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Seahawks GM Ruskell backs veteran Hasselbeck as starting QB

RENTON, Wash. -- Call it faith. Call it a pre-draft smoke screen.

Call it loyalty earned.

Seattle Seahawks president and general manager Tim Ruskell said Friday that he believes veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is as good as ever.

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That sounds like the Seahawks, owners of the fourth overall selection in next week's draft, are sticking by their three-time Pro Bowl passer, despite Hasselbeck being 33 years old and coming off a back injury that caused him to miss nine games last season.

"I still think he's in his prime," Ruskell said.

That suggests Seattle will not take and then pay tens of millions in guarantees to a quarterback with the No. 4 pick. The Seahawks, like all teams, have been eyeing prized Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and USC's Matt Sanchez. Unlike most teams, Seattle likely will have a chance to take one of those two top-rated passers.

But Ruskell also said, "There's no position we are ruling out -- and that's kind of unique."

The Seahawks flopped from rulers of the NFC West to 4-12 last season. Star left tackle Walter Jones is 35 years old and coming off major knee surgery. And the team is currently without a proven outside linebacker. Seattle traded Julian Peterson to the Detroit Lions, and Leroy Hill stayed away from this month's minicamp. Hill is refusing to sign an $8.3 million tender as the Seahawks' designated franchise player.

Jones said two weeks ago that he is progressing well in his rehabilitation from microfracture surgery in December. Ruskell said Jones will be ready for training camp that begins in late July.

Ruskell also said the Seahawks have settled on four players that they would take if available at No. 4. The team is still haggling with prioritizing the list.

Hasselbeck missed the most games (nine) of his career in 2008. He didn't play again following a crunching hit from Dallas' DeMarcus Ware on Thanksgiving Day. Doctors told Hasselbeck that his rested body should heal itself by the end of January and it apparently did, as Hasselbeck didn't need surgery.

Hasselbeck would have been the NFL's lowest-rated passer (a career-low 57.8) had he played enough. He had 10 interceptions to just five touchdowns in seven games.

Hasselbeck is entering the fifth year of a six-year, $47 million contract, with $16 million in guaranteed money. His salary-cap number will be about $9.5 million in 2009, leading to speculation that the Seahawks might 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.

Hasselbeck has said he's a stronger thrower since last season because of rehabilitation work that strengthened his torso. Some of those exercises came in work with noted physiotherapist Rick Celebrini. A former professional soccer player, Celebrini was recruited by two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash early in the fellow Canadian's basketball career to help him with his ailing back.

Seahawks coach Jim Mora said during a minicamp this month that Hasselbeck will be ready when the season starts Sept. 13. Hasselbeck participated fully in that minicamp.

Ruskell's endorsement of Hasselbeck on Friday came 10 days after the quarterback had this answer when asked the possibility his Seahawks would draft a player at his position: "They can do whatever they want to do. But I'm not going anywhere."

As for teams such as the New York Jets and Denver Broncos, who seemingly need a quarterback and might be willing to trade up with Seattle to draft Stafford or Sanchez, Ruskell said he hasn't heard from them.

"The phone's not ringing off the hook," he said. "We'd be listening. But this is our hand, and we're excited about the guy we're going to get."

Ruskell believes any trades that might happen in the first round will begin after the seventh overall choice. That's because most teams aren't willing to trade into a spot in which they must guarantee rookies $20 million or more in a contract. Teams recently have watched the guaranteed money given to the top five picks skyrocket, but it has dropped precipitously for the players selected after that.

Ruskell, the Seahawks' GM since 2005, is a veteran of more than two decades of scouting and has made draft decisions for the Atlanta Falcons as the assistant GM (2004) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for whom he worked for 17 years. He believes this draft is as unpredictable as any he has seen.

"There really are no franchise players in this draft," Ruskell said. "(At No. 4), you think of who will make an impact on your team as quickly as possible -- except for a quarterback. That guy, you're going to groom."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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