Seahawks’ Hiring Spree Begins Now; Will It Include Matt Hasselbeck?

I don’t care how many meetings, off-sites, or team-building events you’ve got on your Outlook calendar, there’s no way you’re busier than Seahawks GM John Schneider. He’s got nine months’ worth of work to do this week.

If Schneider’s annoyed, I wouldn’t blame him. His bosses (NFL owners) and their employees (NFL players) have been locked in a labor dispute since February–aka Schneider’s usual window to re-sign existing players and draft picks, woo veteran free agents, sign undrafted rookies, and broker trades with other teams. Now, Schneider must do all that in about seven days, and he won’t get a day of rest like that lazy, unionized God did.

This sucks for Schneider, but for football fans it’s thrilling. Instead of the usual slow drip of signings and trades that go on during the long NFL break, we’ll enjoy a monsoon of moves. The clouds burst today.

As of 7 a.m., Schneider (with heavy input from Seahawks head coach and “executive VP of football operations” Pete Carroll) can make trades, sign rookies, and negotiate with free agents. Seahawks training camp begins Wednesday. On Friday at 3 p.m., he may begin signing free agents to contracts.

Job one for Schneider and Carroll: Figure out who’ll play quarterback.

Quarterback is a position unlike any other in professional sports. Besides his responsibility for pre-snap adjustments, and the fact that he handles the ball on every play, the quarterback is seen as the de facto team leader–whether you’re playing on an NFL field or two-hand touch in the park.

Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks’ starting quarterback for the past ten seasons, is a free agent. Though aging and prone to injury, Hasselbeck provides stability, which could be appealing in this bizarre year. The man is a leader–Hasselbeck organized and led team workouts during the training-camp-less offseason, despite having no contractual obligation to the team. Yet Hasselbeck’s incumbency is not as critical as it might normally be. The Seahawks hired a new offensive coordinator in the offseason. Under former Minnesota Vikings OC Darrell Bevell, who prefers a run-heavy version of the West Coast offense, Hasselbeck must learn a new, if not entirely unfamiliar, playbook.

Given the compressed training camp schedule, a quarterback who already knows Bevell’s system may be a better fit. So you might be hearing the name “Tarvaris Jackson.” It’s a name you may have heard before–as the punchline to a joke.

Once a promising quarterback prospect for the Vikings, Jackson has never recovered from a comically inept performance in the 2008 playoffs, which compelled the Vikings to replace him with 97-year-old Brett Favre. Still, Jackson’s five seasons in Minnesota coincided with Bevell’s tenure there. If there’s one quarterback who could step in right now and run that offense, it’s Jackson. Well, Jackson and Favre, but let’s not go there.

The Seahawks have one quarterback under contract: Charlie Whitehurst, acquired last year as the presumed successor to Hasselbeck. Whitehurst did not impress coaches, to the point that the Seahawks had to develop a special “training-wheels” game plan for his emergency start in the pivotal Week 17 game against the Rams.

Hasselbeck, who made $5.75M last season, may well get offers approaching that from other teams–money that in the rebuilding Seahawks’ case would be better invested in younger players. Then again, Hass did throw 4 TDs in a playoff game last January. Jackson hasn’t thrown 4 TDs in a game since 2008. Whitehurst hasn’t thrown 4 TDs in his entire NFL career.

Other possibilities:
Kevin Kolb, who was Wally Pipped by Michael Vick, and now wants a trade. The Seahawks will surely be in on the bidding for Kolb, but may not be able to match desperate Arizona, still shell-shocked from Year One of the post-Kurt-Warner era.
Matt Leinart, who won the Heisman Trophy under Carroll at USC but flopped in Arizona.
Carson Palmer, another former USC Heisman winner who’s had more NFL success (though not as much since his 2008 elbow injury). Palmer has demanded a trade from Cincinnati.
-Vince Young, who won 30 of 47 starts as the Tennessee Titans QB but will be released due to his emotional instability.
Donovan McNabb, if the Redskins release him from his massive contract (he’s actually younger than Hasselbeck).
Kyle Orton, a solid starter for Denver the last two seasons, now on the trading block with Tim Tebow ready to take over.
Rex Grossman, who has, at times, been a competent NFL quarterback.

Complicating things even more, any free agent QB the Seahawks sign–even Hasselbeck–couldn’t practice with the team until August 4.

Besides finding the person who’ll be the most important player on the team, Schneider must also decide whether to resign several Seahawks who started last year but are now free agents. These include defensive line star Brandon Mebane, starting safety Lawyer Milloy, starting offensive linemen Chris Spencer and Sean Locklear, and kicker Olindo Mare.

The action will come in Twitter-time. Follow ESPN’s Mike Sando (@espn_nfcwest), or the Seattle Times’ Danny O’Neil (@dannyoneil) for breaking news. For in-depth, Seahawks-centric analysis, check out Field Gulls or the inadequately-named Seahawks Draft Blog. And once the downpour’s over, I’ll be back to try to make sense of it all. Unless the Seahawks sign Brett Favre, in which case I’ll have drowned myself in an Occidental Ave. puddle.

You can buy that pin (illustrated by Mad Magazine’s Jack Davis) for $15 at Seattle’s Gasoline Alley Antiques. Here’s all their Seahawks memorabilia.