Matt Leinart is the talented but tarnished young QB of the Arizona Cardinals. Since Kurt Warner has found the fountain of youth and Ken Whisenhunt has proclaimed Warner as his guy, Leinart has been wearing the headset and carrying the clipboard in his pivotal 3rd year. I firmly believe Leinart will be a good QB sometime in the future, and I think he is in love with his celebrity status in that Southern Cal to ASU corridor of hot, young women. He's built like a prototype QB, makes good decisions, and looks like a movie star. This can be problematic unless you have Bill Belicheck as a coach. This is the pivotal year for Leinart with Arizona because this is the 3rd year of his contract after which the base salary jumps and the signing bonuses have been deferred enough that cutting Leinart makes economic sense as he is a lower cap hit when cut vs. kept, or you have to give him an extension to save cap space. Still, that extension is based on his draft status, not his poor production. This is how the Texans gave David Carr an extra $9 mil for keeping him one more year. Warner is 37, and the Cardinals might see a 2-3 year window with Warner that would allow them the freedom to use the Leinart cap space on other needs that could help them win it all now. Leinart most likely will be gone, but the question is where?
Even if you automatically want to send him to the Lions, you shouldn't because the Lions are looking at the number 1 pick, which leads us to this question: who is coming out? There are 5 names in college football at the QB position that could merit first round pick status, negating the need to risk it with Leinart. Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Matt Stafford of Georgia, Mark Sanchez of USC, Tim Tebow of Florida and Colt McCoy of Texas. All are underclassmen. McCoy has said he will stay for a senior year, which I doubt if he wins the title and/or Heisman, but let's remove him. Sanchez could easily stay another year as his skill position players develop even more, giving him "Leinart in 05" stats for his resume. Stafford & Bradford most likely will come out as both have skills & size that the pro scouts love, plus they do not want to suffer Leinart-Quinn-Brohm disease where you drop 20 spots for staying an extra year and being picked apart for 12 months. Tebow is a mystery. He plays the spread with a 1 read offense. He has a gun, but mechanics, style and decisions are still an issue. Two years ago, I would have said he'd be out in a heartbeat, but with the dearth of success for "mobile QBs" in the NFL, I think some teams would shy away from him. John Elway, Randall Cunningham and Steve Young paved the way for Vick, McNabb and Vince Young, but people forgot that the old 3 were pocket passers who could run. I think Tebow is so raw that if he were drafted, he would sit for a year, maybe two. He isn't the youngest guy on this list despite being the only true junior as Matt Stafford is almost 4 months younger than everyone at 20. I see Stafford and Bradford entring the draft with McCoy or Sanchez coming out depending on how their seasons wrap up. Sanchez keeps climbing draft boards, and Pete Carroll is loaded at QB at USC so it might be a good move for all involved. If I were either guy, I'd stay since Stafford and Bradford will go early with the big money. Most likely it's Stafford, Bradford and "wildcard". Since Stafford and Bradford are projected top 10 picks, let's eliminate the Chiefs and Lions. Wildcard could fall to the mid or late 1st round and that's where I think a team like the Seahawks, Iggles or Dolphins make a move. Yeah I said Iggles, they need to start fresh with a new guy.
Who does this leave? The Rams, Jets, Vikings, 49ers, Titans, and Bucs. The Rams have Bulger who gets injured more and more often, costs them a pretty penny, and could be cut since they are now a couple years into that big extension they gave him in '06. Bulger surprisingly has only played one complete season. Could Leinart be a cost effective replacement, freeing up cap space for other investments that the Rams desperately need? Yup. The offense could become Steve Jackson centric and say goodbye to the high flying turf show, becoming more of a west coast offense. The Jets have the aging gunslinger Brett Favre at $12 mil per year. He is a vampire. You will not kill him, and even if you do, he will come back to haunt you. The Jets could sign Leinart, have him learn their playbook for 1 year behind Brett and then let Brett go at age 41... if he even comes back next year. It also appeals to Brett's vanity as Leinart's contract would be back up money (with tons of incentives) which would not threaten Brett. The Titans currently have the other deflated QB from the 06 draft class, Vince Young, sitting on the bench as Kerry Collins leads the Titans to victory every week. Young's contract is even worse than Leinart's so his @ss will be cut loose and he'll probably end up dead in his bedroom closet hanging with a sign that says "the fans didn't love me enough" taped to his chest. Collins is 36 but still throws a good deep ball and makes good decisions. It would be hilarious to see Jeff Fisher end up with Leinart since he tried to sell the Titans' ownership on him 3 years ago. Leinart has a backer in Fisher, can step in immediately if needed but will most likely sit behind Collins a year or until he phucks up enough. These teams have one thing in common, older QBs that get the job done. It's a tougher sell than the next 3 teams. Plus, what happens to Vince Young? That's for another post.
This leaves three teams with even bigger problems: the Bucs, Vikings and 49ers. The 49ers will cut Alex Smith loose, who should send royalty checks to Matt Leinart for not coming out early and to Aaron Rodgers for being "too arrogant" in his pre-draft interview with the 49ers. There is a gaping hole on any team that is using J.T. O'Sullivan as a QB, which sounds like a great bar name. The 49ers could get Leinart for backup money with tons of incentives. Draft a WR and suddenly they have a nice collection of young talent in Leinart, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and whatever WR they grab (Crabtree or Maclin). It would be ironic that the team Leinart spurned to stay in school an extra year would be the team to give him a second chance. Determining Leinart's chances of going to San Fran will be who the next head coach will be. The Bucs have an odd situation. They have a 39 year old QB who we should call Captain Checkdown. Luke McCown and Brian Griese are not going to add anything above what Garcia brings. Gruden loves reclamation projects as he turned Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson into efficient SB QBs. Leinart has the tools and would be the youngest QB Gruden's had with an intact spleen. They can sign Leinart and throw him into the mix. Watch a Bucs game. It's pathetic. Garcia throws WR screens, RB screens, 3 yard outs and then the once a half bomb to Galloway. Gruden is also a hard@ss. Leinart could use this. This leaves us with the Vikings. Anyone else think they'd be a SB contender with a competent QB who would force the safeties back? Anyone else think they should have traded for McNabb or Derek Anderson? T-Jack and Gus gus are an abysmal pairing on the depth chart. Purple jesus and chester taylor would love to have a QB that can hit Bernard Berrian in stride and not throw into triple coverage on fade patterns. Leinart is made for this squad. I think a funny touch would be for Leinart to start in Minnesota with JD Booty as his backup. Honestly, JD Booty must be licking his chops at Gus Gus and T-jack's inadequacy as he learns the system and prepares to take snaps. It would only be fitting that Leinart would be the royal jerk that he was to JD Booty at USC and swoop in to steal that starting job in the NFL as well. The Vikings are an interesting case because they could gamble and go after McNabb or Derek Anderson this offseason as well when both will cost less compared to last offseason (when they should have grabbed either guy). On the other hand, McNabb will be 30-something and is a health risk while Anderson was exposed this season as a fluke. Anyway that you slice it, Leinart will be given a chance to start somewhere, he'll just have to deliver when that opportunity comes. I expect him to.
From least likely to most likely..... Rams, Titans, Jets, Bucs, 49ers and Vikings.
Hold on, some uncertainty arises about him leaving.