The first Matt Leinart Era in Cardinals history lasted fewer than two seasons. But the Cardinals are intent on giving Leinart a second chance to establish himself as a quality starting quarterback in the NFL.
The retirement of Kurt Warner puts the ball in Matt Leinart's hands. The 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Leinart has played little since losing the job to Warner in training camp of 2008.
Warner went on to lead the team to the playoffs twice, cementing his status as a future Hall of Famer.
Leinart stayed quiet as the backup, and according to coach Ken Whisenhunt, developed his skills.
Fans will have to take Whisenhunt's word for it, because Leinart's performances in 2009 were inconsistent.
He played well in his only start, a close loss at Tennessee that was more due to the defense's collapse than Leinart starting.
In that game, with time to prepare during the week, Leinart was accurate with his throws and cool under pressure.
He was neither in some other appearances, including at Chicago and against Green Bay in the season finale.
The Cardinals must address the position this off-season, however. Leinart is the only quarterback under contract, so the club needs to sign a veteran backup.
That might mean re-signing Brian St. Pierre, the third quarterback the past two years. St. Pierre dealt with a herniated disc in his back last year, so he needs to prove he's healthy.
It's also likely the team will draft a quarterback, although probably not in the first round.
--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.
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.
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.
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