The 10th-overall pick of the NFL Draft failed to become the franchise quarterback that the Arizona Cardinals were hoping for.
The Arizona Cardinals felt incredibly lucky back in 2006 when quarterback Matt Leinart fell to them during the first round of the NFL Draft.
Arizona was getting a player who had led the University of Southern California to two consecutive AP national championships (2003 to 2004) during his three years at the school. Leinart was awarded the Heisman Trophy following the 2004 campaign and he received two First-team All-American nominations as well.
Leinart responded well after being thrown into the fire right away as a rookie. While his 4-7 record as a starter was not impressive, the youngster did manage to throw for 2,547 yards and 11 touchdowns in his 12 appearances (11 starts) for the Cards in 2006.
In 2007, Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to go with a two-quarterback system, featuring Leinart and 36-year old veteran Kurt Warner. Through the first four games, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV had thoroughly outplayed the former USC Trojan. Warner had thrown for 580 yards, four touchdowns, and one pick, while Leinart amassed 647 passing yards, with just two scores and four interceptions.
Young passer’s stint as an Arizona Cardinals starter was over after 2007 injury
In Week 5 of the 2007 season, Leinart suffered a broken left collarbone that would sideline him for the remainder of the schedule. There would be no more flip-flopping at the signal-caller spot, the job now completely belonged to the resurgent Warner. Leinart’s time as a starter for the Cardinals, for all intents and purposes, was over.
The Cards actually held a quarterback “competition” between Warner and Leinart during their 2008 training camp, but the winner of that battle was a foregone conclusion. Later that year, the California native could only watch from the bench as Warner led “Big Red” to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance. Leinart made only spot-duty in 2008, with his one highlight being a 47-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald during an ugly 47-7 loss to the New England Patriots.
Leinart’s last start for Arizona came against the Tennesse Titans in November of 2009, after Warner had suffered a concussion the week before. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder played well, but his solid effort did not result in a Cardinals victory. Leinart completed 21 out of his 31 attempts for 220 yards, but the Titans prevailed by a score of 20-17.
After Warner retired in January of 2010, Leinart was outplayed for the starting gig by free-agent addition Derek Anderson. The Cards front office had finally seen enough. Leinart was given his unconditional release two days after the final preseason matchup of 2010.
Unfortunately, the 10th-overall choice of the 2006 NFL Draft never lived up to the hype. Leinart was a huge disappointment who will go down as one of the greatest draft busts in Cardinals franchise history.