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Seattle Seahawks' Trade for Charlie Whitehurst Is Worth the Gamble

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Seattle Seahawks' Trade for Charlie Whitehurst Is Worth the Gamble
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“I don’t have a ton of experience in game situations, and I understand. That's kind of what I have to make up here pretty soon and convince everybody this was the right thing to do.” -- quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, addressing concerns that the Seahawks paid too much for him in draft capital and cash.

***

Just about everyone agrees the Seahawks gave up too much for Whitehurst, and it certainly appears the Hawks might have been able to get him for less.

But, if he’s the guy who can replace Matt Hasselbeck as Seattle’s next franchise passer, the Seahawks didn’t really give up that much for a small gamble on greatness (or, at the least, good-enoughness).

Sentiment is running about 60-40 in favor of this move, but here are some of the complaints from the Seattle fans and observers who don’t like this deal: 

1) They gave up too much for a 27-year-old third-string quarterback who has never thrown a pass outside of the preseason. Boo hoo.

2) They won’t draft a quarterback in the first round now. Boo hoo.

3) They can’t trade for Brandon Marshall now. Boo hoo.

4) Blame Tim Ruskell for trading away the 2010 third-rounder that could have been used to sign Whitehurst without trading down in the second round or giving up next year’s third. Boo hoo.

Other than the price of the deal, those complaints are all pretty silly. But let’s address each of those concerns logically, shall we?

First of all, remember, the last time the Seahawks made a move like this for a quarterback, the stakes were even higher and it worked out quite well. To get Hasselbeck in 2001, the Seahawks dropped seven spots in the first round (10th to 17th) and swapped a third-round pick for a seventh with Green Bay.

At the time, we thought that deal was fair, considering Hasselbeck had played very well in the preseason and had already been coached in the West Coast offense by Mike Holmgren.

We were among the very few who supported Hasselbeck in that lost 2001 season, when everyone else was calling for Trent Dilfer. DIL-FER! DIL-FER! DIL-FER!

And now we’re willing to see what happens with this Whitehurst trade, which is really not a very big gamble, all things considered.

As we projected last week when the Hawks’ interest in Whitehurst came to light, a swap of second-rounders, with no other picks involved, would have been just about the right price to pay for a third-round rookie.

However, Whitehurst has had the benefit of four years of tutelage by Norv Turner, one of the best offensive minds in the NFL. Even though he has not played, Whitehurst has absorbed much knowledge and seen it applied expertly by Philip Rivers.

That explains why San Diego general manager A.J. Smith asked for the 2011 third-rounder. And it probably explains why Seattle general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll apparently did not make a counter offer to try to lower the 2011 pick to a fourth or fifth.

As Schneider told reporters, “We value our draft choices, but we consider Charlie part of our draft class.”

Essentially, they got an extra player this year (a possible future starting quarterback, no less) without decreasing their net number of picks, and they still have a second-round pick.

The draft points in the NFL draft trade chart net out to a late second-round pick, and that’s not a bad price to pay for a guy who is ready to play now. At the very least, the Seahawks will be getting an upgrade at the No. 2 QB position.

They also don’t need to consider drafting a quarterback unless one naturally falls to them as the old “best player available” in a later round. Their two first-rounders and the second-rounder can be used to focus on left tackle, defensive end, safety, running back and cornerbackor perhaps trading for (ugh) Denver receiver Brandon Marshall.

For those who love the punk (we’re not in that crowd), the deal for Marshall is not off the table simply because the Hawks dropped to the bottom of the second round. The Broncos want to get rid of Marshall and will lower their asking price once draft week arrives and they realize there still is no market for him.

The Hawks will not give up a first-rounder on one of the NFL’s biggest thugs, even if they think he might be starting to mature. But they will consider the second-rounder and perhaps another pick.

This is where they could make up for getting beaten in trades for Whitehurst and Seneca Wallace (a seventh-rounder?).

As for blaming Ruskell for vacating the third round in last year’s draft, that’s ridiculous. While Ruskell failed with most of his first-round picks during his five years in charge, he had an excellent draft last year.

He picked Aaron Curry fourth overalla no-brainer. He traded out of the second round to acquire Denver’s first-round pick this yearthe reason the Seahawks have the 14th overall pick to go with their No. 6.

He traded back into the second round to get Seattle’s new center, Max Unger. And then he gave up the 2010 third-rounder to trade back into the 2009 third round to draft receiver Deon Butler, yet another good move.

It was quickly obvious that Butler has all of the makings to be a solid pro receiver. His most obvious attribute is his speed, but he catches the ball expertly (with his hands) and has a knack for running good routes.

It is unfortunate he didn’t get to play more last season, but he should figure prominently going forward.

So, to criticize Ruskell for trading away the 2010 third-rounder for Butler is ridiculous. It’s part of the draft-day trading game.

Ruskell maneuvered expertly last year; he got the Hawks an extra first, got back in line in time to grab Unger and returned to get a guy who will turn out to be a solid pro receiver.

So, no, the Hawks had no third to offer the Chargers, but Schneider and Carroll decided they were willing to part with next year’s third instead (plus the swap down).

It’s a small price to pay if Whitehurst becomes the next franchise quarterback. And if he doesn’t, it’s still not a terrible price to pay.

As for concerns that Whitehurst was “just a third-string quarterback,” well, he was actually a second-string QB disguised as a No. 3.

Smith told SI.com’s Don Banks that the only reason Whitehurst, the Chargers’ third-round pick in 2006, was behind Billy Volek on San Diego’s depth chart was because Volek was more experienced. (Plus, Volek is one of the top backup QBs in the league.)

Lack of experience seems to be Whitehurst’s only weakness at this point. His strengths, by all accounts: good size (6-4, 220), a strong arm, a quick release, excellent mobility, intelligence and pocket presence.

“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,” Smith said. “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.”

Carroll told reporters: “He’s got the mobility that we love. He’s got a big arm. He’s hungry to play. He’s been waiting for his turn. And that attitude he brings, as well as the athleticism and his throwing ability, makes him a guy that we’re really pumped up about.

“We thought we saw enough,” Carroll said of Whitehurst’s inexperience, “the fact that he is such a good athlete, that he does run so well, that he's got very good feet and just generally good speed for the quarterback position that we think enhances the style of play that we intend to put out there. We felt good enough about that evaluation.

“We took our time, now. We didn’t rush through this judgment at all. We looked at everything. We've seen every snap he’s had about three different times.”

As for the money, which reportedly is $8 million over two years, who cares? Money is not an issue for Paul Allen’s team in an uncapped year.

And even if the salary cap returns in 2011, it won’t be a problem for a team that paid $9 million to Deion Branch and Patrick Kerney last year, with cap values over $7 million for each.

In fact, if (when?) the Hawks get rid of Branch and Kerney, that will save them more than $21 million over the next two years.

Some think the Seahawks will try to trade Hasselbeck to get Whitehurst on the field now. But that doesn’t make much sense.

First, Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates have sung the praises of the veteran quarterback ever since they joined the Seahawks.

Second, even after the Whitehurst deal, Carroll made it clear that Hasselbeck is still the Seahawks’ starting quarterback. Third, there likely would not be much of a market for Hasselbeck.

If the Seahawks were going to try to trade Hasselbeck, the best place would have been Cleveland, where Mike Holmgren is in charge.

But the Hawks gave (and we do mean “gave”) backup QB Seneca Wallace to the Browns instead, and Holmgren signed Jake Delhomme to be his veteran starter.

Other teams that could use a quarterback include Buffalo, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Oakland and Washington.

But Hasselbeck is likely worth more to Seattle than he is to other teams, who won’t want to give up much for a 34-year-old quarterback who has missed 11 games over the past two years and has only one year left on his contract.

No, the best move is definitely to let Whitehurst arrive with no pressure in 2010 and let him learn Bates’ offense. If he has to step in for an injured Hasselbeck, so be it.

Some have mentioned the idea of letting Hasselbeck start the season and then replacing him once he struggles. But any problems he may have will be symptomatic of bigger offensive issues.

Hasselbeck rarely plays poorly (forget those two aberrational four-pick games late last season, which can be attributed to a horrible offense, a bad line and stubborn receivers not doing what they were supposed to do).

As long as Hasselbeck is healthy, there will be no reason to bench him. If the team becomes as bad as last year’s, even Whitehurst won’t be able to save it, but the Hawks might want to play Whitehurst to get him experience. OK, so be it then, if that happens.

But what if the team makes a quick turnaround and Hasselbeck plays like he did in 2007, when he had his best season ever.

In that case, Schneider and Carroll would have a big decision to make in 2011: Do they re-sign Hasselbeck and leave Whitehurst on the bench for another season? If the team is in position to win in 2011, the answer would be simple: Yes.

But those are questions for next year. For now, Whitehurst will back up Hasselbeck.

“Matt’s obviously our guy that we’ve been excited about for a good while, and we’re pumped to have him,” Carroll said. “Charlie’s going to fit into this competition and take it as far as he can. And we have big expectations for him for the long haul.

“We’re counting on Matt to lead this thing, and Charlie is going to take his shot at it every turn.”

And no matter how it turns out, it’s worth the gamble.

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