Commentary

Quarterback shortcomings exposed

Leaguewide struggle to develop young QBs inflated worth of unproven Whitehurst

Originally Published: March 22, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The pursuit of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst by the Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals further illustrates the NFL's need to find better ways to develop quarterbacks.

Whitehurst hasn't thrown a regular-season pass in his four-year NFL career, but he was worth a third-round choice to the Cardinals, who couldn't get him. The Seahawks swapped picks in the second round of this year's draft and gave up a third-round pick in 2011 to get Whitehurst. The price asked for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb -- who has had two starts -- was astronomical.

The Whitehurst trade said a lot about this year's crop of incoming quarterbacks and the state of the young quarterbacks in this league. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks felt they probably weren't going to be in a position with the No. 6 pick to get Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen. In their eyes, Whitehurst topped Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Dan LeFevour and Tony Pike.

If you look at the success rates of drafted quarterbacks over the years, you'll see the problem. Teams are getting only two or three starting quarterbacks a year out of drafts, and most teams aren't re-signing drafted backups after their rookie contracts expire.

Just look at the draft classes from 2006 to 2008. Seven drafted quarterbacks -- six of whom were taken in the first round -- are starting for the teams that drafted them. Of the 28 selected after the first round, 15 are no longer with the teams that drafted them. That's why the Seahawks felt they had to take a chance on Whitehurst.

I'm sure NFL owners sneered at the offer from the UFL to invest in their league, but the NFL needs to seriously look at a developmental league for quarterbacks. In one way, the NFL is looking good because it has perhaps the highest percentage of top-level, high-performing quarterbacks in its history. But that creates a bigger gap for the teams that don't have top quarterbacks.

The Whitehurst trade suggests that this year's class of rookie quarterbacks isn't going to bridge the gap.

From the inbox

Q: Are Matt Hasselbeck's days numbered now that it's clear Charlie Whitehurst is destined to start some day in Seattle? Do you see Seattle and Denver working out a deal involving Hasselbeck plus some picks for Brandon Marshall? Thanks.

Kyle in Seattle

A: The clock is ticking now that the team has acquired Whitehurst, but at least Hasselbeck has this year to be the starter. He's in the final year of his contract, but Whitehurst is being groomed as the quarterback of the near future. The price for Whitehurst was much less than what it would have been for Kevin Kolb, who might have cost the Seahawks a No. 1 and a second-rounder in 2011. The Broncos aren't interested in Hasselbeck, so he won't be part of any Marshall trade. The Seahawks remain in the hunt for Marshall, but it becomes trickier now that they are at No. 60 instead of No. 40 in the draft.

Q: While I'm stoked about the Shanahanization going on in Washington, I find parting with Quinton Ganther and Marcus Mason (who was immediately picked up by S.D.) disconcerting. Both are young backs with promise, and Shanahan can make you and I 1,000-yard running backs. Why get rid of youth at a disposable position in favor of LJ? Not bashing LJ -- his moments in Cincy were favorable -- but with obvious rebuilding, why not save money for reconstruction of the O-line?

Jeff in Baltimore

A: The one that surprised me was Eddie Williams, a seventh-round back from a year ago, who was released and ended up going to Chicago. One thing you know about Shanahan is that he knows what he wants in backs, and getting Bobby Turner to come over as his running backs coach from Denver was also critical. Until he finds young backs he likes, he'll go with the veterans, but he also has the draft to find one he might like for the future. The Larry Johnson signing was interesting because he can make $1 million a year in incentives if he gets to 1,000 yards. I'd worry more about the offensive line than the backfield. That's the area in need of the biggest repair.

Q: Why in the world does Antonio Pierce remain unsigned? His production may have gone down the past few years and he had a season-ending injury this past season, but he is still a quality linebacker. He can lead a defense and is a fine, veteran presence in the locker room. I find it hard to believe an NFL team doesn't have room on their roster for someone like that.

Jacob in McLean, Va.

A: That's the problem with being a veteran and having a recent injury history. Remember, free agency is only two weeks old. The pace has been much faster than anyone anticipated, but veterans toward the end of their careers usually have to wait three or four weeks into free agency to find a market. The Rams still could do something with him, but they don't seem to be in a rush. The other problem is salary. Pierce might be reluctant to accept a deal for less than $1 million and that might be his market coming off last season. Pierce is also caught in the increasing change to a 3-4 defense, which is leaving fewer jobs for pure middle linebackers in 4-3 schemes.

Q: With the major need of a playmaker at wide receiver, why have the Dolphins not gone after Brandon Marshall? Trading the 12th pick for a top receiver whom you know is productive is a no-brainer. I would rather pay guaranteed money and know what I'm getting than on an untested draft pick.

Clint in Orlando, Fla.

A: Maybe Bill Parcells has questions about Marshall's character, or maybe he's just being patient and smart. No one is willing to give up a first-round pick this time for Marshall. The Seahawks don't want to give up a first-rounder. The Jets really aren't interested. The Patriots haven't stepped into the act. It's not out of the question for the Dolphins to wait until the draft to see if they can get him for a second-rounder. I think the best value for Marshall at this time is a No. 2, a No. 4 and maybe another lower pick in 2011. The Broncos will hold out for a first-rounder until the start of the draft, but after that they have to make some major concessions if they are going to get value for him.

Q: What are the Colts going to do now that CBs Tim Jennings and Marlin Jackson are gone? Jerraud Powers has speed but is only 5-foot-9, and his lack of height was exposed against taller receivers such as Randy Moss and Braylon Edwards. Do you think Bill Polian would consider trading up for Joe Haden?

Michael in Chicago

A: There won't be any trade up for Haden. The Colts have done well just sitting back and drafting defensive backs who come to them. They let Jackson go because of his injuries and let Jennings go because he was victimized all season as the third cornerback. They like Powers and Jacob Lacey. They paid Kelvin Hayden $8.6 million a year. That puts them in position to look in the later rounds for cornerback help. Powers and Lacey forced the moves of Jennings and Jackson.

Q: Can you tell me why Brian Brohm is already being written off by everyone? He wasn't given much of a chance in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers, conversely, had three years to develop in their system, and the Packers still weren't sold on him (as evidenced by them taking Brohm and Matt Flynn in the 2008 draft). I say Brohm has about as much upside as any of the QBs in this upcoming draft. Is this crazy talk?

Bryan in Brooklyn, N.Y.

A: It was pretty clear in Green Bay that Matt Flynn, a seventh-round choice, looked better than Brohm. That was noticeable from the first minicamp in Green Bay. It's hard to say what went wrong so far with Brohm. He seemed to lack confidence in the opportunities he has had. That's one of the problems in the NFL. If you don't grab those opportunities, they'll get away from you, and all of a sudden you find yourself on a UFL roster hoping to get back into the NFL. And saying Brohm has as much upside as anyone in this draft might not be saying a lot. The Seahawks thought so little of the quarterbacks in the draft that they traded for Whitehurst, who has never thrown a pass in four seasons in the league.

Q: John, I'm a big Tampa Bay fan and I am loving that they are standing pat in this FA market and seem mainly focused on the draft and building around Josh Freeman. I would like to see the Bucs draft on the defensive side in this year's draft to get that toughness back on that side of the ball. My question is, would you fault Tampa or consider it horrendous to look at someone like Dez Bryant, who has a lot of baggage? Pairing someone with Bryant's talent alongside Freeman sounds like a smart move.

Clinton in Tiffin, Ohio

A: Receiver is a need, and Bryant is the best receiver in this draft. Drafting him wouldn't be wrong, but taking him with the third pick would be wrong. I think Bryant might go from No. 10 on down in the first round, so the Bucs would have to trade down to get him. Bryant might be the best receiver in the draft, but he doesn't project as a top-five pick. He played in only three games last season, and he hasn't shown a lot so far this offseason. I think the Bucs will get defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He will be the anchor to the rebuilding of the defense.

Q: What is your assessment of the LT and Thomas Jones signings? Do you think it was a misstep by the Jets to let Jones go? My gut tells me Jones is probably the better back, but LT will have the better year. You can't go from one of the best O-lines (NYJ) in the NFL to one of the worst (KC) and expect your production to remain steady or increase.

Shane in Los Angeles

A: It's going to be hard for LaDainian Tomlinson to match what Thomas Jones did (1,402 yards rushing) in 2009, but it would be hard for Jones to match what he did. I'm figuring Tomlinson will get 15 or 16 carries a game with the Jets. Jones will be playing behind a less-talented offensive line in Kansas City. Still, I think Jones will have the better season.

Q: Why in the world would the Denver Broncos give up Peyton Hillis and draft picks for yet another journeyman QB? Brady Quinn is just a slightly younger version of Kyle Orton.

Richard in Wyoming

A: Actually, I like this move for the Broncos because of the price. Hillis is a good player, but the Broncos have plenty of running backs. If Josh McDaniels can turn Quinn into another Orton, he can have a longer commitment to him as the starter. I'm sure McDaniels looked at this year's quarterback crop after Bradford and Clausen the same way the Seahawks did when they traded for Whitehurst. If the Quinn move doesn't work out, the price (Hillis, sixth-round pick in 2011 and conditional pick in 2012) to acquire him wasn't bad.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer