COMMENTARY | Criticize a leader's inexperience all you want, but the end-results are what will matter, and this holds true for NFL signal callers. Teams are increasingly willing to push unseasoned quarterbacks into the frying pan, although the science of unearthing a star is still a crapshoot, if the current league landscape is any inclination.
Clubs like the Oakland Raiders, who in April acquired Matt Flynn for two draft picks from the Seattle Seahawks, have taken a less-traveled route to find a franchise linchpin, picking the leftovers from organizations with stable quarterback situations. There stands a belief that teams with great offensive systems develop great quarterbacks, and the Green Bay Packers have particularly exploited this notion as a seller (Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks were all dealt for a third round pick at minimum).
Is trading valuables for a raw signal caller from a successful organization worth the cost? Based on results since 2003, probably not (unless you're negotiating for a Packers backup). Excluding Matt Cassel who had an entire year to display his skills with the New England Patriots before joining the Kansas City Chiefs, here are the once-alluring mysteries:
Would you trade a second round pick for a third-string quarterback? If you're Rick Spielman, of course. In 2004 the former Miami Dolphins general manager exchanged the thirty-fifth selection in 2005 to obtain Feeley from the Philadelphia Eagles. The 2001 fifth round choice made his name in 2002 when he won four of five starts (with some help by a lethal halfback committee) in place of an injured Donovan McNabb and Koy Detmer but returned to the depth chart basement the season after. This didn't discourage Spielman from pulling the trigger, and the move backfired as Feeley couldn't unseat Jay Fiedler in the preseason. Fiedler's own ineffectiveness led to the offseason "prize" making eight starts, where he tossed more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (11). Gus Frerrotte supplanted Feeley for good the next season.
In the ultimate come-up scheme, the Houston Texans bartered a third round pick for Henson's services in 2004 after drafting him in the sixth round a season earlier. The Dallas Cowboys viewed the Michigan star and ex-baseball player as a future cornerstone despite never participating in an NFL practice. Incumbent starter Quincy Carter's release in training camp opened the door for Henson, but he was beat out for the job by a 40 year old Vinny Testaverde. Head coach Bill Parcells gave the ex-New York Yankee a start on Thanksgiving, but he ruined many dinners, completing 4 of 12 passes for 31 yards and an interception before a halftime benching. After a year of headset duties in 2005, Henson was assigned to NFL Europe (where he belonged in the first place) and waived from the Cowboys in August.
As the David Carr era stalled out, the Texans bet the rent to get the rights to Schaub, surrendering two second round selections, in addition to swapping first round picks (moving down from eighth to tenth overall) with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. The 2004 third rounder from Virginia had two career starts at the time, but one was a three touchdown performance against the Patriots, which won the heart of G.M. Rick Smith. Since the high-stakes gamble, Schaub has collected 20,911 passing yards (leading the NFL with 4,770 aerial yards in 2009), 118 total touchdowns and two Pro Bowl nominations with the Texans. He is by far the best quarterback in the expansion team's history.
Another third-stringer-turned-expected-franchise-savior, Whitehurst sat behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek in San Diego before donning a Seahawks uniform in 2010. The 2006 third round pick (who answers to the name "Clipboard Jesus") had never thrown a regular season pass, but that didn't stop head coach Pete Carroll and company from flipping a second and third round choice in exchange for the backup and a lower second rounder. Whitehurst couldn't wrestle the starting role from an aging Hasselbeck but played efficiently in an emergency start in a week 16 division clincher against rival St. Louis, which earned him leeway. Nevertheless, the strong-armed pro couldn't overtake Tarvaris Jackson the following offseason, and he played poorly when Jackson was hobbled (going a combined 16 for 37 for 149 yards, two fumbles and an interception in two starts) before getting the hook and ending his Seattle tenure.
By 2011, many fans had forgotten the Feeley fiasco, and perhaps Arizona Cardinals G.M. Rod Graves. Kolb was the thirty-sixth selection in 2007 and was the first NFL man under center to throw over 300 yards in his first two starts (he had seven starts with the Eagles), so his talent was intriguing enough to trade Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second rounder. Kolb was paid like a top-tier passer (after inking a five year, $64 million contract upon his arrival) but he failed to lead with his play, yielding eight interceptions and eight fumbles in his inaugural desert campaign before getting shelved with concussion symptoms. In 2012 Kolb started on the sideline and won back his job after a John Skelton injury on opening day, but he was battered and bruised in part to horrendous pass protection (he absorbed 22 sacks in his last three starts) and his season was done after week six. The veteran declined to restructure his deal in March and was quickly released.
Rui Thomas is a freelance sports writer who is published by Goldengatesports.com, Sportsoutwest.com, Fannation.com and Radiosurvivor.com. Follow his tweets @MrRuiThomas.
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