In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks decided their quarterback of the future was going to be San Diego's third-stringer, a guy named Charlie Whitehurst. So like any reasonable NFL organization, they traded for him, swapping their and San Diego's picks in the 2010 second round and sending a 2011 third-rounder to the Chargers. Two uninspiring seasons later, Whitehurst was a Charger again, having been cut by Seattle and re-signed by San Diego in March 2012.
Because Seattle ended up trading a third-round pick and dropping twenty spots in the second round for essentially nothing, I got curious about what exactly they had given up to rent Whitehurst. One of my good friends (Sidney Helfer) and I decided to investigate the picks involved in that trade and how they were eventually used. What we found was a ridiculously extensive web of trades and counter-trades that topped my most outlandish predictions.
It started with a whisper. The Chargers traded away Whitehurst and the 60th overall pick in 2010, which Seattle used on Golden Tate. In return, they got the 40th overall in 2010 (henceforth, I'll abbreviate with the year and the overall pick number, ex. '10-40) and a third-rounder in 2011 that became cornerback Shareece Wright. So OK, that's normal, no problems here.
The Chargers then turned around and used that pick as part of a deal to move up in the 2010 first round to get Ryan Mathews ('10-12). They also got the '10-110 (Darrell Stuckey) and the '10-173, which ended up in San Francisco as Anthony Dixon. In return, they sent the Dolphins their first-rounder ('10-28, Jared Odrick), linebacker Tim Dobbins and the '10-126. The Dolphins then traded the '10-126 to Dallas (Akwasi Owusu-Ansah) along with the '10-179 (Sam Young), for Dallas's '10-119 (which became A.J. Edds).
So far, so good, right? But the '10-119 didn't originate in Dallas. It came from New England in... *drumroll* ... the Dez Bryant trade! Dallas traded up three spots in the first round, sending the '10-27 (Devin McCourty) and the '10-90 (Taylor Price) to the Patriots for the Bryant pick ('10-24) and the '10-119. The '10-24 came to the Patriots from the Broncos, who received the '10-22 (Demaryius Thomas) for their '10-24 and their '10-113 (Aaron Hernandez). And the Broncos originally got the '10-24 from Philadelphia, along with the '10-70, where it was part of the Brandon Graham trade ('10-13)!
This is where it becomes unintelligible. If I tried to go through each trade from this point and describe them all for you, this would rapidly become a 15,000 word article and my readers would probably be bored silly. Instead, I'll go through some of the highlights, and hopefully help you get a sense of just how complicated and insane this trade web is:
-By the time all the picks were accounted for, my friend and I had tallied thirty-seven separate trades involving twenty-two teams. Fifty draft choices and twenty-two players were shipped from team to team by the time it was all over.
-Some of the picks had truly bizarre paths. You've heard the story of the '10-24, which bounced from Philly to Denver to New England to Dallas, but other picks such as the '09-137 (Detroit to Seattle to Philly to New England to Baltimore) or the '09-141 (Cleveland to Philly to New England to Baltimore to Denver) were even odder.
-The record-holder is the '10-158 pick, though. That went from Dallas to Denver to New England to Oakland to Jacksonville to New Orleans, which finally took pity on it and used it on Matthew Tennant.
-Denver was a partner in eleven of those 37 trades, including five involving first-round picks (in three years!) New England was a close second with nine, including one weird one where they received the '09-137 and the '09-141 from Philadelphia in return for Ellis Hobbs, then turned around and shipped both of those picks to Baltimore in exchange for the '09-123 (Rich Ohrnberger) and the '09-198 (Jake Ingram).
-On three separate occasions, a team received a pick in a trade, then later dealt that pick back to the team it originally came from. Cleveland shipped the '08-191 to Philly for center Hank Fraley, then got it back in exchange for the '09-141. The '10-231 went from Philadelphia to New England to Denver, then back to New England before finally settling in Washington (it became Selvish Capers, if you're interested). And the '10-174 went from Washington to Miami as part of the Jason Taylor trade, before Miami sent it back to Washington with the '10-219 in an exchange for the '10-163. You can't make this stuff up.
-Notable names involved in the trade web include Devin McCourty, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Graham, Ryan Mathews, Aaron Hernandez, Jason Taylor, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Anthony Davis, Kyle Orton, Mike Wallace, Kamerion Wimbley, Colt McCoy, Will Witherspoon, Derrick Burgess, Adam Carriker, Navorro Bowman, Robert Ayers, Eric Decker, Ed Dickson and, yep, Tim Tebow. Denver packaged the '10-70 it got from Philly in the Brandon Graham trade with two other picks, the '10-43 and the '10-114, in exchange for Baltimore's '10-25 which became Tebow. (Baltimore picked Dickson with the '10-70, Sergio Kindle with the '10-43 and Dennis Pitta with the '10-114.)
That's what I'm calling the Whitehurst-Bryant-Barden* Trade Web. It is completely ridiculous, and perhaps it's a reason why NFL teams pay their general managers so much money. I originally wanted to march into Bill Belichick's office and demand an explanation, but I'm afraid he'd just hear me out, look at the trade list and say "...and your point is?"
So the next time you hear about a blockbuster draft-day trade, take a moment to consider where those picks might have come from, and where they might eventually be shipped to. As it turns out, even the smallest trade can end up having a disproportionately huge impact on the NFL landscape.
*The Giants traded up six spots in the '09 third round to select Ramses Barden; little did they know, however, that that trade would open the door for 16 more trades to be included in the web.