Leinart Named Starter. Just Kidding.

To start the rookie or not to start the rookie… that shouldn't be the question. Unfortunately, it is the question being asked. Only a day after reports that Head Coach Dennis Green was benching Kurt Warner in favor of the youngster from USC, Matt Leinart, Green made the announcement that he was again changing courses and would keep Warner as his starter.

Apparently, while he slept on Monday night, Green somehow became smarter and decided that the Cardinals winning this year was more important than punishing his starter for a lackluster performance.

In fact, putting Warner on the bench at this juncture would be tantamount to punishing the entire squad for the remainder of the season. No one wants to have to suffer through the growing pains of a rookie quarterback. Even guys who eventually became good or great had horrible rookie campaigns (see: Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb, etc.). Oh sure, there is the occasional Ben Roethlisberger, Dan Marino, or Tom Brady, but do not confuse this Arizona squad with the 2004 Steelers, 1983 Dolphins or the 2001 Patriots. Those players were on teams that only required that their quarterbacks not make mistakes that would cost the team wins. The Cardinals are an entirely different story. The QB position on this squad will need to actually step up and win games for the team; not something you can rely on a rookie to do.

What made this move even more ludicrous is that we're only heading into Week 4 of the season. If one is to believe that the Arizona coaching staff had absolutely no intentions of starting Leinart this season – a statement made by Green – then why would they pull the plug on their season-long gameplan so quickly? The Cardinals signed the aging Edgerrin James in the off-season, a move that signaled a change from the "building-for-the-future" mindset this organization has been in for 7 years, to more of a "win now" mentality.

By all accounts, the club feels that it can be a playoff-contender this season. A rookie starting QB almost guarantees you of a losing season. Again, why in the world would they make this switch now? Let's remember that James had two bad weeks rushing; did Green say anything about Marcel Shipp getting the nod at starter because of those poor performances? No, because benching James would cost the Cardinals wins. This move would have also been counter-productive to a winning philosophy, not to mention what it may have done to Leinart's confidence.

Of course, the only thing that could have made this situation worse was if Green began to waffle on the decision. Which is exactly what he did. In the wise words of Mr. Miyagi, "You karate yes, safe. You karate no, safe. You karate maybe so, squash, just like grape." This lesson applies to Denny-san, as well. If he had planned to start Leinart from the beginning and deal with the learning curve of a rookie, there would have been very few to disagree with him. Instead, he makes it clear that Warner will be his guy for the season to allow Matt Leinart to learn while not being overwhelmed at the wheel of the offense, then suddenly changes his mind three weeks into the campaign. He then changes direction again, giving Warner the nod.

This does not create a good atmosphere for anyone involved. Now instead of only having the gameplan execution to worry about, Warner will constantly be looking over his shoulder in anticipation of the inevitable waffling that Green will most certainly display. What will this do for Warner's willingness to tutor Leinart? Not that he isn't a team player, but this series of events may very well hurt the chances of Warner playing any further role in the grooming process for Leinart, which would be detrimental, considering the wealth of knowledge he brings to the table. This merry-go-round mentality that Green has employed at the QB position (remember the 2004 carousel of Josh McCown – Shaun King – John Navarre that produced zero wins while being shuffled?) must end before the Cardinals' losing ways will.

Maybe Green was right about starting Warner, although the argument could be made that maybe he was right to start Leinart now. Perhaps the team would be better off with the rookie at the helm. What he is definitely wrong about, though, is the way this is being handled. Quarterbacks have bad games and knee-jerk reactions from the coaching staff do not typically help matters. Are you a head coach looking to strip a veteran of any remaining confidence after a terrible performance like the one we saw Sunday? It's easily done. Just don't confirm him as your starter in your regular Monday press conference to fuel speculation that he'll be benched. Allow this speculation to boil over for 24 hours while your vet suffers the humiliation of losing his job to someone who hasn't taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game and then quash those "rumors" by telling the media that although you're disappointed with his performance and he will remain the starter…for now.

Dennis Green has not only drained the confidence from Warner, but has also caused the appearance of instability in his locker room. The last thing a coach wants to do after a heart-wrenching loss is to make matters worse by not standing behind your players and killing their confidence. This is what he has done, and the effects of this situation may last longer than anyone realizes.


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