Teammates congratulate quarterback Kurt Warner (13) after Warner directed a touchdown drive during last weekend's win over the Vikings.
In a quest to finally find a franchise quarterback, the 49ers tried to woo Kurt Warner.
The Cardinals made sure their centerpiece signal-caller didn't go anywhere as a free agent.
But the offseason saga underscored the importance of having an anchor behind center, a quarterback who can lead a team not only with his play but his personality.
"It's possible to win games without a franchise quarterback," Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said, "but you have to have so many other things in place to compensate. If you've got a good trigger man, it makes life a lot easier."
The NFL has always been quarterback-driven in some ways, but it seems to have only increased over the years. The best teams usually have the best quarterback play – this year, the Saints have Drew Brees, the Vikings have Brett Favre, the Chargers have Philip Rivers, the Colts have Peyton Manning.
The Cards, of course, have Warner, who tied Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas Sunday as the only quarterbacks in league history to have a passing rating of 120.0 or better in four straight games.
The 49ers, who host the Cards on "Monday Night Football" this weekend, have the unproven Alex Smith at quarterback.
The 49ers are stuck after Shaun Hill won the quarterback job coming out of training camp. Smith is more effective in a spread offense, a concept that would seem to go against the grain of coach Mike Singletary's philosophy. Uncertainty is unavoidable.
The Cardinals were happy with the performance of backup Matt Leinart in Tennessee, when Warner missed a game with a concussion. But Warner's play against Minnesota (three touchdown passes in an important victory) showed again what he means to the team.
"I know it's not a one-man game," Warner said, "but that position plays such a huge role in winning, manufacturing, making plays. When you can feel solid there, the whole demeanor of an organization can change. You have the one crux position on offense that's set and now you can just build piece by piece around him and you feel good for the long haul."
Graves admitted the Cards didn't know they'd be getting a franchise-type QB when they first signed Warner back in 2005. Warner went through his ups and downs, losing his job to Leinart in 2006 and wresting it back with his play in 2007 and then in training camp 2008.
Since then, Warner has been a consistent MVP candidate and led the team to a Super Bowl. Many teams are still searching for such a thing.
"Probably the only way you can decide that is if the organization thinks you're (a franchise quarterback), then you're one," Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton told reporters this week.
Smith is waiting for that validation. San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis sounded optimistic, saying "we totally trust in Alex and believe in him and think he can take us where we need to go."
The former No. 1 overall pick has "progressed," Singletary said, but when asked if Smith can be the Niners' franchise quarterback, Singletary was bluntly non-committal.
"It's possible," Singletary said.
That's a far cry from the "out of this world" play Warner is providing, as described by teammate Larry Fitzgerald.
The Cards have a franchise quarterback and the 49ers are looking. It's not hard to correlate that with the division standings, where the Cards are 8-4 and the Niners are chasing at 5-7.
"When you are unsettled at that position it does affect everything," Fitzgerald said. "The playcalling is different, the way teams play you is different. There are a lot of variables that change when that position is in limbo."
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