The Charlie Whitehurst Trade Wasn’t So Bad After All

Public perception of the Charlie Whitehurst trade has been exaggeratedly negative, and most of the reason for it is baseless.

Seattle Seahawks acquired Whitehurst for a 2011 third-round pick, and swapped second-rounders with the Chargers to acquire Whitehurst, then they signed him to a two-year, $10 million extension.

All that, and Whitehurst has never thrown a pass in the pros.

Independently, any of those things are potentially damning to any fan, pundit, or journalist.

Together, they’ve created a perfect storm of stuff that even the biggest Charlie Whitehurst, Pete Carroll,  Norv Turner, or Jeremy Bates fan has doubts about whether the Seahawks gave up too much for Whitehurst.

The problem is that people tend to dig in on one side of the fence for trades like this, without using precedent (which determines market value, by the way).

Since Whitehurst got drafted in 2006, only four fairly high-profile quarterbacks have been traded: Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, Matt Schaub, and Matt Cassel, each of whom had a unique set of circumstances that led to their respective trades.

The Seahawks trade of Seneca Wallace, though locally important, is merely a career backup being traded to once again be a backup.

Orton and Cutler were traded for each other, in a trade of historic proportions. While the trade was absolutely unique to itself—an elite quarterback entering his prime being traded—it is a perfect example to display the occasionally-complicated measure of net loss or gain in trades involving draft picks.

Over the years, there have been several reports about teams still using the draft value chart (DVC)—a chart originally made famous by Jimmy Johnson.

While there is valid and often interesting criticism of the chart, it offers a unique insight into how teams conduct player valuation.

Obviously, in recent years, teams like the Patriots—and any team with eyes on trading into the top 10—have begun to factor rookie salary into their valuation.

But for the purposes of this article, we’ll use the original chart, and evaluate various quarterback trades.

The equation works as follows:

((Team A Player)+(DVC value of picks))-(combination of DVC value and player value from Team B)=Net Value

And future picks, which hold a presently-undetermined value, carry a range in the equation, which spans the entire possible value of the pick, from the highest it could be to the lowest in terms of draft position.

So, in the case of the Cutler-Orton trade, it would read like this.

(Jay Cutler+2009 140th overall pick, worth 36 points)-((Kyle Orton)+(2009 18th overall pick, worth 900 points)+(2010 11th overall selection, worth 1250 points)+(2009 84th overall pick, worth 170 points)=Net Value

And the conclusion is that Bears ended up trading Kyle Orton, and 2284 DVC points, equivalent to the third overall pick and the 105th overall pick, for Jay Cutler.

Obviously, the Bears figured they’d be more successful than they were, and that the pick would fall much lower in the draft than it did.

However, at its absolute minimum the net value would have been 1694 DVC points, which is equivalent to the sixth overall pick, the 102nd overall pick, and the final pick of the draft, 224th overall.

But Orton and Cutler had a combined 2,113 career pass attempts.

Whitehurst has none.

Better examples are Matt Schaub and Matt Cassel, each of which had much less experience than both Orton and Cutler.

Schaub had 161 pass attempts in three seasons backing up Michael Vick.

Cassel, while backing up Tom Brady, had 39 pass attempts in his career until Brady tore his ACL in 2008, and Cassel threw 516 passes in his absence.

Cassel was traded to the Chiefs for the 34th overall pick (worth 560 points), and Mike Vrabel. He’d later sign a six-year, $63 million contract with $28 million guaranteed.

Schaub was traded for Houston for the Texans 2007 and 2008 second round picks, 39th and 48th overall respectively, and swapped their eighth overall pick for the Falcons 10th overall pick (worth a total of 1030 points, or equivalent to the 16th and 154 overall picks). Schaub signed a six-year, $48 million contract with a $7 million signing bonus.

By contrast, the Seahawks swapped their second round pick with the Chargers second round pick (40th pick for 60th pick, worth a net loss of 200 points for the Seahawks), and they also sent their 2011 third-rounder (which has a max value of 265 points, and a minimum value of 116 points).

So the Seahawks compensation range is 316-465 points.  And they have Whitehurst for the next two years with minimal guarantees on an extension signed in an uncapped year (where presumably the entire prorated bonus is allocated for future cap purposes).

For historical reference, here are five mid- to late-round quarterbacks traded without a boatload of experience, their DVC trade value, and the amount of regular season attempts they had before the trade.

1995: Mark Brunell, 283.4 DVC points, 27 attempts

1998: Rob Johnson, 1446 DVC points, 35 attempts

1999: Brad Johnson, 1815 DVC points, 937 attempts

2001: Matt Hasselbeck, 577.4 DVC points, 29 attempts

2004: A.J. Feeley, 550 DVC points, 168 attempts

Obviously the Hasselbeck trade has worked out pretty well, but this list shows that to this point, forgiving the small sample set (quarterback trades are rare), there is very little correlation between ultimate success and the amount of career pass attempts.

Also, only Brunell was traded for less than the maximum compensation the Seahawks could end up giving up for Whitehurst.

And if Whitehurst’s bonus is structured against the cap how I assume, and he ends up proving to be an inadequate NFL quarterback after receiving playing time, the Seahawks will be able to release him with no penalty.

Only in the case of Brad Johnson and Feeley did the player traded away not sign a contract for five years or more.

And Matt Cassel’s cap hit for the first three years of his contract is four times that of Whitehurst’s entire contract.

Seahawks could have been in position to draft a quarterback early.

When it comes to big risks, top 10 quarterbacks may lead that charge.

Last year’s fifth overall pick, Mark Sanchez, received a five-year, $44.5 million contract, with $28 million guaranteed.

Also, Brady Quinn got traded two weeks ago. Quinn has struggled during most of his short career, and the former first-rounder ended up being traded for Peyton Hillis and a sixth-round pick.

However, even a short resume is better than a poor one.

But the most painful part for the Browns, was that while they drafted Quinn only three years ago, they also traded a first- and second-round pick to get him. It ended up being a 540 point net loss for the Browns, all to trade their franchise quarterback a few years later.

But none of that, of course, makes Whitehurst a good quarterback, but rather a better value than most traded quarterbacks, at least at this point.

And there isn’t much statistical backing, even in preseason, that indicates that Whitehurst will be a proficient quarterback.

However, Norv Turner’s high regard for Whitehurst has to mean something. Whitehurst was tendered with the same level of compensation as his original pick, despite not playing a single regular season down for his entire career, and spending most of it as a third-stringer behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek.

Turner hasn’t coached a statistically dominant Hall of Famer, or future Hall of Famer, unless you count Drew Brees’ rookie year when Turner was his offensive coordinator.

I don’t count Drew Brees.

I do, however, count Troy Aikman. 1991, when Turner became the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator, was the first of six consecutive Pro Bowl years for Troy Aikman.

Actually, apart from Aikman and Brees, Turner has coached the likes of Gus Frerotte, Brad Johnson and Phillip Rivers to Pro Bowls. He also coached Trent Green to prominence—making him attractive for the Rams, and ultimately the Chiefs front office.

And even Jay Fiedler played acceptably under Turner.

But the truth is, if it is his own doing or not, Turner has allowed several good quarterbacks to leave the teams he’s coaching, and he worked hard to keep Whitehurst on his team.

I’m no NFL scout, but the fact that Turner wanted to keep him, and Jeremy Bates wanted to get him, has to speak volumes.