The third preseason game of the year is usually the most important tune-up for the regular season. Positional battles are coming to a close, the 53-man roster is beginning to take form and it’s the final chance for the starters to get some meaningful work.
For the Arizona Cardinals, it’s time to find a starting quarterback.
Following the retirement of Kurt Warner, coach Ken Whisenhunt had to see this coming. After all, he’s already experienced it once before when Matt Leinart was overtaken by Warner during the 2007 campaign.
Now, Derek Anderson is the one attempting to make a move.
Saturday night in Chicago will serve as Anderson’s first start as a Cardinal and he’ll certainly need to seize the opportunity.
The offense appears to function more effectively with Anderson at the helm but after looking at the stats and the scoreboard, it’s somewhat underwhelming. Anderson is maintaining a QB rating of only 58.3 and has led just one touchdown scoring drive.
So what happens if Anderson falters Saturday night against the Bears? Is John Skelton next in line or what about Max Hall? Does Leinart return as the de facto starter? This weekend’s game will go a long way in determining those answers.
In a perfect world, Anderson would make the most of his big break and head into the 2010 season as the team’s unquestioned starter. However, the reality is that unless Arizona stands atop the NFC West division from start to finish, the quarterback controversy will be ongoing throughout the year.
The other dilemma going on simultaneously is what to do with Skelton and Hall. There’s a very small chance the Cardinals carry four quarterbacks due to more pressing areas of need. Keeping Hall would force the team to part ways with a potential contributor at positions such as cornerback or linebacker where extra help could come in handy.
The fact that Arizona traded Bryant McFadden - a starting caliber cornerback - to secure Skelton in the fifth-round of the draft dramatically increases his chances of making the 53-man roster. Furthermore, Skelton tossed a perfect game in this first action as a pro, compiling a 158.3 QB rating and leading the Cardinals to a stylish fourth-quarter comeback against Houston.
Hall becomes the sticky point because the moment he’s put on waivers, there’s little doubt a team will come calling with a roster spot. Hall’s skill-set is becoming well known around the league and the idea of signing him to the practice squad is highly unlikely.
The other option would be releasing Leinart and keeping both rookies to backup Anderson. This may seem like a long shot but there’s a chance it could come to fruition. Another lackluster performance or two by Leinart coupled with the continued emergence of Skelton and Hall might do enough to force that plan into action.
Also factoring in that scenario is Leinart’s bump in salary to the ballpark of $12 million next season. If he falls out of favor for the second time in a five-year span, it’s a formality he’ll be continuing his NFL career elsewhere in 2011. Is it worth risking the long-term future of the position by letting Hall slip to another team? Probably not, especially knowing Leinart’s time in the desert is short lived at best.
The bottom line is that Saturday night in Chicago has much more riding on it than your typical preseason game. Roster spots are on the line, starting jobs are on the line and careers are on the line. It’s unfortunate some of these decisions could be made after 60 minutes of play. But that’s the name of the game in the NFL, where one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity.
Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at email@example.com
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