GLENDALE, AZ - 2008: Matt Leinart of the Arizona Cardinals poses for his 2008 NFL headshot at photo day in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Getty Images)
2010 was to be the year Cardinals QB and former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart would prove to everyone that he was worthy of replacing Kurt Warner. It was his chance to prove to doubters that he had the work effort and passion needed to become a successful NFL QB, instead of just the rich party boy he seems to have been ever since leaving USC.
But already, the wheels are starting to fall off. Leinart won’t be starting against the Bears on Saturday night. And he might not be the Cardinals starting QB come Week 1. In fact, you can probably count on his demotion becoming official.
"Well, I don't think we've played really well enough offensively to make any determination other than we need to get better," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said Thursday. "We're looking at different combinations of people."
And if that’s the nicest, most euphemistic-ridden way Whisenhunt can talk about Leinart thus far, that’s not very good. Mike Lombardi of NFL Network says the Cards may even be inclined to cut Leinart before the season begins, leaving them with Derek Anderson and not much else to help defend their division title.
It all started off so promisingly for Leinart. In his first two career starts, Leinart threw for four touchdowns and just one pick. And you remember his second start very well if you’re a football fan. It came against Chicago in 2006. You might remember it as the “crown their ass” game, in which the Cardinals blew a 20-point halftime lead without giving up a single offensive touchdown and lost to the Bears 24-23.
That game is memorable mostly for Denny Green’s post-game histrionics. But before the Cards collapsed, that game was Leinart’s prime time coming out party. He was EXCELLENT in that game. Polished. Accurate. It seemed he was well on his way to fulfilling the potential he showed at USC. Then that game happened. After that, Leinart finished the year tossing 11 picks against just 7 TD passes, and since then has gotten seemingly worse by the year.
And now, he’s going to lose his job in the preseason to a Browns castoff. Maybe Leinart can pull off some kind of miraculous Alex Smith-style comeback with the team that drafted him, but that’s become a laughable possibility at this point. Even if the Cardinals don’t cut Leinart (and Lombardi’s reasons that they should make perfect sense), there’s little doubt the team will go into 2011 ready to draft a new franchise signal caller.
Where will Matt Leinart end up after that? Who knows? Maybe he’ll latch on as a backup. Maybe he’ll be immediately wiped away from football as Tim Couch was. Or maybe he won’t want to play at all. Given his career thus far, I’m not certain Matt Leinart was all that wild about playing football to begin with.