Hasselbeck vows back is healed, woes are over

RENTON, Wash. — Matt Hasselbeck has a 33-year-old body that's been pounded for the last seven NFL seasons.

He still has the frustration of missing more than half of last season because of a bulging disk in his back, the most he'd been out since becoming the Seattle Seahawks' starting quarterback for good in 2002.

Oh, the three-time Pro Bowl passer has one other thing: advice for his Seahawks.

They have been eyeing prized Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and Southern California passer Mark Sanchez while holding the fourth pick in this month's draft. If the team doesn't make a trade, it would be Seattle's highest selection since 1997, when it drafted cornerback Shawn Springs third overall.

Hasselbeck says if his Seahawks want to draft a franchise quarterback, they should provide a seat for the rookie on the bench.

"They can do whatever they want to do," Hasselbeck said Tuesday, his first practice day since early December as Seattle started a voluntary minicamp. "But I'm not going anywhere."

Hasselbeck's pride was wounded in 2008 as much as his back, which caused nerve issues down his leg and largely wrecked Seattle's season. He missed the most games (nine) of his career. He did not play again following a crunching hit from Dallas' DeMarcus Ware on Thanksgiving Day. Doctors told him his rested body should heal itself by the end of January and it apparently did, as Hasselbeck did not need surgery.

He would have been the NFL's lowest-rated passer (a career-low 57.8), had he played enough. The career 60 percent passer reached that mark in just one game. He threw for more than 190 yards in just one of his starts. He had 10 interceptions to just five touchdowns in seven games.

He is entering the fifth year of a six-year, $47 million contract with $16 million in guarantees. His cap number is to be about $9.5 million in 2009, leading to speculation the Seahawks may cut him for financial reasons, or at least seek to renegotiate his base salaries of $5.25 million and $5.75 million for each of the final two years of his deal.

Cutting the face of the franchise? It was done less than a year ago. The Seahawks dumped running back Shaun Alexander just two years into the eight-year, $62 million deal they gave him in 2006, soon after Alexander was the NFL's MVP.

"I mean, you could do that, that's your prerogative," Hasselbeck said of drafting a hot shot quarterback. "It won't change anything I do. I'm getting ready to play football this year. I am going to play football this year. I'm not concerned at all (about my back).

"It's always been a joke for me. I don't feel good about first rounders ... because I was a sixth-round pick. I don't watch the draft on Saturday. I watch the draft on Sunday."

Hasselbeck wasn't done with his rant against the draft. He is still stung at not even being invited to the NFL combine while coming out of Boston College, before he became a compensatory pick by Green Bay in 1998.

"What's his name, Mel Kiper?" Hasselbeck said. "Yeah, when I was picked, with pick 187, I think his exact words were something like, 'That's a waste of a pick.'

"At 187! So, you know, whatever."

Monday, Hasselbeck looked rusty throwing, but was far more fluid than while coming back in November for three losses before he stayed out for good. He believes exercises to strengthen his torso have made him a stronger thrower.

Some of those exercises came in work with noted physiotherapist Rick Celebrini. A former Canadian national and professional soccer player, Celebrini was recruited by two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash early in the fellow Canadian's basketball career to help Nash with his ailing back related to a congenital back condition, spondylolisthesis.

Hasselbeck said Celebrini has taught Seahawks trainers some of his methods to maintain a healthy back.

"I thought Matt looked ... good," Jim Mora said after his first practice as Seattle's coach. "I did notice that first throw of team (drills) he zipped it in there well. He moved around well.

"I was impressed with Matt. I am very optimistic."

Hasselbeck has it all in proper perspective.

"It's April," he deadpanned.

He said what made 2008 even more difficult was the Seahawks' insistence he go along with a week-to-week watch on his health late in the season. Doctors told him in October that if nothing more happened to his back he could avoid surgery. Hasselbeck says now he should have just been shut down for the end of an already lost season that ended with a 4-12 record.

Yet the team publicly kept alive the possibility he could return for one of the final games coached by Hasselbeck's mentor, the now-departed Mike Holmgren.

"I know last year was really hard and frustrating," Hasselbeck said. "And, personally, on how it was handled — every week wondering — I think that made it harder. Instead of just knowing, knowing the truth.

"Pretty much with everything last year, we all just want to put it behind us and just forget it."

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