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Cards cut Leinart: Where it went wrong

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Nancy Gay

Nancy Gay is the Senior NFL Editor at FOXSports.com. She has been covering the NFL and other major sports for more than two decades. The first female member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, Nancy also is an Associated Press All-Pro selector. She has covered 20 Super Bowls. Follow her on Twitter @nancygay.

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Quarterback Matt Leinart’s disappointing Arizona Cardinals career ended with him being released Saturday as part of the team’s final cutdown to 53 players, the widely anticipated conclusion after FOXSports.com’s Jay Glazer reported that the franchise which drafted him 10th overall in 2006 had actively shopped the quarterback around the NFL by calling potential suitors.



There were no takers, which should come as no surprise. Despite speculation that the former Heisman Trophy winner might be dealt to the backup quarterback-starved New York Giants, Leinart’s trade baggage was so hefty, no team would touch it.

How did it come to this? Why did Leinart become so radioactive?

• The Contract. It was a bookkeeping anvil that best illustrated Leinart’s bloated worth – and depleted value – as an NFL starter. Leinart was due to make $2.485 million this season and a whopping $7.36 million in 2011, which was never going to happen. No team would take on that kind of contract in trade for a player who is backup material at best.

• The Résumé: In a word— downhill. For a fifth-year NFL quarterback, Leinart was nothing special. He was pretty much a nothing, period. After starting 11 of 12 games and passing for over 2,500 yards (11 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) as a rookie , Leinart’s playing time and statistics tumbled as he took a backseat to former Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner. At no point in his NFL career has Leinart ever tossed more touchdowns in a season than interceptions.

In the 2010 preseason, Leinart was presented with a chance to shine after years of living in Warner’s shadow. Yet he never did, completing 22 of 28 passes but proving himself to be a play-it-safe, short-pass, checkdown game manager who was playing not to lose rather than showcasing himself as a polished downfield passer who would play to win.


Bottom line: Warner became legendary in Cardinals’ and NFL lore as a prolific, reliable passer and a consummate team leader – essential star qualities Leinart never has exhibited.

Which brings us to …

• The Attitude: Leinart ultimately paved his way out of the desert last week, by publicly questioning why Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt would name journeyman free agent addition Derek Anderson as the starter in the Week 3 preseason game against the Chicago Bears.

“I’m frustrated and disappointed,” moaned Leinart, who shouldn’t have felt blindsided – after all, he had seen starting opportunities yanked multiple times in the four seasons he played under Wiz. “I’ve been efficient. I’ve been accurate. I haven’t turned the ball over. I don’t know how we judge performance when you take 13 pass attempts to the other guy’s 40.”

The no-nonsense Whisenhunt met with Leinart last Monday, heard him out, then promptly named Anderson the starter for the Thursday night preseason finale against the Redskins. Undrafted rookie Max Hall was the star of the 20-10 victory, completing 7 of 9 passes for 126 yards and leading the Cardinals to two touchdowns.

Leinart, like the afterthought he has become, saw some gratuitous snaps and completed 3 of 5 passes for 14 yards.

So what’s next for a player whose USC-Hollywood-manufactured overexposure never matched his limited skill set?

Now that Leinart is free for the taking, there still may be limited employment options for him. The Giants, officially closed their door on Friday by trading for Vikings backup Sage Rosenfels, as first reported by FOXSports.com's Alex Marvez.

Will Leinart sign with a team that has no intention of starting him? He may not have a choice, unless he wants to battle Jeff Garcia or Daunte Culpepper for a No. 1 gig in the United Football League.

The Bills may take a crack at Leinart, rather than go all in with Trent Edwards. The Steelers may need an extra arm now that Ben Roethlisberger’s initial stand-in, Byron Leftwich, is out indefinitely with a torn MCL in his knee. Maybe Pete Carroll will feel charitable in Seattle and give his former USC star a chance to unseat second stringer Charlie Whitehurst .

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What Leinart does with his next NFL shot will determine whether it’s his last one. A change of scenery could be a real spark for him. It has to be.

Then again, it’ll require a monumental change in Leinart’s annoying sense of entitlement and kicked-back approach to his football career that ultimately determines whether he salvages his NFL legacy. If not, he joins the growing list of Heisman Trophy winning busts whose college greatness never translated into pro success.

That prospect should make him feel frustrated and disappointed.
 

Nancy Gay is Senior NFL Editor for FOXSports.com.

Tagged: Giants, Cardinals, Steelers, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart

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