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After consistently failing to capitalize on the opportunities he was given to become the long-term starting quarterback in Arizona, former first-round draft pick Matt Leinart was officially released by the Cardinals Saturday.
Patiently waiting in the wings the last couple of seasons as the backup to Kurt Warner, who set a Hall of Fame-caliber standard of excellence as the Cardinals' No. 1 gun, Leinart presumably entered this offseason with a solid grip on the starting QB job following Warner's retirement. But when the Cardinals signed ex-Browns QB Derek Anderson as a free agent, there was immediate speculation that he could give Leinart a legitimate run for his money as Warner's replacement.
Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt initially appeared to go out of his way to endorse Leinart as his undisputed starter, but it didn't take long before the scales started tilting in the direction of Anderson, who was named the starter in the third preseason game against the Bears in Chicago, much to Leinart's dismay. With Leinart becoming more agitated by the minute, it seemed like only a matter of time before he was either traded or released.
The PFW spin
According to most sources on the scene, Leinart's ultimate unraveling in the desert was as much due to a presence on the playing field and in the locker room that fell far short of what Warner so masterfully provided. The former Heisman Trophy winner seemed to have completely lost the big-time swagger he displayed at USC, becoming tentative more often than not.
His reluctance to throw the deep ball and tendency to instead settle for check-downs became a bright red flag that was impossible for Whisenhunt to ignore. In addition, Leinart's leadership qualities paled in comparison to Warner's. The lack of support Leinart received from his teammates after he lost the starting job for the second time in his career speaks volumes.
Anderson, who earned a Pro Bowl berth with the Browns in 2007 after going 10-5, has a much stronger arm than Leinart, which Whisenhunt apparently reasoned would provide a lot more big-play opportunities, although that is hardly a given considering the inconsistency that has hindered the mistake-prone Anderson the past two seasons.
In a perfect world, there's strong reason to believe Whisenhunt would have preferred to keep Leinart as a backup. But after his latest demotion, an increasingly unhappy Leinart appeared destined to follow in the footsteps of former Cardinal Anquan Boldin, whose bitterness regarding his contract status became a growing distraction.
Enter Max Hall and, to a lesser extent, John Skelton — a pair of rookie signalcallers who have been thrust into backup roles behind Anderson for better or worse.
Keep a close eye on Hall, who could be on a fast track in the desert should Anderson falter. The former Brigham Young star has displayed excellent mobility and intelligence, with enough arm strength to get by on the pro level. Most importantly, though, he appears extremely confident with great intangibles — qualities that Leinart never came close to fully displaying in his four ultimately disappointing years as a Cardinal.
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