In 2006 the Arizona Cardinals did the right thing when drafting Matt Leinart in the first round of the draft as a part of building a future. All reports, tape and scouting remarks had little negative or unknown remarks in his report. For those of us who like stocks, it was a wise purchase for investment, when handled appropriately. If handled appropriately I wouldn’t be hearing Leinarts’ name thrown around as a bust. If handled appropriately the Cardinals wouldn’t be lumped in with other teams that mismanaged their investment dating back as far as the 2002 Texans with David Carr.
I need to clarify I am aware of the many variables that derive from this piece that include if the Cardinals ever followed “Building a Successful NFL Team 101” first step which is build a successful offensive and defensive line, everything would have been different. If the Cardinals would have handled Leinart appropriately, Coach Wisenhunt may or may not still be in Arizona considering they didn’t get along but in hindsight it appears Wisenhunt mis-managed the team and his weapons. One can’t blame Leinart for trying to succeed and voice his displeasure of Wisenhunt. Chances are there were other players who felt the same but decided to not be vocal about it. Now the Cardinals are in good hands with Coach Arians, but the damage has been done to quality players like Matt Leinart and Larry Fitzgeralds regression of Hall of Fame stats amongst other collateral damage.
All of those variables aside and recognized, let’s go back in time when quality teams gave a successful blueprint for handling stocks like a quality QB. I define a quality quarterback to be anywhere from Trent Dilfer who could game manage a team to a Super Bowl to the greatest slingers like Joe Montana. The 49ers once pocketed a stock named Steve Young for a few years and allowed him to grow behind a proven commodity (Montana). This same tactic was used in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers amongst others.
Understandably it’s tough to hold on to a hot stock and allow it to further blossom naturally which is why many teams use the baptism by fire tactic. This is a sloppy management practice but I understand the practicality. This brings me back to my variables above in that if your going to let your stock flourish in battle you have to give him a fighting chance with some protection and weapons. David Carr is the prime example. On this note let’s glance at current NFL stars that developed under this technique. Below are the rookie year stats.
Player Comp % Yds TD INT Rat
Joe Flacco 60% 2,971 14 12 80
Matt Ryan 61% 3,440 16 11 87
Andy Dalton 58% 3,398 20 13 80
Ryan Tannehill 58% 3,294 12 13 76
Matt Leinart(12 Games) 56% 2,547 11 12 74
Most Cardinals fans would be fine with any of the quarterbacks on this list as of today. I show this to frame that Leinart wasn’t far from any of them and possibly better as they all have weapons and they had a average or better offensive line plus a full season, except Leinart. This leads to his habitual injuries which are simplified by highlighting that he had no protection allowing him to get hurt and when one breaks a clavicle, it heals stronger depending on what type of break and where. Matt Leinart wasn’t lucky in this area.
All of the quarterbacks on the list have grown each season even if their stats don’t always show it. I commend the teams sticking by their stock and providing a favorable atmosphere for their “field general”. Matt Leinart left Arizona on not so good terms but landed in a passer friendly Houston with a solid coaching staff. Coach Gary Kubiack ( RaisingZona staff wish for a speedy and full recovery) went on record as saying “ Matt has the “it” factor and he’s a natural leader”. He can make all the throws and he has shown he is a very quick learner regarding the system, “all he needed was work on his footwork”. Leinart never had a shot of starting in Houston but he got the atmosphere to prosper and showed in a limited playoff performance he is good. Regarding the footwork, keep in mind that he was able to stand and sling the ball where he pleased at USC behind a line that produced 6 NFL starters. Understandably if you don’t have to have “happy feet” for most of your career these traits disappear.
I say all of that to say this, Matt Leinart was a casualty of poor management. The Cardinals flipped flopped between him and Kurt Warner and had to at times due to injuries from no protection. If given time to learn behind Warner perhaps he would have developed a quicker release and happier feet that Warner utilized to stay healthy and a trip to a super bowl. Perhaps the Cardinals would have gone to the super bowl sooner and an extra time. The sit and develop technique has shown to be the most successful. If the Cardinals would have properly utilized the play and grow technique Leinart would have likely prospered to a functional passer.Neither of these were used and a talent was wasted.
This is all relevant because the Cardinals are soon to be at this crossroad again this off-season and luckily Steve Keim had a front row seat for this disaster and hopefully learned from it. Not to mention im tired of seeing other organizations make the same mistakes (Browns,Jaguars,Vikings) and the Cardinals play Houston who understand how to handle their quarterback stock very well which you will see this weekend with undrafted free agent Case Keenum.