Matt Leinart’s time in Arizona is Waning

It looks like Matt Leinart’s last game for the Cardinals could be in Preseason Week 4 against the Redskins

That beeping sound that you have been hearing throughout the 2010 NFL preseason is an alarm sounding on the Arizona Cardinals’ career of former 2006 first round pick QB Matt Leinart. 

To say the least, the former Heisman “Golden Boy” quarterback will soon have to pick up the pieces of his once promising career in another city.  All signs are pointing to the Cardinals not finding a trade partner – rumored to be offering him up for a late round pick to at least 3 teams – and the team simply cutting their expensive floundering passer at the 53-player roster cut deadline (Saturday September 4th).

This preseason has been a microcosm of Leinart’s time in the desert, filled with more ups and downs than a rollercoaster – namely under-performance and losing his starting job.  There has always been a schism between Leinart and Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt – inherited the laid-back quarterback from Denny Green – and it appears to have grown to the size of the Grand Canyon. 

Whisenhunt had already been leery of Leinhart and his laissez-faire attitude before, but some fans and media thought that the pair’s troubles from 2008 were behind them after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner on January 29th, 2010.  Yeah right… Whisenhunt has said on numerous occasions over the past 2 years that his young quarterback wasn’t serious about the game. 

Even way back in 2008, it was obvious that inevitably the Whisenhunt / Leinart marriage was doomed.  First in April 200, the former USC superstar was photographed partying with some hotties and actor Nick Lacey, which immediately put a bull’s-eye on his back.  At the time Whisenhunt said publicly that he wished his young passer – only a 24-year old when the incident occurred – would spend more time rehabbing his injured shoulder and learning his playbook rather than partying.  Then during the 2008 preseason, Leinart, who had been handed back the starting job after shoulder surgery, finally lost his job to Warner for good.

The final straw was the young passer throwing 3 interceptions within a matter of minutes versus the Oakland Raiders in the Cardinals’ third preseason game.  After that point Leinart’s butt was firmly planted on the bench as Warner re-wrote his story by re-emerging as a Pro Bowl quarterback in his late 30’s.  The former Rams Super Bowl hero led the Cardinals to two straight NFC West titles and an improbable Super Bowl XLII berth, where they lost narrowly 27-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course during Warner’s magical 2008 season all Leinart could do was watch in awe as he only appeared in mop-up duty.

Even after all that water-under-the-bridge, it was assumed that the stage was finally set for Leinart aka “Hollywood” to take control as the Cardinals’ full time starter.  But unfortunately for the lefty quarterback, his story in the NFL has been nowhere near a feel-good script written by one of his fellow CAA colleagues.  Because for the second time in his career, Leinart has lost his starting job to a former journeyman quarterback.

During the 2010 NFL Preseason, free agent signee Derek Anderson, a 2007 Pro Bowl player, has done just enough and Leinart has been just bad enough that Whisenhunt is finally ready to move-on from a quarterback that he never really wanted o trusted with Anderson.  In his defense, Leinart has shown some accuracy on shorter passes — completed 82.6% of his 23 pass attempts for a 110.3 passer rating — but it also has been clear that the offense struggles to put points on the scoreboard with him under center. Last week it was announced by Whisenhunt that Anderson would start the Cardinals’ third preseason game and the fireworks began. 

After his benching became public, Leinart went on the offensive by talking to Cardinals beat writer Kent Somers. The disgruntled former starter said, “I’m disappointed. I’ve done everything to this point that they’ve asked me to and more. I’ve worked hard and been a leader. I’m trying to be that guy in this new role. I have high expectations for myself.”  He added, “I feel I’ve been efficient. I’ve been accurate. I haven’t turned the ball over. I don’t know how we judge performance when you have 13 pass attempts to the other guy’s 40. I’m not going to sit here and complain and point the finger. I have to get better and I ‘m going to get better… all I can do is really focus on just me.  I don’t make these decisions and sometimes you don’t know why decisions are made”.

It may sound crazy, but the Leinart of 2010 seems 100 years removed from the player who had an incredible college career at USC.  Over his four years in college, Leinart went from a formerly teased kid to a L.A superstar and naturally everyone thought that his magic carpet ride would continue right into the professional ranks. 

I am not going to lie to you…though I thought QB Vince Young and RB Reggie Bush were easily the top players in the 2006 NFL Draft, there was no denying what a great college quarterback Leinart had been – school’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes and completion percentage.  In 3 years as the Trojans starter, he had compiled an amazing starting record of 37–2, a Heisman in 2004, two National Championships, his #11 jersey being retired and a certified tinsel town A-lister.

Leinart also finished his college career with the following eye-popping numbers of 807 completions on 1,245 attempts (64.8% completion percentage) for 10,693 yards, 99 TDs and 23 INTs. It was only natural that most people thought that Leinart was going to be the left-handed version of 2003 NFL Draft first overall pick and Bengals QB Carson Palmer.  There were even more than a few pundits that chastised the Oakland Raiders and other teams for passing on the “Natural” as Leinart had to wait in the green room before the Cardinals selected him with the 10th overall pick.

But from the beginning Leinart’s time in Arizona seemed doomed.  He was involved in a prolonged holdout, which lasted until mid August 2006 – last pick from his draft class to sign. And not even the euphoria of signing a six-year, $51 million contract with $14 million guaranteed could change his stars. During down time, Leinart was often criticized for going back to L.A to hangout with his pals rather staying in Arizona.   On the field wasn’t much better as the 2006 Cardinals were a team floundering and it was obvious that former head coach Denny Green would soon be out the door. 

Also as Leinart was getting used to his new NFL home, Warner had been named the Cardinals’ starting quarterback by Green.  From the beginning the young rookie and the wily veteran were locked in a battle that would rage for 3 seasons and there were even stages where the two rivals rotated in 2007.  However, just like later in 2010, there has always been something amiss with Leinart.  Even though he has been surrounded by a great offensive supporting cast, including Pro Bowl receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Leinart struggles with reading defenses and holding the ball too long (leading to too many sacks). 

With Leinart being owed $2.485 million this year and an incredible $12.86 Million in 2011 including a 7.36M salary and a $5.5M due in March, there is little to no chance  that the Cardinals will let him serve as a backup in 2010.  Also his contract, public troubles with the Cardinals and “perceived” bad attitude are major impediments to any team making a trade — even for a 6th or 7th round pick.  You can expect NFL GM’s to pursue Leinart only after he has been released.

I know the former USC star, just like Cardinals fans, will also be glad for a fresh start too.  But right now his NFL career is looking more along the lines of former notorious NFL draft bust quarterbacks Cade McNown and JaMarcus Russell. Even though it is vogue to pile on Leinart as he is being kicked out the door in Arizona.  Everyone needs to remember that former flameout starting quarterbacks Rich Gannon, AJ Feely, Byron Leftwich, and others got second chances in the NFL.  Remember… Leinart still is only the ripe old age of 27 so he may still have some football left in him.

If he does make it back to a starting role in the league, Leinhart will definitely have to prove his doubters wrong.  And surprisingly one his former teammates, Anquan Boldin, spoke-up on Leinart Leinart’s inability to win the team’s starting quarterback job.  105.7 The Fan in Baltimore about.  “Honestly? No (I am not surprised)”.  Boldin added, “I’ve … witnessed the relationship between both Matt and coach (Ken) Whisenhunt. So I’m actually not surprised.”

When Leinart is finally cut – probably after the upcoming Cardinals-Redskins preseason game — there is nowhere to go but up from here as shown by his passing numbers.  He currently has a starting record of 7-10, a 57.1 completion % on 595 pass attempts producing 3893 yards, 14 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a 70.8 passer rating. 

Watch for quarterback-starved teams the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears (backup), Oakland Raiders (backup), Seattle Seahawks (Pete Carroll Connection), and New York Giants (backup) to pursue Leinart upon his release.



Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)


One Response

  1. Matt Leinart's time in Arizona is Waning « Taking it to the House…

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