NFC West teams have drafted five quarterbacks, acquired two by trade, shipped off four others for draft choices and spent roughly $130 million on the position -- all since 2010.
It's been a wild ride.
In 2012 alone, every team in the division but the St. Louis Rams benched a quarterback earning at least $6.5 million per season for ones earning between $490,000 and $1.3 million annually. Two of the three displaced starters have already been released (Kevin Kolb) or traded (Alex Smith). The third, Matt Flynn, appears on his way from the Seattle Seahawks to the Oakland Raiders in a trade that is reportedly imminent.
2010-12 NFC West QB Investment
Signs of progress abound. Consider this juxtaposition: Two current NFC West starters finished their 2012 seasons in the Pro Bowl (Russell Wilson) or Super Bowl (Colin Kaepernick). Two castoffs from the division, Kolb and 2012 trade subject Tarvaris Jackson, are competing to start for the Buffalo Bills in 2013.
So much has changed since Matt Hasselbeck, Derek Anderson, Sam Bradford and Smith opened the 2010 season as starting quarterbacks for NFC West teams. Only Bradford remains. Though firmly established as the Rams' starter, his long-range career trajectory appears less defined. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals are still searching for Kurt Warner's worthy heir, a process that has led them to Drew Stanton until further notice.
The following team-by-team accounting shows what's been ventured and gained at quarterback for NFC West teams over the past three years. The period dates to Warner's retirement, Pete Carroll's hiring as Seahawks coach and Bradford's selection as a No. 1 overall draft choice. I've ordered the teams by cash spent.
St. Louis Rams
Cash spent on QBs: $48.4 million
Draft capital invested: The Rams used the first pick of the 2010 draft for Bradford. They have not drafted a quarterback subsequently.
QBs added by trade: None.
QBs subtracted by trade: None.
Comment: The current collective bargaining agreement came along too late for the Rams. They're stuck paying Bradford $50 million in guaranteed money because the old wage scale was so much more generous for high draft choices. Last year, Andrew Luck got $22.1 million in guarantees as the first overall pick. So, while the Rams drafted Bradford to rescue their franchise, the financial obligation is making it tougher for the team to build its roster in a fundamentally different economic environment. Of course, it's all good if Bradford produces the way the Rams think he can produce.
Cash spent on QBs: $28.7 million
Top earners: Kolb ($20.5 million), Anderson ($3.25 million), Stanton ($2 million), John Skelton ($1.5 million), Rich Bartel ($920,000), Max Hall ($325,000), Brian Hoyer ($108,529), Ryan Lindley ($105,698). Releasing Matt Leinart right before the 2010 season spared the team from paying him.
Draft capital invested: The Cardinals drafted Skelton in the fifth round and Lindley in the sixth. Arizona also parted with a second-round choice when acquiring Kolb.
QBs subtracted by trade: none.
Comment: Signing Kolb to a deal averaging better than $12 million per season appears foolish in hindsight. Other unproven quarterbacks haven't gotten that much since the Kolb trade went down right before training camps opened in 2011. However, the Cardinals badly needed a quarterback at the time. They paid what they felt was necessary to get the quarterback they wanted. Arizona needed Kolb to cooperate on a contract extension to facilitate the trade. That meant paying a premium. New coach Bruce Arians has said the team can win with Stanton, but this situation appears fluid. Carson Palmer's name has come up as a potential alternative. Arizona holds the seventh overall pick in the draft. It's still early.
Cash spent on QBs: $28.4 million
Top earners: Matt Flynn ($8 million), Charlie Whitehurst ($8 million), Hasselbeck ($6.75 million), Jackson ($4 million), Wilson ($1 million), Josh Portis ($375,000), J.P. Losman ($296,470). The team traded Seneca Wallace before Wallace was due to receive salary compensation for 2010.
Draft capital invested: The Seahawks used a third-round choice to select Wilson. They used another third-rounder in the Whitehurst deal, which also included a swap of second-round choices.
QBs added by trade: Whitehurst. The third-round pick sent to San Diego in the Whitehurst deal was for one year in the future. The exchange of second-round picks involved choices that year.
QBs subtracted by trade: Wallace and Jackson. Seattle traded Wallace and Jackson for seventh-round picks. The team figures to get something in return for Flynn.
Comment: Landing Wilson in the third round and daring to start him as a rookie turned the Whitehurst, Jackson and Flynn experiments into footnotes. Seattle has done a good job getting something in return for its castoff quarterbacks despite failing to draft players at the position in 2010 or 2011. The Rams and Cardinals haven't been able to do that in recent seasons. What the Seahawks get in return for Flynn will factor into this analysis as well. Whitehurst returned a seventh-round compensatory choice from the NFL after leaving Seattle to re-sign with the Chargers.
Cash spent on QBs: $24.7 million
Top earners: Alex Smith ($15.9 million), David Carr ($3.9 million), Kaepernick ($3.2 million), Scott Tolzien ($844,960), Troy Smith ($545,000), Josh Johnson ($350,000). The 49ers released Johnson before he played for the team, but by then the team had paid a $350,000 signing bonus to him. Shaun Hill was traded before the 49ers had to pay any of his 2010 salary. Nate Davis was on the practice squad in 2010.
Draft capital invested: The 49ers used a second-round choice for Kaepernick after using fourth- and fifth-rounders to trade up. They have drafted no other quarterbacks over the past three years.
QBs added by trade: None.
QBs subtracted by trade: Alex Smith and Hill. The 49ers fared well in landing a high second-round choice from Kansas City in the Smith trade. Trading Hill returned a seventh-round pick from the Detroit Lions.
Comment: San Francisco would have considered releasing Alex Smith for salary-cap reasons if no trade had come together. Getting a premium pick in return was commendable. Put another way, Smith's departure armed the 49ers with a pick roughly equivalent to the one used for selecting Kaepernick. The Hill trade wasn't as fortunate because it meant proceeding with Carr as the backup. Overall, though, the 49ers put themselves in prime position at quarterback. Coach Jim Harbaugh's push to retain Smith in 2011 worked out well. So did the decision to replace Smith with Kaepernick.