Cardinals: Still More Questions Than Answers

Matt Leinart (Getty)

Quarterback Matt Leinart has been in the NFL for four years, but many people, including some teammates, aren't sure how he'll fare as a starter. Leinart has played behind Kurt Warner the past two years, and his playing time was minimal. When he did play in 2009, he struggled. Leinart long has been a polarizing figure for fans, who seem to either love or hate him.

Matt Leinart's teammates have mostly defended him, but it was telling that Warner gave a tepid response when asked about Leinart's future during recent radio interviews.

Instead of raving about Leinart's potential, Warner cautioned that it's hard to tell anything about quarterbacks until they've played a decent amount of time.

Warner, as usual, was telling the truth, but he certainly could have given a more politically correct answer about Leinart.

The biggest rap on Leinart since he entered the NFL was his alleged lack of passion for the game. That's something he's disputed, but coach Ken Whisenhunt raised questions about Leinart's work ethic in two of Whisenhunt's first three years in Arizona.

Whisenhunt has been pleased with Leinart's work habits over the past two years, however, and thinks Leinart has matured.

What he wants to see out of Leinart now is a near-maniacal passion for the game. Warner had that, constantly exchanging ideas with coaches, in person or via text messages.

It wasn't unusual for Warner to arrive at work with several ideas for the game plan that week.

As the backup, that wasn't Leinart's role. Now it is and coaches want him to become more like Warner in that department.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Kurt Warner's retirement didn't catch the Cardinals off guard. It was talked about at length during contract negotiations a year ago. Warner signed a two-year, $23 million deal then, but the contract stipulated the half the signing bonus, $7.5 million, would be paid in 2010 if Warner played that season. The Cardinals save $11.5 million with Warner's retirement, but they would rather have him than not. Several people in the organization tried to talk him out of it.

"He leaves a legacy within our locker room and throughout our organization that illustrates the attitude, the dedication, the proper way of doing things and the commitment," said GM Rod Graves.

--QB Kurt Warner said the concussion he suffered during the season and the hit he took in the playoffs against the Saints were some of many factors he considered.

"You want to be able to walk away on your own terms," he said. "I have taken a lot of hits. I have been beat up a lot in my career. I think that every injury, specifically this year when I was already leaning in that direction, makes you contemplate it (retirement) a little more."

--Coach Ken Whisenhunt offered Kurt Warner the chance to have a Brett Favre type of off-season. If Warner wanted to play in 2010, he could have missed much of the off-season work. Warner never felt comfortable with that, however. The grind, he said, was the regular season, not the off-season.

"I'm excited about what's next," Warner said.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald is taking classes online through the University of Phoenix, and he just so happens to have an endorsement deal through them, too. Fitzgerald left college after just two years and needs about 80 credits to obtain a degree.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think that always adapting what you do to fit the talent that you have, and certainly Kurt was the talent." -- Coach Ken Whisenhunt on how coaching Kurt Warner challenged him.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Most of the attention this off-season will be on quarterback Matt Leinart, but the Cardinals' efforts to shore up their defense could have a bigger impact on their success in 2010.

The club needs a pass rusher. Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby is an unrestricted free agent and is likely to leave. Defensive end Darnell Dockett wants a new deal. Free safety Antrel Rolle's contract calls for an $8 million salary, and the club needs to rework that.

It will be a busy off-season for GM Rod Graves and his staff.

OFFSEASON STRATEGY

Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has been the team's franchise player the past two seasons, but the club won't place the tag on him again.

It would mean guaranteeing Dansby about $14 million in 2010. The team already has paid Dansby $18 million over the past two years. It would have been cheaper signing him to a long-term deal.

Free safety Antrel Rolle is due a $4 million roster bonus in March and his salary escalates to about $8 million. The team needs to rework his contract before the end of the month, or it might face releasing him.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Pass rusher: The Cardinals did a decent job with pressuring QBs this year, but they lack an elite rusher that could help close out games.

2. Inside linebacker: Karlos Dansby is likely to leave via free agency, and the team needs a playmaker at that position.

3. Quarterback: Matt Leinart is the only QB under contract. The club needs to draft a quarterback to prepare for the future.

MEDICAL WATCH: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie underwent surgery to repair a torn MCL ligament in his knee. Rodgers-Cromartie will miss some time this spring but should be 100 percent by the start of training camp.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--TE Anthony Becht is a capable blocker entering his 11th year. The club would like him back at the right price.

--LB Monty Beisel is a good special-teams player and versatile backup. The team would like him back at the right price.

--DE Bertrand Berry announced his retirement.

--OL Jeremy Bridges is a solid backup who can start in a pinch. He is likely to re-sign.

--CB Ralph Brown, entering his 11th season, is smart and a great locker room influence. He probably will sign a short-term deal.

--LB Karlos Dansby is coming off two years under the franchise tag. He wants upwards of $25 million guaranteed in a new deal and the club isn't likely to pay it. The Cardinals won't place another tag on him.

--OT Mike Gandy played steady as the left tackle but likely will want something close to the $5 million he made last year. He likely won't get that.

--FB Dan Kreider is an excellent blocker. The team would like him back. Injuries are a concern, however.

--LB Chike Okeafor is getting up in age and never was a great fit as an outside linebacker. He probably won't return.

--WR Sean Morey is an excellent special-teams player but he suffered two concussions in 2009. It's questionable if he returns.

--K Neil Rackers missed only one field goal during the year but struggled with an injury in the playoffs. The team wants him back but it won't pay him a huge salary.

--DT Bryan Robinson is 35 but outplayed younger nose tackles. The team will try to re-sign him to a one-year deal.

--QB Brian St. Pierre is liked by the team but had had back problems throughout 2009. He needs to prove he's healthy before the club re-signs him.

--S Matt Ware played well in the dime packages and could start if the team parts ways with Antrel Rolle. The club wants to re-sign him.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)

--S Hamza Abdullah, a late-season addition, did a decent job. The club will probably give him the lowest tender.

--WR Steve Breaston could be a starter, so he will be given a high tender. The club would be smart to work out a long-term deal.

--OL Ben Claxton is a backup center. The team will look for a replacement.

--*G Deuce Lutui was a starter at right guard. The team will either give him a high tender or offer to re-sign him. He showed improvement in 2009.

--TE Ben Patrick, a starter, is a key player. The club will give him a high tender.

--C Lyle Sendlein played well in his second year as a starter, and coaches think he could develop into one of the NFL's best.

--TE Stephen Spach has some skills but has struggled through knee problems. He is likely to return.

--LB Pago Togafau can play special teams but is undersized for everyday use.

--*WR Jerheme Urban is not likely to return. He showed development but didn't come through in the clutch.

--*NT Gabe Watson has some talent but can't beat out Bryan Robinson. Needs to drop some weight and stay healthy.

PLAYERS LOST

--QB Kurt Warner (retired).

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