An Emerald City Exit?
Hasselbeck would like to stay with Seahawks, but with contract set to expire nothing is guaranteed
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck knows all too well the realities of the NFL, even if he’s avoided many of the harsher ones over the past decade.
Hasselbeck’s father, Don, played six seasons as a tight end with the New England Patriots before his career sent his family bouncing across the country. From Boston to the Los Angeles Raiders to the Minnesota Vikings and then the New York Giants, all in a three-year span.
In contrast, Hasselbeck has been fortunate tohave played the past 10years of a 12-year career representing one team in one city — perhaps for a final time Sunday when the Seahawks face the Chicago Bears in an NFC playoff game.
When Hasselbeck discussed the uncertainty surrounding his future with his younger brother last offseason, he noted the itinerant lifestyle of their youth.
“It’s just what we did,” said Tim Hasselbeck, himself a former NFL quarterback. “Matthew understands that. He said, ‘I’ma football player. It’s what I do. If Ihave to gosomewhere else to play, I’ll go somewhere else to play.’ ”
“I feel like we’re getting hot right now, getting hot at the right time.”
— Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks quarterback
The winner of Sunday’s Seahawks-Bears battle advances to the NFC title game. If Hasselbeck finds himself on the losing side, he’s not certain where he’ll play his next game. His contract expires at the end of the season, and he hasn’t been offered an extension. Though Hasselbeck has held down the quarterback position for a decade, it’s not clear whether he fits into the organization’s future plans, and first-year Coach Pete Carroll offers few promises.
“Certainly, it’s a big topic for us,” Carroll said last week. “Of course, we love what Matt has done and we’re going to do everything we can to keep him here, of course. But we don’t know what the timelines [are] or how that’s going to work out.”
Told the next day that Carroll vowed “to do everything we can” to keep Hasselbeck in Seattle, the veteran quarterback told reporters, “I went and gave him a hug.”
He was joking, butit illustrates Hasselbeck’s strong desire to continue his career in the city where he’s found so much success. Sunday marks his 11th playoff start for the Seahawks. He’s played in three Pro Bowls. Five of Seattle’s eight playoff wins have come with Hasselbeck leading the huddle. In 36 seasons, the Seahawks have won seven division titles; five were with Hasselbeck. He’s been there for six of their 11 trips to the postseason and their lone trip to the Super Bowl after the 2005 season.
Dealing with uncertainty
Because he’s playing in a far corner of the country, much of his success has come without the kind of attention that seems to follow Tom Brady’s every trip to the grocery store.
“If he had his career with the Jets or the Bears, his career would be viewed so differently,” says his brother Tim, now an analyst for ESPN.
Yet when Carroll came on board last offseason, not only did he withhold any firm commitments to Hasselbeck, but the Seahawks traded away draft picks to acquire another quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst, signing him to a two-year, $8 million contract.
So the burning question that hangs over Hasselbeck at Soldier Field on Sunday is the same one that’s followed him every Sunday these past 41/ months.
“ There can’t be a single guy in the NFL in the last year of his contract that doesn’t think about it, doesn’t wonder where he’ll be next year,” says Tim. “And that feeling is probably only stronger when you’ve been in the same place for nine or 10 years. Certainly you think about it. The bigger issue: Can you continue to play well and not let it become a distraction?
“I’m sure Matthew won’t talk about it, but it must have entered his mind because I know it entered mine — Will this be his last game with the Seahawks?”
For his part, Matt Hasselbeck has said the right things all season long, as he faced some variety of the same question. Though he’s 35 years old, he feels he’s earned the chance to start every week in the NFL.
“I’m very focused on this year,” Hasselbeck said last week. “We’ve talked all year, even from last year. Pete and I and everybody here, we’ve been very open about everything and I would love to be back, absolutely, no doubt about that.
“But my focus isn’t really there, my focus is definitely on trying to get this team winning games, trying to play well, and if you do that — just like in a football game — if you focus on just doing things right, the score takes care of itself.”
He certainly did his part last week. Hasselbeck was “ridiculously good,” Carroll said, against the New Orleans Saints in the most adverse of circumstances. Just a couple of weeks earlier, fans were chanting for Whitehurst. Hasselbeck had missed the team’s previous game — the win that sealed their playoff berth in Week 17 — and had to enter the postseason against the defending Super Bowl champs with the knowledge that no team with a losing record had ever won a playoff game.
The Seahawks were backed by a raucous home crowd, a group so vociferous that local scientists said it produced a seismic reaction equivalent to a small earthquake. Hasselbeck threw for four touchdowns in leading the seven-win Seahawks over the Saints in one of the biggest postseason upsets the NFL has seen.
‘Finding a rhythm’
Despite their regular season struggles — the Seahawks lost seven of their final 10 games, and Hasselbeck at one point had 13 turnovers in a four-game stretch — the quarterback says his team is coming together at the perfect time.
“I think in sports you can get in a slump and you can get hot. I feel like we’re getting in a rhythm,” Hasselbeck said. “We’re finding a rhythm. I think we feel like we’re getting hot right now, getting hot at the right time.”
The task ahead of them is no easy one. Only once this season did the Seahawks string together back-to-back wins. They’re only in Year 1 of a multi-year rebuilding project, and they lack the offensive weapons of the other playoff teams.
“We can see what we want. We see the vision of what we’re trying to create,” Carroll said. “It just hasn’t been consistent for us.”
But not surprisingly, the team’s inconsistency runs parallel to Hasselbeck’s own. He threw 17 interceptions this season and only 12 touchdowns. He topped 300 yards only twice, 250 yards just four times and posted a passer rating higher than 100.0 in only three games.
“I know that about myself in general. Like I can get really hot or really cold at times — I get that,” Hasselbeck says. “It drives me crazy when it’s other athletes that I follow, like Ray Allen or somebody. Like Ray Allen, he’s a good example. He can be on fire, and then sometimes he’s not on fire. It’s frustrating as you watch him and it’s even more frustrating when it’s you. But that’s just it; the only thing you can do about it is just keep working hard, keep practicing and hopefully get hot. As hot as Ray, that’d be good.”
The goal now is simply to play well enough to prolong the Seahawks’ season another week. But Hasselbeck knows that a strong performance Sunday against the Bears could be another important statement about his future.
If the Seahawks want him back, they might have to make a promise about playing time that Carroll isn’t willing to make. Hasselbeck intends to start in the NFL next season — he just doesn’t know where.
“I know for a fact, if he’s not the starting quarterback in Seattle next year, he’ll be the starting quarterback somewhere,” Tim Hasselbeck said. “It comes down to, does [General Manager] John Schneider and Pete Carroll want him to be their starting quarterback? If they do, they’ll have a good chance of having him back. But if they don’t, he’ll probably have to look outside of Seattle.”
Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll has offered few promises toMattHasselbeck.