Leinart: What Went Wrong in Arizona?

Matt Leinart (Getty)

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Last week, Matt Leinart was the starting quarterback in Arizona.

Leinart's learning curve had increased dramatically after sitting behind Kurt Warner the past three years. It was finally his turn to pick-up where Warner left off.

Now, Leinart is out.

Or at least he's thought to be as the Cardinals are actively shopping Leinart to teams around the league. There has been some interest, but many are standoffish due to his nearly $7.5 million salary next season.

With a trade and potential outright release now a possibility, let's first discuss what went wrong.

It's shocking a guy that was continually praised during the offseason by coach Ken Whisenhunt can fall out of favor so quickly. But we should have seen it coming.

The same scenario took place three years ago when Warner – a veteran in need of a career resurrection similar to Derek Anderson – took over in Arizona. Warner went on to have loads off success in the desert while Leinart waited on the sidelines for another chance.

Leinart waited, but his chance lasted all of two weeks.

Entering the third preseason game of the year, Leinart's starting duties were once again revoked. Furthermore, Anderson's first start sparked the Cardinals' offense as did Warner back in 2007.

So, what exactly did go wrong?

Certainly the move wasn't brought on by the tremendous play or potential of Anderson. He's coming off a dismal season with the Cleveland Browns where he accumulated a QB rating of just 42.1. Any way you slice it – even considering how dysfunctional the Browns have been – that's nothing to get excited about.

Prior to Saturday's game in Chicago, Anderson hadn't been much better in a Cardinals uniform. His QB rating has risen after a solid performance against the Bears, but was more than 30 points lower than Leinart's heading into that contest.

Based on stats and what transpired on the field, the move didn't exactly make sense. Maybe Leinart is correct. Is it something beyond football?

Yes and no.

The reality is that Leinart's skill set resembles little of what's expected out of a starting quarterback in the NFL. This can be said to hold true both physically and to an extent, mentally.

Leinart apparently doesn't have the arm strength to get it done. He seems to acknowledge this given his tendency to check down more often than not. While Leinart's connected on 19 of 23 passes with a QB rating of 110.3 during the preseason, he's managed to complete just two passes longer than 15 yards.

Whisenhunt has been around the block. He's been a player in the league. He's been a position coach and coordinator before getting the head job in Arizona. There are many variables taken into account for an NFL quarterback but one thing is pretty consistent. They must be able to stretch the defense in order to sustain success.

The on-field analysis is the straightforward part. Off the field is where it gets tricky.


Matt Leinart
(Getty)

Leinart openly criticized Whisenhunt and the Cardinals' coaching staff, stating that he's unsure of what's being asked of him. Leinart felt he'd outplayed the competition and it wasn't particularly close.

In Leinart's eyes, the only logical basis for his demotion was beyond football.

What was it then?

Was it Leinart's party boy image he brought from USC? Probably not. Leinart has seemingly moved past those issues and has been relatively low key in recent years.

Was he disgruntled after Warner took over during the 2007 season? No, Leinart stuck around, paid his dues and was ready to return to the starting lineup this year.

Was it his teammates? This is where it gets interesting.

Not a single player in the Arizona locker room would admit it, but it appears the team isn't confident with Leinart under center. And with many new faces this year, most of them aren't holdovers from the group that preferred Warner over Leinart the first time around.

Leinart's leadership skills have been questioned, but in actuality, you can get by as a starting quarterback without exceling in that area.

Jay Cutler isn't a great leader in Chicago. Ben Roethlisberger has been criticized by teammates on several occasions for his antics. There have been plenty of quarterbacks to succeed in the league without demonstrating the greatest of leadership qualities.

So, maybe that isn't the problem either. Not so fast.

The real problem has been Leinart's refusal to concede his forced leadership role. Anyone with a pulse – whether they're familiar with the situation or a total outsider – could realize this by watching a simple press conference or listening to a radio interview.

Leinart's heart hasn't been in it this year. It's hard to tell if it was over the past three seasons because we didn't see much of him on the field. Due to increased media obligations, Leinart was exposed. Something just wasn't right.

Leinart's continued efforts to lead the team – even when it deceptively severed his relationships in the locker room – ultimately led to his demise.

Would it have ended differently if Leinart ditched the leadership act and just played football?

We'll never know. Unless is happens somewhere other than Arizona.


Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at brad.wilbricht@gmail.com

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