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Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Warner won't match 2008


One of 2008's most astonishing comeback stories is back for another chapter.

As expected, Kurt Warner re-signed with the Cardinals on Wednesday, agreeing to a two-year, $23 million contract, $19 million of which is guaranteed. Though 37, Warner returns as the team's unquestioned starting quarterback, further delaying Matt Leinart's ascension to that role, if not assuredly ending the latter's tenure in the desert.

What Warner accomplished this past season was nothing short of astonishing: He placed in the top five of the league in passing yards (4,583, second), touchdowns (30, third) and passer rating (96.9, third), and helped carry the Cardinals on their Cinderella run into Super Bowl XLIII, nearly rallying the team to victory in the title game, in fact. It was the kind of season that had many building a case for Warner as a Hall of Fame candidate.

For fantasy, Warner's heroics were even more astounding. The 22nd quarterback picked in ESPN Live Drafts, Warner finished 2008 as the fifth-ranked quarterback -- and seventh player overall -- in fantasy points, averaging 15.9 per game. Those who took a chance on his being the eventual victor of a preseason position battle with Leinart were rewarded with a near-certain fantasy playoff spot.

Of course, in the wake of such heroics, aging players like Warner frequently follow up extraordinary seasons with disappointing ones. He'll be regarded a top-5 quarterback in 2009 drafts thanks to his certain starting status and the pass-happy offense in which he resides, but there's enough downside to make him dangerous if he's selected too high. Ranking him fifth at his position should probably present his peak expectation.

For one thing, Warner hasn't been a poster boy for perfect health the past half-decade. The 16 games in which he played in 2008 represented the first time he appeared in every game since 2001; he averaged just north of eight per season in the six years since '01 and had played only 20 total in 2006-2007 with the Cardinals. To expect Warner to last another 16 games -- plus any possible playoff outings -- is a stretch, and if you don't believe that, ask those who waited so long to pick him in 2008 whether that wasn't a big reason.

The other concern: The Cardinals don't appear close to dealing with Anquan Boldin's contract demands, and should he hold out or force a trade, it would deplete at least somewhat the team's receiver depth. Of course, neither of those prospects seems dire today, and Warner reportedly has suggested he would return $1 million from each year of his deal if the Cardinals agree to terms with Boldin. Plus, No. 3 option Steve Breaston proved more than capable of standing in as a starter as needed. Something to think about: Warner averaged 200 passing yards with 10 total touchdowns in the five games (playoffs included) that Boldin missed in 2008, and that includes Week 16 in New England, when Warner was forced out early.

In other words, don't expect a total "bust" season, but take care not to reach for Warner early, especially accounting for the historical likelihood that starter-worthy fantasy quarterbacks tend to linger around nearly 75 picks into a typical draft. He'll rival most quarterbacks in the game in terms of per-game numbers, but any reasonable 2009 projection should account for, say, two missed games for Warner at the very least.

One thing's for sure, returning to the topic of Cardinals receivers: They're certainly happy to have Warner back, instead of Leinart, to fling them the football. Without a doubt Larry Fitzgerald and Boldin should be top-10 receivers, with Fitzgerald making a strong case for No. 1 status at the position, and Breaston presents immense sleeper potential especially if he's elevated into the starting lineup.

• The Broncos, known for their unpredictable approach to the running back position under the Mike Shanahan regime, apparently seem to be adopting a similar approach under new coach Josh McDaniels. On Wednesday they reportedly signed LaMont Jordan to a two-year, $2.5 million deal, pairing him with the recently added Correll Buckhalter. That comes on the heels of news that J.J. Arrington's apparent deal fell through, though all indications are that the team is working on a new deal with the ex-Cardinal.

With Jordan, who played under McDaniels last season when the latter was the Patriots' offensive coordinator, the Broncos now boast a barrage of bit parts at running back, a group that also features Andre Hall, Peyton Hillis, Ryan Torain and Selvin Young. Jordan might fit in as the goal-line back of this bunch, but at 30 and coming off back-to-back injury-marred campaigns, he shouldn't be regarded as much of a fantasy option outside of touchdown-only formats. Even in those, he'll need to establish himself in that role in the preseason, and if McDaniels' design is very much identical to the committee he employed back in New England, it's going to limit the appeal of any member of this group.

The "upshot": At this point, McDaniels looks like he may yet uphold the tradition of Denver coaches being maddening for fantasy owners to figure out.