Warner wants job, but Cards should deal Leinart back in

By Chris Cluff  |   Wednesday, December 19, 2007  |  Comments( 2 )

Arizona Cardinals
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Kurt Warner thinks he can be the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback next season, and, based on what happened this year, he probably has a key supporter in rookie coach Ken Whisenhunt. But Whisenhunt needs to swallow hard and give the job back to Matt Leinart next year.

Warner, 36, has had one of the best storybook careers in NFL history, rising from grocery stocker to NFL MVP almost overnight. But his days as the leader of the "Greatest Show on Turf" are long over. He can still throw the ball and move a team up and down the field, but Warner too often hurts his offense with turnovers and fails to generate enough points.

He certainly has put up some good numbers since replacing the injured Leinart earlier this season -- completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,748 yards with 21 touchdowns, the most for the Cardinals since Neil Lomax threw 24 in 1987. But he also has thrown 15 interceptions (only four quarterbacks have more) and lost six of 11 fumbles.

In Week 12, Warner lost a fumble in the end zone in overtime, and the San Francisco 49ers recovered for a 37-31 victory -- an unacceptable loss for an Arizona team that fancied itself a playoff contender.

Two weeks ago, in a make-or-break NFC West game against the Seattle Seahawks, Warner had five passes intercepted as the Cardinals lost 42-21. Then last week, Warner lost a fumble that set up one of the New Orleans Saints' touchdowns in a 31-24 loss that eliminated Arizona (6-8) from the playoffs.

Despite all of that, Warner thinks he deserves a chance to keep the starting position next year.

"I feel good with a lot of things that I've done," he told reporters this week. "There are always things that I wish I could change, mistakes that I've made at critical points in certain games. Those are the things I wish I could take back. If I didn't have a few of those, I'd feel really good with the way I've performed this year."

But that's how it has been for Warner since even before the St. Louis Rams let him go in 2004. And he has not been able to stay healthy when he has played much. To his credit, he has played through elbow and rib injuries this season, but he has not played well enough. Even healthy, he probably is not capable of leading the Cardinals to the playoffs.

That won't prevent Whisenhunt from trying to find ways to use Warner, if not outright handing the starting gig to him next year, because the coach has been impressed with the veteran. Even before Leinart suffered a broken collarbone in Week 5, Whisenhunt had used Warner as the quarterback in the team's no-huddle offense. And when Leinart was hurt, Whisenhunt got what he seemingly wanted -- the chance to play with a veteran and former MVP at quarterback.

"Kurt's really fought through some injuries, but he's been productive for us," Whisenhunt said this week. "I know he's turned the ball over a few times because he's trying to make plays; but as far as keeping us in games, coming back in some things, doing some things for us, he's done a good job with that."

Leinart didn't do a good enough job when he was healthy early in the season, which is what led Whisenhunt to turn to Warner. But bypassing the team's 2006 first-round pick would be a major mistake. Leinart has all of the skills and leadership ability to be a winner -- just as he was at USC -- and needs to be given the opportunity without having to look over his shoulder all of the time.

But Warner has one year left on his contract with Arizona, so Leinart will have to look over his shoulder again next season. And that's just how Warner wants it.

"Hopefully what I've shown is I can still play, and I can still start, and I can still be very effective in this league," he said.

But the turnovers and losses say otherwise, and Whisenhunt would be wise to recognize it.
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About Chris Cluff

Chris Cluff spent 10 years as an editor and sportswriter for The Seattle Times. He was a key figure in the newspaper's coverage of the Seahawks, particularly during their Super Bowl run in 2005. He also has written two books on the Seahawks: "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Heart-Pounding,...
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