As the Seahawks wait for Charlie Whitehurst to decide whether he wants to sign with them or Arizona, it’s worth wondering what the Hawks have offered San Diego in trade for the 27-year-old quarterback and what they have offered in money to Whitehurst.
Because the Chargers tendered Whitehurst at his third-round draft level and the Hawks do not have a third-round draft pick, the only way they can acquire him is via trade.
The Hawks might be able to get the Chargers to swap seconds. According to the NFL draft trade chart, that would be a pretty equitable deal; the 40th pick (500 points) for the 60th (300 points) and a guy who was drafted 81st (185 points).
Otherwise, the Hawks probably would have to dip into next year’s draft, perhaps a second-rounder in 2011. Or a fifth this year and third next year.
So what kind of contract should a team offer a four-year vet who has never thrown a pass in the NFL and is still untested?
A deal with built-in incentives and performance escalators for future salaries.
With Matt Hasselbeck still signed for 2010, Whitehurst doesn’t figure to start this year. But he needs incentive to sign, so give him a $3 million signing bonus and $2 million base salary.
Then add incentives for being the starter, such as $200,000 per game started and $250,000 bonuses each for 25 TD passes, qualified passer rating of 90+, playoff appearances (as long as he won at least one start during the season), each playoff win he starts, and a Pro Bowl berth. So if he starts every game, goes to the Pro Bowl, and leads the Hawks to a Super Bowl win, he could make as much as $10.2 million in 2010.
In 2011, make his base salary equal to his 2010 total compensation—i.e., $2 million base plus achieved incentives, for a possible $7.2 million.
In 2012, build in a $5 million option bonus so the Seahawks must decide whether to keep him or let him go elsewhere. Make his 2012 base equal to his 2011 compensation.
So the total base deal would be $18 million for five years, including the $3 million signing bonus this year and $5 million option bonus in 2012. In the end, it could be simply a two-year deal for $7 million or, at the maximum, a five-year contract worth $44 million.
Whitehurst was the Chargers’ third-round pick in 2006, but he has been stuck behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek. The 27-year-old could be another Hasselbeck or Matt Schaub—a guy who learned the NFL from the sideline before getting his shot elsewhere.
At 6'4", Whitehurst has perfect size, a strong arm, excellent mobility, and good pocket presence. He lasted until the third round in 2006 because he was too inconsistent in college; the scouting report on him says he tried to force too many throws downfield.
Having been coached by Norv Turner for the past three years and watching Rivers evolve into one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Whitehurst surely has learned what it takes to play in the NFL. And it looks like it might just about be his time to do it.
If the Seahawks do bring in Whitehurst, what of Hasselbeck?
If he plays at a Pro Bowl level again, the Seahawks would have no choice but to give him a new contract next year and keep Whitehurst as the backup. However, if Hasselbeck gets hurt again and Whitehurst plays better than Hasselbeck did, the Hawks would then probably let Hasselbeck go in free agency in 2011.
Basically, this is a make-or-break year for Hasselbeck in Seattle. But we already knew that.
The question at hand is: What is Whitehurst worth?