BY Doug Farrar 10:22PM 02/01/2011

Seahawks personnel review: The quarterbacks

Can Matt Hasselbeck be ‘the man’ long enough to engineer a crucial transition?

Matt Hasselbeck, left, may be the Seahawks' short-term future in theory, but who will man that position in practice? / Rod Mar, Seattle Seahawks

With the 2010 season in the books, it’s time to take a look back, and a look forward, and see where the Seattle Seahawks stand at every position. A 7-9 playoff team with needs just about everywhere makes for interesting reading and writing, but for Pete Carroll and John Schneider, all that speculation becomes stark reality over the next few months.

The ongoing CBA drama may delay free agency, but not the draft. Quarterback is in the minds of everyone — the fans, players, coaches and front office personnel — watching the Seahawks. That’s where we begin, with the face of the franchise that may be the face of another sooner than later.

Matt Hasselbeck

During his season-ending press conference, Pete Carroll made it very clear that signing Hasselbeck to a new contract was the franchise’s top offseason priority. Hasselbeck is no longer the quarterback he was in the salad days of the Mike Holmgren era, but there are three reasons that bringing him back makes sense.

First, with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in tow, Hasselbeck would see a return the West Coast offense with which he has always been best-suited. Second, there are no immediate and available options that would fit the current Seahawks better – Hasselbeck is comfortable with the offense, the coaching staff, and the personnel, and he’s been this team’s offensive leader for years. Third, with new San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh endorsing a return to the West Coast offense himself and Arizona looking for any port in a storm at the position, Hasselbeck could very well find himself as a doubly effective weapon on another NFC West team – not only bringing help to a divisional enemy, but providing the kind of intel that could alter the balance of power in a foursome that is always up for grabs.

But according to Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics, Hasselbeck hasn’t had a season above league average since 2007, and the two games against the Saints aside, he was rarely able to provide consistent production at the position in 2010.

Part of that had to do with the schematic disconnect between Hasselbeck and former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, and part had to do with the fact that skills erode over time. The Seahawks need to bring Hasselbeck back, but they also need to be realistic about what he can provide. They must get his long-term replacement on the roster this season if they hope to transition from one offensive era to the next.

Charlie Whitehurst

With all the successful moves made by the Carroll/Schneider brain trust, the trade with the San Diego Charges for Whitehurst was controversial at the time and has produced middling returns at best. Whitehurst had never thrown a regular-season pass, yet signed a two-year, $8 million contract after the trade. It was a decision based on pure measurables, but unless something in the offseason clicks, the move was a mistake that exacerbated the already pressing need for a long-term solution at quarterback.

The first problem with Whitehurst is that even in a system that would seem to play to his strengths of mobility and deep-ball accuracy (Bates’ vertical passing offense), Whitehurst often looked awkward in game situations and even worse in practice. When it was dependent on Whitehurst to win the regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams, Bates chucked the Air Coryell game plan and went with a hybrid spread offense that mirrored the kind of offense Whitehurst ran at Clemson. The fact that Whitehurst couldn’t find a comfort level in a more advanced passing offense after four years under Norv Turner in San Diego has to raise concerns among the coaching staff and front office.

Whitehurst’s future with the team seems questionable at best – he does not possess the short-to-intermediate accuracy required of any quarterback playing in a West Coast offense. To force a fit into the wrong scheme is a mistake best left to the dregs of the league.

Because of the neglect at the position through the Ruskell era, the Seahawks are at a critical crossroads. They must balance the desire to contend now with the realization that any quarterback currently in the league good enough to help with their current offense – say, Donovan McNabb – would be short-term option at best. That includes Hasselbeck. There are several quarterbacks available in this year’s draft, but none present the kind of measurable that Sam Bradford brought to last year’s draft.

Jake Locker is the obvious name on tongues of every football fan in Washington state, but Locker may be two full years away from possessing the kind of consistency it takes to succeed in the NFL. Florida State’s Christian Ponder may be the best option for the Bevell offense because of his mechanics and overall football acumen, but his ceiling is most likely lower than Locker’s. It also difficult to know if the franchise can get back to the Super Bowl without an elite quarterback.

The quarterback position is always the hardest to fill in any NFL offense; brilliant offensive minds like Brian Billick and Steve Mariucci have seen dreams deferred by the inability to find that franchise signal-caller. The Seahawks now stand on that same precipice, secure in the knowledge of only one thing – the decisions they make over the next few months will affect the team for years.

That’s how crucial it is to get the right quarterback – and to do so before you actually need one.


YourThoughts

  • dave crockett

    Come on Doug, I got love for your work but come on. To “below average” is an understatement to the point of being misleading. Only the likes of Derek Anderson and Max Hall have been worse than Hasselbeck. We are not talking “below average” here. We are talking about Hasselbeck being among the worst handful of QBs in the league. If Seattle is to climb out of this hole we all have to be perfectly clear about how deep it is.

    I am not anti-Hasselbeck. It’s possible that he is the best of a lot of bad options, though I tend to think that is an empirical question rather than some article of faith. Either way, he is without a doubt a very bad option. I don’t think a return to a “pure” WCO will compensate for what is now an objectively pitiful skill set.

    Seattle cannot afford to go into this off-season with the presumption that Hasselbeck is the “best option.” Seattle needs to leave all options on the table, short-term fixes and otherwise.

    • Doug Farrar

      Fair enough, but as I wrote in the article, what’s ther best short-term solution when Ruskell ignored the position for so many years? Is McNabb a better fit? Same basic skill level and no knowledge of this team. Want to give up a first-rounder for Kevin Kolb? Roll the dice on Alex Smith? See what Kyle Orton can do? Personally, I think Kolb is terribly overvalued based on the tape I’ve seen, and those other names don’t really inspire much.

      Even the draft is a crapshoot at the position this year; I don’t think there’s one quarterback that really makes your eyes pop out. That’s why I endoese the Hasselbeck solution in the short term — yes, the skill set has eroded, but what is a better option right now, and in the short term for this team to stay competitive at the most important position?

      Carroll and Schneider are already behind the 8-ball because of the previous administration’s mistakes. They have to balance the need to win now with the most important decision they will make, and they need a veteran quarterback who can tiw those two things together. It’s not a perfect option, but I think it’s the best one.

      • dave crockett

        As I said, Hass may be the best of a bad set of options–maybe. I’m not so sure whether that’s a given just because he knows the offense and personnel. (It’s not like that’s brought us much recently.) Even a modest upgrade in talent/skill at QB might far exceed what we could reasonably expect from Hass. I would not fear going back to the market if I were Carroll/Schneider.

        There’s a lot we don’t know about who might ultimately become available. Cincy may be willing to move Carson Palmer, and Palmer has some leverage. Even re-visiting Matt Leinart could be a better option. Those names don’t get me excited either, but based on everything we know they’re almost guaranteed to play better than Matt Hasselbeck in 2011.

  • SeaHonger

    The problems this year were Bates and the O-line. Glad to see Bates gone. Now time to fix the o-line.

  • MizzouHawk75

    I think SeaHonger is right on the money. No matter who is the QB, if the O-line can’t get it done, the QB is gonna look bad.

  • Pingback: Mariners Make It Official: Sonics Just a Memory | sportspressnw.com

  • Rich38

    Seahawk Fans,

    Don’t worry your heads off, I have more confidence in Pete Carroll and John Schneider, then that previous group the year before. They pass up Mark Sanchez, QB to Jets, our 1st round pick for Arron Curry,LB. I am still
    upset over that Draft Pick.

    Rich38

  • tappuller

    The thought of Hasselbeck coming to Seattle in a Niners uni is frightening! If Hasselbeck had been San Fran’s QB last season it would have been the Niners knocking off the Saints. Same probably for the Cardinals . How much fun would Hasselbeck have with Larry Fritzgerald? There’s just very little wrong with Hasselbeck that a good offensive line won’t solve.

    Also Rich38 you are dead on! Passing on Sanchez will eventually rank with the Hutchinsen debacle as the dumbest moves of the Ruskell era.

  • http://www.msnbc.com Johnny Unitas

    Matt Leinart? Come on, Leinart didn’t do anything worthwhile in Arizona…. despite having the opportunity to play with Kurt Warner and play on a Super Bowl quality team. The guy hasn’t stepped up since the end of his tenure at USC and I’d pass on him.

    You know, I think maybe we should draft Jake Locker. He’s got the work ethic, guts, and smarts to make a good franchise QB. Sure he’s a work in progress, but I’d take a gamble on him.

    In the short term, I agree that there’s no solution other than to resign Hasselbeck. To be fair to the guy, he has poor pass protection and his receivers are subpar. The running game continues to be a joke too. Though I hold out hope that Marshawn Lynch will turn on the magic next season.

    -Johnny Unitas

  • Pingback: Seahawks personnel review: The Quarterbacks | Seattle Seahawks 12th Man Army

  • http://Google Doug Sera

    It`s O-Line that`s the problem.They can`t protect the Quarterback,can`t block for the Run or Passing game…Oh granted it helps if you have a QB that can throw more than 15yds down-field accurately…that being said resign Hass.(use him to tutor our QB`s…..)