The former USC star had a respectable performance against Tennessee in Week 12, when he saw his most significant playing time. Leinart failed to register a touchdown, but he also avoided a pick. Take away the Titans last-minute game-winning touchdown and Leinart would have led the Cardinals to a win over his former Rose Bowl nemesis, Vince Young.
Unfortunately for Leinart, the positive anecdote on a disappointing season is marred by a poor performance against the Packers. This inconsistent play—coupled with the reemergence of Kurt Warner as a top-end QB—has kept Leinart sidelined. Furthermore, it begs Arizona's management to seriously consider Leinart's future in the desert.
Former USC teammates, Deuce Lutui and Matt Leinart, see playing time together.
San Francisco faced a similar situation with QB Alex Smith who also underperformed. The 49ers re-worked his contract to a more fitting number. The Cardinals should do the same by offering Leinart a new contract that is more representative of what he has done his first four years in the league.
If Leinart doesn't accept, the smart solution would be to release him.
Leinart would be attractive to many teams in need of a quarterback, such as the Rams, the Browns, or the Bills. Maybe even the Chiefs, who have Matt Cassel, but also have a head coach in Todd Haley that has worked with Leinart previously. Although Haley wasn't in the Cardinals regime that drafted Leinart, he gave Leinart a chance to compete for the starting role.
Leinart's biggest break could be if Pete Carroll goes to the NFL. Carroll would replace Jim Mora in Seattle. If- and it's a big if- Carroll goes to the Seahawks and he picks up Leinart, that would pin Leinart against his former team twice every year. Carroll received the most production out of Leinart than any other coach, so it could come back to bite the Cardinals.
In the end, it would be best if Arizona holds on to Leinart, as long as it's at a reduced price. Warner only has one year left on his contract, and it's possible he could even hang up the cleats after this season, so keeping Leinart would be paramount. When Warner is done after this year or the next, Leinart will be the one that gives the Cardinals the best chance to win. Who knows, maybe waiting for his turn all these years will ultimately benefit Leinart. And maybe if given a full season to show his stuff, Leinart could live up to the original hype.
The Cardinals certainly hope so. General Manager Rod Graves, who was responsible for drafting Leinart, is on damage control.
"I still very much believe in Matt and I believe that he will be a successful quarterback for us," Graves said. "If we go back and reflect on his performance in his second year, he certainly showed things in that time period that would encourage you about him not only being a starter, but eventually being an outstanding NFL quarterback."
Whether that's a marketing ploy in order to use Leinart as trade bait, or that's what Graves truly believes, will come to light soon enough.