Matt Leinart never had a chance, even when chances were repeatedly handed to him. The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner was the tenth overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, a draft considered a weak quarterback class. Vince Young and Jay Cutler headline the group, followed by career backups like Tavaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Kellen Clemens, Brodie Croyle, and Bruce Gradkowski.
Leinart has outperformed all except Young, Jackson, and Cutler, but not by much in cases like Gradkowski. Not the results the Arizona Cardinals were looking for, so they signed 2007 Pro Bowler Derek Anderson after Kurt Warner retired. Anderson was a sixth round draft pick in 2005 now on his third team.
As I predicted upon his signing, Anderson has won the starting job as quarterback of the Cardinals. Now Leinart is crying to the media exclaiming the Arizona coaches never gave him an explanation as to why they went with someone other than him.
Welcome to the NFL Prima donna, a world that sometimes touches a reality many of Earth experience.
Leinart was known as the pretty boy in college, a guy who some were trying to put in the category of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady as far as good looks combined with winning games. He led his Alma mater, USC, to a BSC Championship and AP Championship and some NFL scouts thought his game would translate to the pros.
Unfortunately, like many Heisman winners, his game soon was shown to not have what it takes to be an effective NFL player. Even in the modern where rules are heavily slanted to the quarterbacks favor. Some will say his party boy attitude early in his career derailed his progress, but the real reasons run deeper.
One huge reason is his lack of an NFL arm. The Cardinals run an offensive system where a strong arm with accuracy is needed to succeed. Leinart has neither. To have Anderson, coming off a terrible 2009 season, and a not much better 2008, replace him as he learns a new system on the fly speaks volumes.
Leinart wants a reason, and perhaps the truth will set him free. He was an overrated, overhyped college athlete surrounded by immensely talented teammates. The best comparison to him might be Todd Marinovich, a weak armed lefty drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Raiders in the 1991 draft. The 6’4″ Marinovich, an inch shorter than Leinart, was a USC product who partied his way out of the league after just two years.
Though it appears likely Leinart is destined to be playing his last year in Arizona this season before embarking on a journeyman career bouncing around the league, some think his skill set better fits the dink/ dunk game of the West Coast offense. It is forseeable he ends up in Seattle next year, rejoining college coach Pete Carrol, though it is improbable he could unseat incumbent Matt Hasselbeck or even move on top of Charlie Whitehurst in the depth chart.
Perhaps not all is lost for Leinart. There certainly no guarantees Anderson excels or even stays healthy a full season. It is likely he will be given yet another chance to redeem himself. What he does with it, if given the chance, is also unknown. Yet all signs point to disappointment.
Something he has been since entering the NFL.