QB Matt Leinart (Chris McGrath/Getty)
Minutes after the final game of the 2007 season, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked if he knew who his starting quarterback would be in 2008. Rather than deflect the question, Whisenhunt named Matt Leinart as the starter heading into the offseason.
A player shouldn't lose his starting position because of injury, Whisenhunt said, and Matt Leinart went out for the year in Week 5 with a broken left collarbone.
But that's not the real reason why Leinart has been given the job over Kurt Warner. Whisenhunt's reasons for going with Leinart are far more varied and complex than that.
First, Warner commits too many turnovers to suit the coaching staff. He finished the year with 27 touchdowns passes and 17 interceptions. He also fumbled 12 times, losing six of those. On a handful of occasions, Warner committed turnovers early in games, burying a young team that needed to play well early to build confidence.
However, there's no doubt Warner played better in 2007 than Leinart did in his first two seasons. The 27 touchdown passes were more than any Arizona Cardinals quarterback had thrown, and Warner finished among the top 10 in most statistical categories, despite starting only 11 games.
So going back to Leinart is a controversial move for Whisenhunt. But the team views Leinart as its quarterback of the present and future. The Cardinals took him 10th overall in the 2006 draft and aren't about to have him hold a clipboard in 2008.
Whisenhunt knows the quarterback saga won't end with his naming of Leinart the starter. It's a question that will be asked throughout the offseason and into 2008 if Leinart struggles. But making Leinart the starter now will diffuse some of the attention.
Whisenhunt won't have to go through minicamps providing a pass-by-pass evaluation of the position, as he would if he had thrown it open to competition. It should also decrease the chance of the situation creating a problem among the players, with them taking sides.
Leinart's style is a better fit for this offense, too. Warner is a gunslinger, and when he became the starter, coaches gradually altered the scheme, going to more multiple receiver sets. Whisenhunt would prefer to revert to a power running attack.
Whisenhunt's main motivation for picking Leinart, however, is the impact it will have on his young quarterback. At times, Cardinals coaches have had concerns about Leinart's work ethic and attention to detail.
By naming him the starter now, Whisenhunt and his staff can make considerable offseason demands on Leinart, who by all indications, plans to live up to them.
Whisenhunt made it clear, too, that Leinart's designation as the starter is not a lifetime appointment. If Warner outplays him throughout the offseason and into training camp, Whisenhunt would have to go back to Warner.
--Almost since WR Larry Fitzgerald was drafted, there were rumors he would be traded to Minnesota. Most of those rumors came out of Minneapolis, Fitzgerald's hometown. Those reports have cropped up again, but the Cardinals say they have no intention of trading the receiver.
But it's important to note that Fitzgerald's cap number in 2008 is more than $16 million. The Cardinals want to extend his deal and lower that figure. If roadblocks crop up in that effort, the trade rumors will pick up steam.
--Assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm has interviewed for several head coaching jobs over the years, but he's not getting a sniff this year. Contrary to some reports, no team has asked for permission to talk to Grimm about a head coaching job.
--Cardinals GM Rod Graves and the agent for LB Karlos Dansby continue to have amicable, but unproductive, talks about a new deal. The Cardinals would like to re-sign Dansby but likely will end up using the franchise tag on him.
--One of the biggest issues the coaches will look at in the offseason is the club's performance on the road. The Cardinals went 2-6 away from home last year, and the road schedule in 2008 is brutal, with five trips to the East Coast.
On some of their trips this season, the Cardinals flew in on Friday to adjust to the time change, and on some they came in Saturday. It didn't seem to make a difference in performance, but look for Ken Whisenhunt and his staff to evaluate every detail of the team's operations on road trips.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our offense made significant strides this year. We had a number of players that achieved milestones, and Todd was a big part of that. This gives us a chance to pick up where we left off." -- Coach Ken Whisenhunt after offensive coordinator Todd Haley signed a new three-year contract.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Cardinals have most of the next two months to try to strike a deal with LB Karlos Dansby, who is due to become an unrestricted free agent.
There has been little progress in negotiations, however, and it appears the club will use the franchise tag on Dansby. If that happens, it would be the first time the club has used the tag since 2002, when it tagged Kwamie Lassiter. The other priorities before free agency starts are re-signing LB Calvin Pace and WR Larry Fitzgerald.
Pace is an unrestricted free agent. Fitzgerald has two more years on his deal, but escalators have increased his 2008 salary to $14.6 million. The club would like to extend his deal and lower that figure. It would like to do it before free agency, too, so it knows how much money and cap space it has.
Team scouts were in Arizona in late December, setting the bottom half of the draft board, as well as targeting expected rookie free agents. As the draft nears, they'll meet again to make changes and to set the top half of the board.
Getting help on defense will be a priority. The club needs another cornerback and a pass rusher, among other things.
The club has the 16th overall pick. That's the lowest pick it's had entering a draft since 1995, when it traded a first-round pick to the Jets for WR Rob Moore.