After the Cardinals practiced against the Titans in Nashville recently, Matt Leinart stood in front of a group of reporters, telling them that despite the Cards’ offensive struggles of the first two preseason games, “We are so close.”
Turns out Leinart was close – to the end of his time with the Cardinals.
The next morning, the quarterback depth chart was shuffled, with Leinart demoted behind Derek Anderson. Slightly more than a week later – Saturday – Leinart was no longer a Card, having been cut.
“For both parties,” coach Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged, “this was the best direction to go.”
To get to the 53-man roster limit, the Cardinals also waived/injured running back Alfonso Smith (neck) and linebacker Chris Johnson (ankle). Those moves, though, were just small postscripts on the story long percolating toward a predictable ending.
The Cardinals tried to trade Leinart, but Whisenhunt said nothing materialized.
Leinart did not return a message Saturday, but said after Thursday night’s preseason finale he could only wait to see what happened.
“I’ve already said what I had to say about the situation,” Leinart said, adding, “I just want to play and have a chance to play.”
It wasn’t going to be in Arizona.
Those will be the Cards’ three quarterbacks, Whisenhunt said. They will not chase a veteran backup.
Leinart wasn’t going to fit as a backup, either. He felt he had earned the right to at least have a chance to start after being the backup to Kurt Warner the last two years and was angry about the demotion. When Anderson retained the No. 1 spot after the Chicago preseason game, Leinart said again in stronger terms he had outplayed Anderson in the preseason and should be the starter.
But Whisenhunt maintained the decision wasn’t based on the last few weeks.
“This process what not about two weeks into camp or two preseason games,” Whisenhunt said. “It was a complete body of work over a period of time.”
Leinart, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2006, finished his Cardinal career by completing 340 of 595 passes for 3,893 yards, 14 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 29 appearances and 17 starts. He was the starter going into 2007 before getting breaking his collarbone in the fifth game and then couldn’t hold off Kurt Warner the following preseason.
By the time the 2010 preseason had ended, Leinart was ready to move along.
Whisenhunt complemented Leinart for Leinart’s professionalism Saturday, when Whisenhunt told him he was being cut. Leinart also said he had grown as a player under this staff, and “it meant a lot to hear him say that,” Whisenhunt said.
Now Whisenhunt turns to Anderson, a quarterback with a checkered past of production.
“I realize he went to the Pro Bowl … and there has been a lot of other conversation about him as a quarterback,” Whisenhunt said. “But I think we are judging it based on what we have seen. He has improved dramatically.”
Whisenhunt also said he was “as comfortable as I can be with a rookie as my backup quarterback.”
In both cases, that comfort had to be better than what Whisenhunt felt for Leinart, who is free to sign with any other team. Whisenhunt declined to talk specifically of what Leinart was “missing” for him to have become the Cardinals’ starter, although “I do believe he can play in this league.”
Just not in Arizona.
“It wasn’t about how quickly this all transpired,” Whisenhunt said. “It was about what I thought was best for our team.”