RENTON, Wash. (AP) – Call it faith. Call it a predraft smoke screen.

Call it loyalty earned.

Seahawks president and general manager Tim Ruskell said Friday he thinks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is as good as ever.

That sounds like the 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 Southern California’s Matt Sanchez. Unlike most teams, Seattle will likely 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.”

Seattle flopped from rulers of the NFC West to 4-12 last season. Star left tackle Walter Jones is 35 years old and is coming off major knee surgery. And the team is currently without a proven outside linebacker. The Seahawks traded Julian Peterson, 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 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 they would take if available at No. 4. The team is still haggling with prioritizing that select list.

Hasselbeck missed the most games (nine) of his career in 2008. 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. 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.

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 Canadian national and professional soccer player, Seahawks coach Jim Mora said during a minicamp this month that Seattle’s starter since 2002 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 Hasselbeck had this answer when asked the possibility his Seahawks would draft a quarterback: “They can do whatever they want to do. But I’m not going anywhere.”

As for teams seemingly in need of a quarterback and may be willing to trade up with Seattle to get Stafford or Sanchez – such as the New York Jets and Denver Broncos – 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 having to guarantee rookies $20 million or more. The NFL has recently watched the market skyrocket for guaranteed money given to the top five picks, but it has dropped precipitously after that.

Ruskell, Seattle’s GM since 2005, is a veteran of more than two decades of scouting and has made draft decisions for Atlanta as the assistant GM (2004) and Tampa Bay, where he worked for 17 years. He says this draft is as unpredictable as any he has seen.

“There really are no franchise players in this draft,” he 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.”

AP-ES-04-17-09 2129EDT

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