Cut Matt Hasselbeck?

Should the Seattle Seahawks release quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to save $6.3 million dollars in salary cap room for 2009? Adam Schefter of the NFL Network suggested that it may happen after the 2008 season. Brian McIntyre of Seahawks.Net takes a look at how much sense, if any, that actually makes.

 

Adam Schefter of the NFL Network has created quite a stir among Seattle Seahawks fans when, during Sunday's NFL GameDay Morning show on the NFL Network, he suggested that Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck could be a salary cap casualty this off-season. (Schefter also blogged about this on the NFL's official website)

Schefter writes that by releasing Hasselbeck, the Seahawks would create $6.3 million worth of salary cap space. Schefter adds that 2009 is the final season of Hasselbeck's contract. According to the NFLPA data, Hasselbeck's contract runs through 2010 and based on my unofficial salary cap calculations, Hasselbeck's cap number actually decreases by $2.7M in 2010. (His original signing bonus was prorated over 5 years, not 6, since his present contract was signed in 2005, before the 2006 collective bargaining agreement was ratified.)

Setting aside the current state of the Seattle sports scene, where aside from Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners, Matt Hasselbeck is the most recognizable and marketable athlete in Seattle, is releasing Hasselbeck to save $6.3 million dollars in salary cap room the most prudent thing Tim Ruskell could do for the franchise?

For starters, who would play quarterback?

New England's Matt Cassel is a free agent after this season. However, less than three months ago, Cassel's miserable performance in August made it unlikely that he'd get the chance to be the next Scott Zolak. Now that he's been given the chance to play with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and has posted solid numbers, an NFL front office has to be wary about Cassel being the next Scott Mitchell.

Cleveland's Derek Anderson has roots in the Northwest (he attended Oregon State) and depending on the long-term outlook of Brady Quinn's finger, the Browns may choose to release Anderson to avoid paying him a hefty roster bonus in 2009. Anderson made the Pro Bowl in 2007, but has struggled in his last dozen starts and was benched in favor of Quinn two weeks ago.

Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb could also be available, though with quarterback-starved Minnesota and Chicago (McNabb's hometown team) potentially interested in the 5-time Pro Bowler, acquiring the 32-year old quarterback will cost a high draft pick and a large financial investment.

Seattle could start Seneca Wallace and look for Hasselbeck's replacement in the draft. However, despite the recent success of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, they are the exception, not the rule.

Seattle has also committed nearly $300M in contracts and used 70% of its "Day One" draft picks in recent years in an attempt to upgrade a defense that presently ranks 29th in the NFL. So going with Wallace or a rookie starting quarterback, and expecting the defense to carry the team to the playoffs is a shaky proposition for this front office to make to its season-ticket holders.

As tempting as releasing Hasselbeck to get $6.3 million in salary cap room might be, the bottom line is that in 2009, when the Seahawks are coming off what could be a 3-13 or 4-12 season, and the best head coach in franchise history is off riding a Harley somewhere in Arizona, or worse, is heading up a division rival's front office, Seattle will need a veteran quarterback they can sell to the ticket-buying public and the network executives who put the NFL's primetime schedule together.

The best guy to do that is Matt Hasselbeck.

Given Hasselbeck's age (33) and medical history, it's natural to wonder how much longer he can continue to play at a Pro Bowl level. Welll, among current NFL Most Valuable Players candidates, three (Brett Favre, Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner) are quarterbacks over the age of 36. Two of the "usual suspects" in the MVP discussion, both quarterbacks, will turn 33 (Peyton Manning) and 32 (Tom Brady) before next season, and both are coming off major knee surgeries.

NFC South-leading Carolina is led by a 33-year old quarterback (Jake Delhomme) who had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow a year ago. Thanks to their 38-year old quarterback (Jeff Garcia), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are right behind the Panthers and would have an NFC Wild Card spot if the season ended today. One of the biggest reasons the Miami Dolphins have gone from 1-15 and the #1 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft to contending for an AFC playoff spot has been the presence of quarterback Chad Pennington, who turns 33 in the off-season and has had two major operations on his throwing shoulder.

Much has been made of the bulging disc in Hasselbeck's back, but his return to the starting lineup, despite the Seahawks being 2-7 and out of serious contention for the playoffs, is an indication that the team's medical staff does not view his back injury as one that threatens his career. Given how well Hasselbeck takes care of his body, there's no reason to suggest that Hasselbeck can't perform, and perform well, when he's 36-37 years old.

So instead of cutting Hasselbeck, here's a suggestion to create some precious salary cap room: Turn all or part of his base salary into a signing bonus, significantly reduce his base salary and add a couple of years to the deal.

Doing so would create some immediate salary cap room, would allow the Seahawks to hang onto the most important player on your roster while transitioning to a new head coach and gives the team the time to draft and develop his eventual replacement.

Restructuring Hasselbeck's contract won't get you all the way to $6.3 million, but there are other ways to get there.

Here are two:

Wide receiver Deion Branch has a 2009 cap number of approximately $7.3 million dollars. Based on my amateur calculations, if Seattle released Branch after this season, and designated the transaction as a "post-June 1st" move, his 2009 cap number would drop to $2.37M, freeing up $4.94M in cap space in 2009, but also creating nearly $4.8M of dreaded "dead money" on Seattle's cap in 2010.

Releasing Branch and taking the full brunt of the cap hit in 2009, as Ruskell chose to do with Shaun Alexander last off-season, would sweep the deck of the $101M worth of contracts the Seahawks front office paid for the two offensive playmakers in 2006. The cap savings of such a move would be just over $200K.

(If Branch is released, I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of the team taking the full brunt of the cap hit in 2009. They wouldn't reap the benefits of the $4.94M in savings until June 2nd and Ruskell isn't shy about making sweeping changes at a position. Plus, the $4.8M in dead money on the 2010 cap would be better spent as a 2nd year roster bonus in a contract offer to a certain member of the defense who is eligible for free agency after the season.)

Another potential way to free up cap space would be by releasing running back T.J. Duckett, who is due $2.5M in base salary as well as a $2.05M roster/option bonus in 2009. Duckett's cap number next season is $4.95M and if Seattle were to release him, and take the full $1.6M hit from his $2M signing bonus, Seattle would create $3.3M in cap space in 2009.

$3.3M in cap space can go a long way in free agency, particularly in the first year of the contract. Below is a look at first and second year cap hits from the last 5 "big money" contracts the Seahawks have handed out.

Player

Y1 Cap

Y2 Cap

Grant, Deon

$1.51M

$3.65M

Kerney, Patrick

$2.42M

$7.41M

Tatupu, Lofa

$2.64M

$6.17M

Locklear, Sean

$2.65M

$6.65M

Trufant, Marcus

$2.77M

$9.77M



Brian McIntyre lives in the Boston area. In addition to writing for Seahawks.Net, Brian maintains his own blog (www.macsfootballblog.com) and charts games for Football Outsiders. If you'd like to e-mail Brian, you may do so here.


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