The Arizona Cardinals' struggles at quarterback have invited criticism over the team's handling of the position.
"I don’t think there’s any question," Chuck Price said by phone Thursday.
Price ranks among the most ardent Leinart supporters. Leinart has counted Price as one of his advisers and closest confidants while Tom Condon takes the lead on contract negotiations.
Price reached out this week after reading my comments regarding Leinart on Monday. My take then:
Matt Leinart is looking better every week. I realize he wasn't the franchise quarterback Arizona wanted him to be, but the Cardinals would be in better position if he remained among their options at the position. The team has basically exhausted its options at quarterback with nine games remaining. Nine games is a long, long time when Anderson and Max Hall are throwing interceptions. Leinart continues to sit the bench for Houston. The Cardinals got nothing in return for him.
The Cardinals' handling of Leinart remains topical. Leinart was a first-round draft choice and an increasingly polarizing figure as the Cardinals decided what to do following Kurt Warner's retirement. With Leinart now the third quarterback in Houston, Price offered thoughts on what happened to Leinart in Arizona, what could have been different and what happens next.
You said the Cardinals would be better off with Leinart. Why?
Chuck Price: Basically, from my point of view, he spent a lot of time maturing and developing as a quarterback under Kurt, and where he was at the beginning of the maturation process was above what the typical rookie curve is. In the games he started as a rookie, take away two missed field goals and he is 2-0 in his first two starts against Kansas City and Chicago. He goes on the road and throws for 400 yards against Minnesota. He leads a home win over Seattle. All of this is in the turmoil of the offensive coordinator losing his job, the quarterbacks coach goes to the offensive coordinator and you have a rookie going with no quarterbacks coach. His performance as a rookie alone -- and I also throw in last year’s game against Tennessee, where on no notice he played a mistake-free game in a hostile environment. If the Arizona quarterbacks this year were playing mistake-free football, they would be on the positive side of a winning record.
Leinart did have a winning vibe about him as a rookie, but it didn't seem to be there as much toward the end, for whatever reason. Point-blank question: Which Arizona defeats this season would you slide into the win column if Leinart had been starting?
Chuck Price: I don’t think it makes a difference in Atlanta, but I do feel that based on his ability to manage a football game, they are going to beat Tampa Bay and have a better chance at Seattle, where the Seahawks couldn't take advantage of the opportunities they had. The team would have taken on a different characteristic, a little more stability. The QB accounted for at the very minimum a 14-point swing in the Tampa Bay game. That is the only one you can really point to, but if you go to the entire preseason, you can say he didn’t really do something to keep the position, or did somebody completely outplay him? You can point at what you see. You cannot guess what would happen.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt liked how the team responded when Anderson and Hall were under center, the implication being that Leinart was short in the leadership department.
Chuck Price: I think when Matt was at USC and when Matt was in high school and when Matt was a rookie, Matt was a leader. Everybody leads in a different way. You could take a receiver out of the mix at USC, you could take a running back out of the mix, but you could not take Matt out of the mix and still be where they were at. He had a certain amount of energy that rallied those players. The locker room is a strange place in the NFL. It's 45 guys but not all 45 guys (saying Leinart wasn't a leader). Maybe that is how Coach Whisenhunt saw the locker room or how he wanted to see the locker room. It was completely misleading.
How do you know that?
Chuck Price: To me, it’s misleading. I don’t think Matt was given a chance to lead that team. If you are the quarterback going into training camp and you complete better than 80 percent of your balls with no interceptions and the other guy is throwing interceptions, I am not understanding how you lose your position as the starting quarterback. It's unlike when he did go into camp as the starter and was really outperformed by Kurt. That was a decision that was justified when it was made and justified on the back side.
The Cardinals did not get into the end zone [with Leinart] until Matt’s third preseason game [this year], but I don’t know. If your quarterback is 19-for-24 for however many yards and no turnovers, the way the NFL reads this year, you are going to be in position to win that game in the fourth quarter. Clearly, his leadership skills were not the skills Coach Whisenhunt was looking for, but I think he was an extraordinary leader. You don’t have to beat your chest. You put in your time and learn. Preseason football is a lot different from regular-season football. I think Max Hall will tell you that.
Was it a personality thing between Leinart and Whisenhunt?
Chuck Price: It was completely. He had his view about the way a quarterback was supposed to lead. Coach Whisenhunt was a blue-collar football player who made the most of his career. He was very, very unheralded and probably feels he earned everything he got through unbelievable hard work and a 24-7 commitment. In his mind, he did not see that in Matt. Maybe he did not look hard enough. Maybe he could not get past the fact Matt was a Heisman Trophy winner out of USC and had a reputation that was given to him that was not really Matt's fault. That was the perfect storm. The personality of Coach Whisenhunt and what he achieved and how he achieved it as a player was unbelievable.
What is the next step for Leinart?
Chuck Price: This is the transition. The past is now behind us and the future is very bright. I think there is some justification for that thought. He is learning now under an unbelievable quarterback head coach, a guy who was very, very into Matt when Matt was coming out. He was very aware of who Matt was and liked the skill set. The word out of Houston so far is all positive. There are going to be a lot of quarterback openings and not a lot of guys out there that have the NFL experience that Matt has. He has not played in a lot of games for a guy who has played five years. He's healthy. Four years under Kurt is invaluable. When he gets the chance, he will show.