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Players have a lot more off time this offseason

MATT HASSELBECK Makes most of downtime MATT HASSELBECK
Makes most of downtime (File/Associated Press)
By Greg A. Bedard
April 17, 2011

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Matt Hasselbeck may be 35 years old, but in a way he’s feeling like a rookie again thanks to the lockout.

Normally at this time of year players are actively involved in workouts at team facilities, but the month-old lockout has forced them to make other plans.

At one point Hasselbeck, a native of Norfolk who has played 12 NFL seasons, 10 with the Seahawks, said he was throwing passes to Seattle tight end John Carlson “in a parking lot in front of a Goodwill and a mattress store.’’ Hasselbeck just completed his second week at Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix. But overall there’s been a lot more downtime than he’s used to.

“In a way, it’s a little bit old-school,’’ he said. “When I came into the NFL in 1998, the Packers had come off a second straight Super Bowl and there was no such thing as an [organized team activity]. Offseason program, the lifting and running, was really, truly optional. It was an actual offseason. What’s happened now, especially the last two years, I’ve had a new head coach. You come in and you start right away on March 16 and it’s basically training camp all the way through. So this year has been disappointing in a sense that there’s a lot of uncertainty. But at the same time it’s really been nice to kind of unwind from the season and spend some time with your kids and family.’’

That includes his two brothers, and parents Don and Betsy Hasselbeck, who still live in the house they bought in 1978, one year after Don was drafted as a tight end by the Patriots out of the University of Colorado.

The far-flung family got some rare time together recently when the Hasselbecks were honored for their charitable work with the “Golden Heart’’ award during an annual gala held by Athletes First, the agency that represents Hasselbeck and several other NFL players.

“It was just a good opportunity for me to honor my mom and dad because they’ve just been awesome through everything,’’ said Hasselbeck, who added that he gets back to New England about once a year since wife Sarah hails from Connecticut. “They’ve not only meant a lot to me and my brothers and our wives, but also to so many other players that they’ve gotten to know through different places. It was just a cool opportunity for us together.’’

So while the offseason has been nice for Hasselbeck, whenever a new collective bargaining agreement is forged between the owners and players, he’ll have to deal with a new, stark reality as a free agent.

Hasselbeck and the Seahawks failed to reach an agreement on a new contract before the lockout.

“I would put myself in the same boat as probably 500 other guys,’’ Hasselbeck said. “It’s kind of hard to do a deal without knowing what the rules of the game are, and so most of us free agents were just kind of sitting in a holding pattern until this new CBA comes down. And we all knew it was going to be that. There’s maybe a handful of guys that were going to definitely get done before the lockout began and I truly thought that I would be one of those guys potentially, because of my desire to stay and everything [the Seahawks] had told me. But it didn’t happen and that’s OK. I’m not upset about anything. I understand it’s kind of a weird year and it’s a hard year to forecast.

“I’m definitely hopeful that I’ll be able to stay in Seattle, but at the same time I understand the first thing’s got to happen first and that’s definitely reaching some kind of labor agreement.’’

As for his talks with the Seahawks, Hasselbeck said there was little doubt in his mind that the team wanted him back before the lockout forbade communication between player and team.

“I think it’s genuine, I think it’s sincere that they want me back, it’s just a matter of how badly,’’ he said. “I know that I would like to be there, I think I can help them keep going on what we’re building there, it’s just a matter if it fits into the new agreement and how they want to do things and whatever else they look at.’’

At one point late last season it looked as if Hasselbeck was playing out his final games with the Seahawks, who had traded for and spent a lot of money on quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.

The Seahawks, with Whitehurst starting for an injured Hasselbeck, won the season finale against the Rams to capture the NFC West with a 7-9 record. But Hasselbeck returned for the playoffs and had a career game, throwing for 272 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of the Saints. The Seahawks lost to the Bears in the divisional round, but Hasselbeck had solidified himself as a veteran who wasn’t quite finished.

“I loved playing for Pete [Carroll],’’ said Hasselbeck. “I really like the group of coaches he brought with him and the staff that he assembled. The trade for Charlie was, I think in a way they felt it was necessary because the organization really hadn’t invested in the quarterback position in so long. We went years without really drafting or addressing the situation. So that was not a big deal at all. The hardest thing was just all the roster turnover that we had. I think we had 284 roster moves, and for that reason, as quarterback of the team, I just felt like it was the toughest year trying to just work with a new combination of teammates seemingly every week. It was challenging. But I would also say it’s probably the year that I’m most proud of in terms of just holding it all together, guys weathering the storm and coming together as a team.

“So, I’m really happy with how it went. We didn’t have a wonderful season in terms of being 7-9 but we weathered the storm, we won the games we needed to win to win our division, and we beat the world champs at home. It could have gone even better but we were really fortunate and it was a lot of fun.’’

Hasselbeck is a realist. He realized the Whitehurst trade wasn’t a reflection on him, it was part of the business and he dealt with it. So Hasselbeck also realizes the Seahawks — or another team he ends up with — could pluck a young quarterback in the draft. One possibility is Jake Locker from the nearby University of Washington, whom Hasselbeck has gotten to know well.

“He’s a great kid, just a wonderful, wonderful guy,’’ Hasselbeck said. “I feel like he’s the kind of guy who would be a great leader on a football team. Just really, really gifted and talented. Almost off the charts with his strength and explosiveness and his running ability. I’ve just seen him play a little bit, but just an awesome guy to be around. He’s just got some of those qualities that you just can’t coach.

“And I understand it could be a reality with me this year, whether it’s with the Seahawks or wherever that I’m with a guy like that, a young guy.’’

And don’t think for a second that Hasselbeck would resent a young upstart. Being a mentor as his career winds down is something that interests him.

“I was fortunate in my career to be around some great veteran quarterbacks and just learned so much from them,’’ Hasselbeck said. “I’m kind of excited for that kind of an opportunity to maybe be on a team with a really talented young guy and just get the opportunity to pay that forward just a little bit, things that I’ve learned along the way. If I can share that with a really talented guy that’s willing to work and listen, that could be a really fun thing. And at the same time hopefully be on a really good team.’’

But that’s for later. Hasselbeck has an offseason to enjoy. Those don’t happen very often.

MONEY TROUBLES
Some already seeking loans Barely into the second month of the lockout, there’s already been some disturbing news on the financial front for players.

Players from at least 16 teams have at least shown interest in taking out short-term loans with high interest rates and fees, according to a report from ThePostGame.com.

The report cited a source that indicated the interest rates range from 18 to 24 percent, and could rise to as high as 36 percent on default.

“I know at least 16 different teams that have had players go out and have to set these [high-risk loans] up,’’ said a financial adviser in the report. “Guys on the Dolphins, Saints, 49ers, Panthers, Chargers, Bears, Vikings.’’

Players from the Patriots were not mentioned in the story.

Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who serves on the board of the directors for the team’s NFL Players Association chapter, had not read the story but said players had been advised to save for the lockout for two years.

“Some guys listened, some guys didn’t,’’ Hasselbeck said. “And then we took to the NFLPA to basically force savings.’’

Reports have recently surfaced about the NFLPA’s “lockout fund,’’ in which players who were active the past two seasons could receive up to $60,000 in six installments while the players are locked out. Those payouts began on Friday.

Hasselbeck said the fund hasn’t been accurately depicted. That money has been funded by the players, not fronted by the NFLPA.

“What we voted on was basically we didn’t trust everybody and we basically mandated savings,’’ Hasselbeck said. “It’s still your money, but we’re going to save it for you and then we’ll pay it out to you during the lockout if it comes. And that’s where we are now. It’s their money that they saved but the NFLPA saved it for guys.’’

On the surface it’s mildly troubling that players, who at minimum made $250,000 a year, can’t ride out a few months on their salary. But what many don’t understand is aside from roster or workout bonuses given to about half the players during the offseason, players make most of their money during the season when their base salary is distributed in each of the 17 weeks of the regular season.

And for young players, lockout expenses can add up if they’re not fronted by their agents.

“Right now, you typically get $400 a week to work out,’’ Hasselbeck said. “And then you still have health insurance. But right now no one has health insurance, so you’re paying for health insurance through COBRA, which is not cheap. And you’re not getting paid to work out and then if you’re serious about your job you’re probably somewhere now where you are now paying to work out. So the opportunity revenue is gone so it’s kind of a switch, especially if you’re a young guy. It’s a monthly swing that could be pretty significant.

“We need guys to keep their health insurance, we need guys to stay in shape otherwise the quality of our game is going to suffer, the quality of our teams is going to suffer. At least on our team, I think guys are doing a pretty good job.’’

GETTING PICKY
Early look at the draft With the draft rapidly approaching, it’s time to take a stab at our first mock draft. The final version will appear April 28:

1. Carolina PanthersCam Newton, QB, Auburn. Unless the Panthers are putting out one heck of a smoke screen, they’re going with Newton’s high upside as opposed to instant impact.

2. Denver BroncosMarcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. The Broncos are in desperate need of a tackle who can anchor coach John Fox’s 4-3.

3. Buffalo BillsVon Miller, LB, Texas A&M. The Bills tied for 27th with 27 sacks last season and need a ton of help.

4. Cincinnati BengalsA.J. Green, WR, Georgia. Patrick Peterson is almost too good to pass up here, but the Bengals opt to make Carson Palmer happy.

5. Arizona CardinalsPatrick Peterson, CB, Louisiana State. The Cardinals go for one of the surest players in the draft.

6. Cleveland BrownsRobert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. Would be a landing spot for Da’Quan Bowers, but knee concerns push him down.

7. San Francisco 49ersBlaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. There are accuracy concerns, but Jim Harbaugh gets the quarterback he needs.

8. Tennessee TitansNick Fairley, DT, Auburn. Julio Jones could get a look here with Kenny Britt’s troubles, but Titans go with best available.

9. Dallas CowboysTyron Smith, OT, Southern Cal. Offensive line coach Hudson Houck prefers size over athleticism, but upside is too good to pass up.

10. Washington RedskinsJulio Jones, WR, Alabama. The Rams could move up to take Jones. If not, the Redskins will add a playmaker.

11. Houston TexansPrince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. Do you fix Houston’s atrocious secondary with a pass rush or cover guys?

12. Minnesota VikingsCameron Jordan, DE, California. Jordan’s father, Steve, was a Pro Bowl tight end for the Vikings, who are desperate for line help.

13. Detroit LionsAnthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. If the Lions really want to see what Matthew Stafford can do, they have to keep him upright.

14. St. Louis RamsCorey Liuget, DT, Illinois. Unless they trade up without a rookie cap on the horizon, Rams wait for wide receiver help.

15. Miami Dolphins — Mike Pouncey, G, Florida. Jeff Ireland resists taking Mark Ingram and goes with a safe, need pick.

16. Jacksonville JaguarsRyan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. They get a younger version of Aaron Kampman, whom Kerrigan will bookend.

17. New England Patriots — J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. Aldon Smith and Gabe Carimi are tempting, but Watt is a perfect Patriot who fills a need.

18. San Diego ChargersCam Heyward, DE, Ohio State. The Chargers need a better anchor on the defensive line and get him here.

19. New York GiantsGabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. The Giants need to begin rebuilding their offensive line.

20. Tampa Bay BuccaneersDa’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. They’d be thrilled if the talented Bowers falls because of concerns about his knee.

21. Kansas City ChiefsAldon Smith, DE, Missouri. Scott Pioli could go in a number of directions, but this is too good an athlete to pass up.

22. Indianapolis ColtsNate Solder, OT, Colorado. Bill Polian is still kicking himself for passing on Rodger Saffold last year.

23. Philadelphia EaglesJimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. Some character issues but is too talented to pass up in area where help is needed.

24. New Orleans SaintsMuhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple. Saints need to get better up front to help out the secondary. A linebacker is possible.

25. Seattle SeahawksDanny Watkins, OG, Baylor. Seahawks were terrible on the line last season and Watkins can play anywhere.

26. Baltimore RavensAkeem Ayers, LB, UCLA. Ravens need an upgrade opposite Terrell Suggs and Ayers’s athletic ability would fit nicely.

27. Atlanta FalconsAdrian Clayborn, LB, Iowa. There are some medical concerns, but Falcons can’t pass on the rush.

28. Minnesota Vikings — Jake Locker, QB, Washington. Patriots flip this pick for a 2012 first-rounder and a 2011 selection. There is not good value here, but if Patriots stay they pick Derek Sherrod.

29. Chicago BearsDerrick Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. Bears need help on the line and Sherrod could start at guard and then move outside.

30. New York JetsPhil Taylor, DT, Baylor. With Kris Jenkins not likely to return, the Jets need bodies in the middle.

31. Pittsburgh SteelersAaron Williams, CB/S, Texas. As we saw in the Super Bowl, the Steelers need help in the secondary.

32. Green Bay Packers — Jabaal Sheard, OLB, Pittsburgh. Expect Packers to deal out for a team seeking a quarterback. If they stay, Sheard brings needed pass rush to complement Clay Matthews.

THINKING OF OTHERS
Jets’ Ihedigbo doing his part Amherst native and former UMass standout James Ihedigbo continues to make a large impact off the field.

The Jets safety was honored April 9 as the Nigerian Healthcare Foundation Faces of Hope Humanitarian of the Year.

Ihedigbo recently traveled to Nigeria, from where his parents emigrated more than 30 years ago, with several NFL coaches and players to put on a three-day flag football clinic for 200 children.

In 2008, Ihedigbo founded the HOPE (Help Our People Excel) Africa Foundation, which helps fund scholarships to American universities, agriculture and community development projects, and tutoring and mentoring programs.

Ihedigbo also traveled to Haiti last year to assist in earthquake relief efforts.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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