Niners need be wary of QB market

The 49ers have taken part in five trades involving six quarterbacks since 2002, none of which had much consequence. But it's different when teams are paying high prices for QBs on the projection of what they might do with their new teams. The 49ers could find a QB such as that in their own division this season with Kevin Kolb, who is being pursued by both Seattle and Arizona but won't come cheap.

If the recent reports are accurate, the Seattle Seahawks offered the Philadelphia Eagles a trade package that included a first-round selection for four-year veteran quarterback Kevin Kolb at some point before the lockout.

This just a year after dealing a third-round pick to San Diego, and switching second-rounders (a difference of 20 slots), for career backup Charlie Whitehurst, who had never started a game in his four seasons with the Chargers, but still got a two-year, $8 million contract from the Seahawks.

The seeming mistake with Whitehurst – who, despite starting just two games in 2010, still has a few supporters in the Seattle front office – might be rectified if a Kolb deal is completed.

Or, given the uncertainty and unpredictability of the quarterback position, it could be compounded.

Such is the fickle nature of quarterback trades. Particularly those completed to gain a starter.

Consider:

--- Trent Green was a two-time Pro Bowl selection during his six seasons in Kansas City, and twice led the Chiefs to the playoffs, but he never won a postseason game.

--- Drew Bledsoe earned a Pro Bowl berth in Buffalo, after being acquired from AFC East rival New England in 2002, but the Bills never went to the playoffs in his three years with the franchise.

--- Daunte Culpepper lasted one season in Miami, and in return for a second-round pick the Dolphins got only four starts.

There are other examples: Jake Plummer never played a snap in Tampa Bay after being acquired from Denver. Brian Griese proved to be itinerant. Steve McNair played well at times in Baltimore, but faded in his second year with the Ravens. Matt Schaub has posted impressive numbers in Houston, but the Texans are still seeking a first playoff berth. Washington appears prepared to dump Donovan McNabb after only one season.

The jury is still out on some more recent acquisitions like Matt Cassel, Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton and Jason Campbell. Certainly each has experienced highs and lows.

At the annual league meeting at New Orleans in March, Eagles coach Andy Reid espoused that "some team will win a championship with Kolb," whether it be the Eagles (looking less likely) or someone else. Still, the four-year veteran has just seven regular-seasons starts and, despite throwing for more than 300 yards in three of them, he doesn't have a winning record. In addition, no traded veteran quarterback has won a Super Bowl since 1994, when Steve Young did it with the 49ers.

Reviews are mixed among the coaches and general managers to whom The Sports Xchange spoke in the past week about whether Kolb should command a first-round choice if the Eagles opt to trade him.

Kolb, who will be only 27 in August, certainly seems to be the quarterback in the perceived trade market who offers the best combination of youth, physical tools, contract affordability, potential and some results. But, again, his body of work is limited, and interested teams will be hedging their bets on what he might be able to produce more than the empirical results.

Then again, quarterback deals are frequently made (Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck, Campbell) in the league as much for what a player might do as for what he has already accomplished (Bledsoe, McNair, Brett Favre, Cutler).

"The bottom line," said one coach who is not in the market for a quarterback, "is that you can't win without one. So there's some 'crapshoot quality' to it, definitely. You're willing to gamble a little bit, to roll the dice, if you believe it's the (right) guy."

Still, a first-rounder is a steep price.

Since 2000, there have been trades involving 62 veteran quarterbacks, including eight who were dealt twice in that span. Five of those deals involved the 49ers, but only two of them featured the team adding a quarterback San Francisco thought had a chance to be a factor with the team at some point.

However, that never transpired with Cade McNown, who was acquired from Miami in 2002 for a conditional seventh-round pick but never played a snap for the 49ers. The Niners got about what they expected from veteran Trent Dilfer, who was acquired in 2006 when San Francisco sent veteran backup Ken Dorsey and a seventh-round pick to Cleveland.

Dilfer was a fine mentor for Smith in 2006, when Smith became the first quarterback in 49ers history to play every snap in a season. Dilfer started six games in place of an injured Smith in 2007 and led the 49ers in most passing categories that year, but he was well past his prime and finished the season with a paltry 55.1 quarterback rating. Dilfer retired after the season at age 36.

The 49ers received a sixth-round pick from Tampa Bay for veteran Tim Rattay in October of 2006, just a few weeks after Rattay had started San Francisco's first four games that season. The other two 49ers trades saw the team dumping veteran backups for fire-sale prices: Cody Pickett to Houston in 2007 for a conditional seventh-round pick and Shaun Hill to the Detroit Lions in 2010 for a seventh-round pick, a trade the 49ers might now be wishing they didn't make.

Those six 49ers quarterbacks aren't among the somewhat arbitrary figure of 18 quarterbacks that were acquired during that span with the intention of them being starters, immediately or within a year or two. Yet only six of those deals involved a first-round pick.

In starting seven games in his career, Kolb actually has more starts than the two for which Hasselbeck, Brooks and Schaub combined when they were traded. Hasselbeck, of course, went on to become a Pro Bowl star who led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl and has been a constant nemesis of the 49ers over much of the past decade.

In the previous three seasons, Cutler was the only quarterback traded whose price tag included a first-round pick. A serviceable starter, Campbell, for instance, went from Washington to Oakland for only a fourth-rounder. Cassel started 15 games in 2008, but was shipped out by the Patriots for a second-round pick. Despite his six Pro Bowl appearances, McNabb didn't fetch a first-round selection.

Given his youth and promise, Kolb might well be worth a first-round choice, when the lockout ends and the trade moratorium is lifted. But projecting a quarterback with such a limited body of work is tricky business. And if history is an indication, the Seahawks, or any other team interested, probably can't be sure the price is right.


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