaluated his ability, I was pretty discouraged. That's an understatement.

He flashed in his first preseason game. I still wonder if maybe Whitehurst was just running the plays he proved in practice that he could, and once he emptied that bag of tricks, things sort of fell apart. Because things did fall apart for Whitehurst. Over the next three preseason games, he only reached a 50% completion percentage once, and that was against the Oakland Raiders' third string. Third string overstates it. Whiterhurst struggled against the players the Oakland Raiders didn't want.

He played poorly in his lone  regular season start, if against stacked odds, and poorly as a substitute. His eight for 16 performance against the Falcons felt exciting, but sort of like how a can of spam sounds delicious to a starving man. He still looked pretty clueless, and throw in the interception Brent Grimes was just short of making and taking to the house, and Whitehurst's thrilling performance in relief looked almost exactly like all his other performances.

Whitey didn't look that good on paper, didn't look that good after initial scouting, has not effectively challenged Hasselbeck however low the bar is seemingly placed, and typing this, I think back to reports that Whitehurst was not outplaying J.P. Losman in training camp.

And if that seems to justify Carroll's continued commitment to Hasselbeck, I offer this counter: Ken Whisenhunt has started Derek Anderson, Max Hall and now John Skelton--heretofore referred to as Skeleton. He did this because he knows Anderson is not the answer, an answer must be found, and if testing all options conveniently pushes the Cardinals towards drafting a franchise quarterback, well isn't that a happy coincidence. Mike Shanahan, a probable future Hall of Fame inductee, is doing the exact same in Washington. Successful coaches know you find a franchise quarterback or die trying, and complacency is the only strategy that is sure to fail.

That sort of turned into a speech.

I know, I hate myself.

The Seahawks have a horrible history of drafting quarterbacks in the first round. Wouldn't drafting another be a mistake?

Seattle's success or failure in previous drafts has no impact whatsoever on whether the team will succeed or fail in their next attempt to draft a quarterback. In that sense, a team has no history. They are a loose collection of different talents under a banner, and what might seem impossible during one era can come to define another. Look at the Boston Red Sox. Boston used to be cursed by bad luck, bad management and bad talent. Now they're one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball.

Twenty years from now, the Seahawks could be associated with a keen eye for quarterback talent.

But not likely, right? Drafting a quarterback seems like a crapshoot.

It's risky and that risk is compounded by a simple fact too often overlooked. If nothing correlates with winning better than passing offense, than teams in line to draft a quarterback were more than likely bad at passing the football the previous season. So they're in need of talent on their passing offense independent of the quarterback and that quarterback is supposed to succeed despite that, and despite the fact that the team's most precious commodity, its first round pick, was used to draft a quarterback.

But sometimes teams with poorly performing passing offenses are not short of talent on their passing offense. Matt Ryan inherited two number one receivers, Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, an all around weapon, Jerious Norwood, and a top ten running back, Michael Turner . He succeeded right away.

Fans assume Seattle is an offensive sinkhole because the way it has performed, but I think most rookie quarterbacks would thrill to start their career passing to Mike Williams, protected by Russell Okung, handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, and developing chemistry with Golden Tate.