Matt Hasselbeck signs with Colts to back up Andrew Luck

INDIANAPOLIS — Matt Hasselbeck started his career as a backup to Brett Favre. He could end it being the backup to Andrew Luck.

Less than 24 hours after being released by the Tennessee Titans, the 37-year-old quarterback signed with division rival Indianapolis. Terms of the deal were not immediately available.

It looks like a smart move for the Colts, who lost last year’s backup, free agent Drew Stanton, to Arizona last week.

Indy wanted a veteran backup to help mentor its two young quarterbacks — Luck and Chandler Harnish, the first and last picks in the 2012 draft.

While Luck set NFL rookie records for attempts and yards passing last season and finished among the league’s all-time rookie leaders in completions and touchdowns, he was sacked 41 times and hit dozens of others, something the Colts tried to fix last week by signing right tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas. Hasselbeck now becomes Plan B.

“Obviously they’re very, very well established at the quarterback position. But the more and more I talked about it with my wife, my family and my agent, obviously the reputation that the Colts organization has and the kind of player that Andrew Luck is, more and more it made sense,” Hasselbeck said in a conference call with Indy reporters Tuesday. “I would also say that the Colts interest from that moment that I got the phone call to this morning when I signed the contract, their interest just felt the most consistent and it just felt right. There’s 100 reasons why it’s a good idea and I could probably go through them all. But I can just say that I think it’s an obvious fit for a lot of different reasons and I’m really looking forward to it.”

This is not the first time Indy has turned to a former Titans quarterback for help.

In August 2011, after it became clear Peyton Manning would miss his first career start because of a nerve injury that caused weakness in his throwing arm, the Colts compelled former Titans starter Kerry Collins to come out of retirement. Collins started the first three games in 2011, then sustained a concussion against Pittsburgh and never took another snap. The Colts started that season 0-13 and finished 2-14.

Signing Collins was a desperation move.

Signing Hasselbeck, the Colts hope, is more of an insurance policy.

“His body of work, intangibles, and extensive league experience speak for themselves,” general manager Ryan Grigson said in a statement issued by the team. “Those factors, plus his familiarity with our offensive scheme, will make him a great asset to our team and its vision as we move forward.”

The Colts are getting a three-time Pro Bowler who led Seattle to its only Super Bowl appearance after the 2005 season. Though Hasselbeck started only five games last season for the Titans, he still completed 62.4 percent of his passes, threw for 1,367 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 81.0. In 2011, his first season in Tennessee, Hasselbeck started all 16 games, completing 61.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,571 yards, 18 TDs and 14 interceptions.

Originally a sixth-round draft pick out of Boston College who backed up Favre, former Packers coach Mike Holmgren thought so highly of Hasselbeck that he traded for him in 2001. Hasselbeck went on to have his best pro seasons with the Seahawks, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and turning the Seahawks into a perennial playoff contender.

His track record was enough to convince this season’s busiest team in free agency to give Hasselbeck one more chance.

“Shifting gears….insurance policies are VERY valuable…makes your pillow softer at night,” team owner Jim Irsay wrote on Twitter late Monday night, alluding to the impending signing.

Hasselbeck is the eighth free agent to sign with the Colts this offseason. The first seven deals totaled more than $100 million all in an effort to speed up the rebuilding process that began with Manning’s release 12 months ago.

With rookies starting at quarterback, running back and both tight end spots last season, the Colts made a remarkable turnaround going from 2-14 to 11-5 and back to the playoffs.

This offseason, the Colts have focused primarily on fixing a defense that has typically lagged behind the offense.

But finding a veteran backup was a rare concession that Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano both knew was needed.

And for Hasselbeck it seemed like a perfect fit.

“I do not know Andrew Luck yet, but I have a ton of respect for him just from watching film and just watching from afar, watching how he handled his college career and so far his pro career. I’m just excited,” Hasselbeck said. “I do believe that working with players that are very talented and guys that are really good, kind of in a sense the best in the world at what they do, makes you better. So I’m looking forward to that opportunity.”

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