Matt Hasselbeck had no choice but to wait and watch as the Tennessee Titans endeavored to sign free agent quarterback Peyton Manning.
Three days after their efforts to try to replace him proved fruitless, Hasselbeck said he would choose to come to Tennessee all over again as he did last summer when he was a free agent.
“I like what we’ve got going here,” Hasselbeck said Thursday in a conference call with Middle Tennessee media. “I really like the offensive line. The skill guys are very talented. I like the coaching staff. I like the division we’re in. I like everything about it.
“I think, in a sense, sure you’re competitive about all these situations. This would be no different. In terms of getting your feelings hurt … I guess in my career I’ve played with a lot of quarterbacks and some were more talented than others, some were more talented than me. Part of being a quarterback is being able to be coached, being able to handle criticism well, being able to handle criticism by your coach or by outside factors.”
The Titans’ pursuit of Manning lasted less than a week. The former Indianapolis Colts and University of Tennessee quarterback met with franchise officials at the team’s training facility on March 14 and three days later conducted a workout for them in Knoxville. On Monday, Manning chose to pursue a deal with the Denver Broncos.
On the day Manning was in town, Hasselbeck said he was with his young children and some of their friends at the state high school basketball tournament in Murfreesboro. While there, he had what he described as a friendly encounter with the wife of general manager Ruston Webster.
“If the owner wants to make a change and pursue someone in free agency, that could happen on any team, anywhere, anytime,” Hasselbeck said. “I guess for me at the end of the day … I get it with the Peyton thing. But I’m excited we get a chance to finish what we started here, and I’m very confident in my abilities to get it done as a quarterback.”
Hasselbeck admitted that he figured the Titans would be interested in Manning the moment the Colts released the NFL’s only four-time most valuable player.
“I sort of expected that just because of who he was in the state,” he said. “I get it. It wasn’t a shock to me. … I knew that Tennessee was a team that was rumored because of his history here in the state of Tennessee — being the quarterback at the University of Tennessee and his jersey’s retired and all of that.
“… I’ve got a tremendous, tremendous respect for Peyton Manning, the player, who he was at Tennessee, who he was in this division, and the four-time NFL MVP and one of the top quarterbacks to play this game.”
He said that franchise officials such as Webster and coach Mike Munchak kept him informed throughout the process.
“All I could go on with them was that they were being honest with me throughout the process,” he said. “As a player, I think that’s all you can really ask for.”
He said he had not heard from Manning regarding the process, nor did he expect to.
He even theorized that the uncertainty that the pursuit of Manning created among the Titans quarterbacks — and the entire roster — might help to strengthen their bond as teammates.
“We all kind of went through this together,” Hasselbeck said. “We all kind of sat back with our hands tied — there wasn’t anything we could do about it — we just had to see what happens and we made it through.
“If Peyton Manning had chosen to come to Tennessee, I would not be playing for the Titans next year. And that would have been unfortunate, in my mind.
“I’ve been fortunate to play a long time, and I feel like we’ve got a good thing going here in Tennessee in terms of … I guess I would say if I could choose again, if I had to make the choice this year like I did last year I still would choose Tennessee.”
Fortunately for him, Manning did not.