Leinart is still the key for Cardinals
Over the first weekend of free agency, we spent a lot of time talking about the teams that made improvements to their rosters -- teams like the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins.
But when you look at a team like the Arizona Cardinals, it’s a different story. The Cards saw three starters head out of town this weekend. LB Karlos Dansby signed with the Dolphins, FS Antrel Rolle became the highest-paid safety in the league when he went to the Giants, and Anquan Boldin — a receiver who was the subject of trade rumors for two consecutive offseasons — was sent to the Ravens for third- and fourth-round picks.
A lot to lose over the course of three days.
While we were in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, Cards GM Rod Graves was asked repeatedly about these three players. With Dansby, it’s easy to say that Arizona knew he was probably gone. In the case of Rolle, Graves said the team would pursue him as if he were a free agent they were targeting. And with Boldin, it was just a matter of time — everyone knew he was for sale.
Three big names -- three players who contribute and produce on Sundays -- are now gone. But the name I keep thinking about, and a player who was glossed over this weekend but has a lasting effect on this ballclub, is QB Kurt Warner.
That’s the real issue here.
Dansby can be replaced, and WR Steve Breaston can move up and slide into Boldin’s role on the field — as he did in the playoffs. Antrel Rolle? A good safety — one with range and speed — but not an Ed Reed or a Troy Polamalu. His absence will be felt in the secondary, but you can replace a free safety in this league in this situation with a much cheaper replacement.
All of that is good to talk about, and we can bring up question marks about this team when we match it against the rest of the NFC West — which seems to be rebuilding on the fly as well.
But despite those losses, the fact still remains that Matt Leinart is the quarterback of the Cardinals — not Warner.
How Leinart plays, how he prepares (which has been questioned before) and how he reacts to the adversity at the quarterback position over the course of 16 games is the real story from my perspective.
The offensive scheme in Arizona is conducive to Leinart’s game. There’s no reason the former first-round pick shouldn’t produce good enough numbers under Ken Whisenhunt this season. The underneath routes, the 3-step game and the multiple combination routes we see from the Cards’ stack-and-bunch alignments should play into Leinart’s favor.
But is he ready? The offseason programs in the NFL start soon, and Leinart is finally in a position where he will go into the first minicamp as a starter. His preparation will be key, because a blown opportunity here and not only do the Cards suffer and lose control of the NFC West, but Leinart’s career itself will take a major detour — most likely to backup status.
Yes, losing those three big names gives us something to discuss and speculate on in early March, but the story in ‘Zona should still be all about Leinart.
He produces and this team wins — despite the free-agent losses. He struggles, and it doesn’t matter who’s on the field.
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For a look at 10 questions surrounding the NFC West during free agency and before the draft, check out this article from Bleacher Report.