A potentially interesting CFL experiment came to an end Thursday with Edmonton Eskimos' quarterback Pat White's announcement that he was retiring. White only played in the CFL in 2014, and he didn't play much thanks to Edmonton having numerous quarterbacks ahead of him (starter Mike Reilly and primary backup Matt Nichols in particular), but he was used in second-and-short and third-and-short situations, in some run-focused packages and on special teams, and found some success in all of those areas. White was also a legendary college quarterback at West Virginia, and he had several notable chances in the NFL. His decision to retire means we'll likely never get to see if he could have become a CFL star if given the opportunity, but at least he's walking away on his own terms rather than washing out.
White's 2014 campaign with the Eskimos wasn't insignificant. Yes, he only threw nine passes (completing five, with one touchdown) for 54 yards, but he did well running with the ball, collecting 159 yards and four touchdowns. Those yards came on 35 carries, which is a less-than-stellar average of 4.7 yards per carry, but that was largely affected by many of those being second-and-short or third-and-short scrambles, where a gain of one or two yards can be all you need. He also could have put up more stats if he wasn't injured; he suffered a concussion late in the year that caused him to miss both of the Eskimos' playoff games. On the whole, White flashed a fair bit of potential. Edmonton's depth at quarterback meant we didn't really get to see what he could do in a regular situation, though, and that's unfortunate.
It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if White had taken more CFL snaps. His college career at West Virginia was remarkable, as he ran for 4,480 yards (a record for a quarterback that stood until Denard Robinson broke it in 2013) and threw for 6,049 more over four seasons, finishing sixth in Heisman Trophy voting in 2007 and seventh in 2008. That led to him being selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft by Miami, and although the NFL never really worked out for him (nor did a stint in the UFL or an attempt to play minor-league baseball), the CFL might have been a better fit.
When White signed with Edmonton last spring, there were reasons for optimism; White's ability with his feet was obvious, but he also had a strong arm and one that had been accurate in college, where he posted a career completion mark of 64.8 per cent. The Rich Rodriguez version of the spread offence he ran at WVU also has plenty in common with what a lot of CFL teams use, and it's much closer to a CFL offence than an NFL one. Making the jump to the CFL is difficult, of course, especially for quarterbacks, and plenty of big-name NCAA QBs have flamed out before. Still, White was an intriuging possibility at least, especially in Edmonton; the Eskimos have been proponents of quarterbacks with the ability to run recently, and Reilly in particular has done well in that respect.
Does White's inability to move up on the Eskimos' depth chart suggest he never would have been a CFL star? Not necessarily. Shifting to the Canadian rules and game often takes a lot of time for quarterbacks, and Reilly and Nichols have both spent five years in the CFL, so they had much more experience than White. Edmonton also wasn't desperate to shake things up at QB; Reilly's played very well in the last few years, and Nichols proved to be a solid backup when called upon. For White, getting regular playing time probably would have meant spending a couple of years apprenticing behind those guys or being traded to a more quarterback-hungry team (but most of the CFL has pretty stable quarterbacking situations right now, so even that wouldn't have been easy). We likely wouldn't have really known the results of the White experiment for a couple of years.
White's decision to retire means we'll never really know how it could have gone, though. That's fine, of course, and absolutely his call, as it was when 24-year-old NFLer Chris Borland retired this week. Players have no obligation to continue playing professional sports, and for White in particular, it may not have been easy to stay on in the CFL with a low salary, a low spot on the depth chart and no guarantee of playing time. We also don't know how well he recovered from the concussion he suffered near the end of last season, one of several he's suffered over the years. Still, he'll remain one of the "what could have been" stories many will ponder. Unlike many other big-name NCAA stars, White didn't appear to wash out of the CFL; he was a valuable piece for the Eskimos last season, all indications were they wanted to keep him, and even if they didn't, someone else likely would have taken a look at him. This is him walking away on his own terms, putting an end to an interesting potential chapter of CFL history.