Seattle's deal for Whitehurst most intriguing QB move of free agency
So far this month, with
Combine the other nine of those moves, and it still wouldn't be anywhere near as intriguing as the roll of the dice Seattle took by boldly trading for San Diego's Whitehurst in a deal that has boom/bust potential written all over it. Whitehurst was the little-known and even lesser thought of No. 3 quarterback in San Diego, behind starter
But that didn't stop the Seahawks and Cardinals from getting into a bidding war of sorts over him, a war Seattle wound up winning by swapping second-round picks with San Diego (the Bolts make an eye-opening jump from the 60th overall pick to the 40th) and sending the Chargers a third-rounder in 2011. The Seahawks then capped off the stunning turn of events by reportedly awarding the unproven ex-Clemson product a two-year, $8 million contract that includes another $2 million of incentives.
That's a ton to give up for a 27-year-old QB who hasn't started or won a game since 2005. The Seahawks are clearly gambling on Whitehurst being ready to take over for
So what exactly did the Seahawks see in Whitehurst to justify their leap of faith? In regular-season action, he's rushed twice for 13 yards. That's it. In preseason games, he owns a dreary 61.5 passer rating, with five touchdowns and seven interceptions, mostly in mop-up duty. He's got good size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and good bloodlines (his father,
Wanting to know more about Seattle's would-be savior, I called Chargers general manager
"We just fell into it," Smith said of the trade talks that emerged after San Diego tendered Whitehurst, a restricted free agent, at a third-round level (his original draft slot). "We tendered a third, at a $1.1 million (salary) this year, [thinking] if he returns to us this year, we'll have the same rock and roll band again this season with Rivers, Volek and Whitehurst.
"But now here comes the activity, and it's between Arizona, which had a standard third-round pick, and Seattle. But there's a little bit of a twist because the Seahawks didn't have a three. So I presented a package to them that I thought was attractive to us, and it's accepted. They wanted the player. And that's how it went down." (It feels like the words "lo and behold" should be in that quote somewhere, but I checked, and they're not.)
I asked Smith if he knew of any obvious linkage that tied Whitehurst and new Seattle head coach
"I think they liked him in Clemson and they tracked him through college and in the preseason," Smith said. "They've done their research and made a judgment. They've looked at his intangibles, his background, where he's been trained, what kind of a guy he is, and what his study habits are. I think that's all positive. I think the only thing missing is the body of work as an NFL player."
No small detail, that. But Smith also revealed that the gap in San Diego between the experienced Volek at No. 2 and Whitehurst at No. 3 wasn't as large as most assumed. Volek somewhat surprisingly re-signed with the Chargers in 2008, blocking the still-not-ready Whitehurst's path to the backup job. But since then, Whitehurst's improvement under the tutelage of offensive-minded head coach
In many ways, Seattle's gambit echoes the successful move it made nine years ago, when then-Seahawks head coach/general manager
"I'm prejudiced for the guy, because he was our third guy," Smith said. "I think he's going to be a success, and obviously Pete Carroll in Seattle feels the same way. It's a judgment call. But he's a very talented player and he's been a great pro for us. He's a great team guy, and his work ethic and preparation are excellent. Especially for a guy who's not a snap away from playing. We think he's gifted and has all the tools. And he's been in the NFL and with a great program here, with other good quarterbacks.
"I think he's ready for the challenge. He hasn't played in the NFL, due to the circumstances here, but we have to say that about college players coming out in the draft every year. They're getting an outstanding player."
Long term, this may wind up being a steal for Seattle. But until Whitehurst proves himself, it'll be scored as a heck of a coup for Smith and the Chargers. Especially if San Diego lands itself a blue-chip player at No. 40 in April.
"Your words, not mine," Smith said after listening to my instant analysis of the trade. But he was laughing when he said it, and I think I know why.