Sunday September 5th, 2010

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we digest the news coming forth on the NFL's final cut-down day of preseason.....

Now that he's an ex-Cardinal, Matt Leinart's next call is by far the most pivotal one of his five-year professional career. Finding his next address in the NFL pales in comparison to the real challenge he faces: Finding the right NFL address, one that will provide him a chance to revive his reputation and rebuild his game.

If he's smart, Leinart will take some time and think long and hard and not just sign with the first team that slides a contract and dangles its backup QB job in front of him. Because his second NFL team will likely either make or break him.

Leinart should beware of a team that might pose the quickest opportunity for some playing time -- say, maybe a Buffalo or Jacksonville-type situation -- but perhaps leads nowhere good in terms of his long-term interests. He needs someone to invest some time and development in him at this crossroads point in his career, not just take a one-season look at him and render a hasty judgment.

I found some sentiment within the league Saturday afternoon that agrees with my thinking on Leinart, and who believes he might be better served to sit and wait until the right team comes along, even if it means he loses all of his 2010 season in the process.

"It sounds kind of crazy, and I know he wants to play somewhere this year, but he might be better off scrapping the season and seeing what develops for him in 2011,'' a veteran club personnel man told me. "He's already in a bad spot, but the biggest thing he needs to do is go somewhere he's going to have a comfort level with the offense and the people who are coaching him. That's critical.

"There's really not much of an opportunity for him in too many places at this point this year. If he goes somewhere just to go somewhere, and it turns out badly there, he may be done at that point. It's not about the playing time or the money for him now. He should be trying to figure out where the perfect spot is for him to land, and who can work with him and help him learn how to study and how to be a pro.''

Is there a perfect landing spot for Leinart, who went 10th overall to Arizona in 2006? Maybe not, but some opportunities would be far better than others. Five fairly logical teams come to mind:

Seattle -- Obviously the lure of playing for his former collegiate head coach, Pete Carroll, would be very attractive to Leinart. He had his greatest success as a quarterback under Carroll at USC, and the glaring lack of confidence that the Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt had in Leinart obviously would not be a factor if he was a Seahawk. If Seattle hadn't just acquired Charlie Whitehurst as the heir apparent to Matt Hasselbeck this offseason, Leinart would make perfect sense for the Seahawks. Maybe he still does, given Whitehurst didn't exactly prove himself a starter-in-waiting this preseason. The release of third-team quarterback J.P. Losman on Saturday does open up a potential slot on Seattle's depth chart.

Philadelphia -- The Eagles are obviously greatly invested in the Kevin Kolb era, which dawns this season, but he's not a proven commodity just yet. If Kolb should struggle this season, and with Michael Vick being just a year-to-year proposition for Philly, there's at least room for the Eagles to investigate Leinart. It'd be great for Leinart if he got to work with both Andy Reid and Philly offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who might be able to sharpen up his game.

Washington -- Again, if Leinart could find a spot where he can be coached by the likes of a Mike Shanahan, who's had his share of successful quarterbacks, he'd do well. With Donovan McNabb starting his 12th NFL season, and nothing more than ex-Bears starter Rex Grossman behind him, there might be a place for Leinart in D.C.

Minnesota -- The Vikings have Brett Favre in what he promises will be his 20th and final NFL season, and then seemingly a decent amount of ambivalence regarding Tarvaris Jackson's future. Minnesota head coach Brad Childress likes Jackson -- enough so to trade Sage Rosenfels to the Giants this weekend, even though Rosenfels out-played Jackson this summer -- but I don't think love will ever enter the equation. Leinart could be a viable option for the Favre-less Vikings in 2011.

Houston -- The Texans have Matt Schaub and Dan Orlovsky, and just waived No. 3 QB John David Booty. Houston head coach Gary Kubiak is a former NFL quarterback and has a strong track record coaching the position. The Texans have a powerful offense and Leinart could do much worse than getting a chance to fly under the radar for a while in Houston.

One scenario I don't foresee unfolding regarding Leinart is him signing somewhere in the next day or two and immediately interjecting himself into that team's starting quarterback situation (with the possible exception, I suppose, of Pittsburgh, where it's a short-term need the Steelers have). It's my sense he's not the type of QB who will be capable of walking in the door and learning his new team's offense in two weeks. I don't think he's experienced enough to absorb a whole playbook that quickly and impress a new team enough in practice to warrant some early season playing time.

For Leinart, it is time to choose very wisely. Otherwise his second team might wind up being his last chance in the NFL.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh getting whacked by Seattle strikes me as another reminder of how players choose poorly during free agency when they purely chase the biggest dollars instead of the best fit. Houshmandzadeh never looked all that interested when he was on the field in Seattle, and he wound up suffering through a long, losing season after guaranteeing a playoff berth for the Seahawks. You wonder how many times he wished he had chosen Minnesota last year, after the Vikings put on a big effort to sign him in the 2009 offseason?

Seems like the Vikings would make sense for Houshmandzadeh now, especially with Minnesota releasing Javon Walker on Saturday. They still have some need at receiver with Sidney Rice gone for half the season, and Favre would feed him the football and move the chains on third downs.

• The Cardinals love rookie quarterback Max Hall and that's one reason why they were willing to let Leinart go. But you have to wonder about Arizona being willing to put its entire season in the hands of a rookie if anything should happen to starter Derek Anderson?

The Cardinals have to be second-guessing their decision to not sign Marc Bulger when the Rams made him available. One league source told me this week that Bulger remains one of the top 20 quarterbacks in the league, and if the Cardinals had him starting this year, they'd be going to the playoffs for a third year in a row.

For that matter, Arizona could have been a player in the Donovan McNabb sweepstakes as well, but declined. Derek Anderson it is for the Cardinals, and I'm still shocked by the level of confidence they have in his inconsistent game.

• Bad days lately for Heisman Trophy winners, huh? Both Leinart (2004 winner) and Baltimore's Troy Smith (2006) got released Saturday, and 2005 winner Reggie Bush had his school (USC) give back its copy of the Heisman he won while he was a Trojan. And now last year's winner, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, is starting this season on the injury list.

On the plus side, Sam Bradford (2008) won the Rams starting quarterback job, and Tim Tebow (2007) figures to be Denver's No. 2 QB on game days.

• I was at Redskins camp the day it opened, and I could tell Larry Johnson was running with a purpose this summer. Him making Washington's roster and Willie Parker being released was no surprise. That was an easy call. But it is shocking to see Ryan Torain's name on the Redskins cut list, because he's very well thought of by Washington's coaching staff. Sounds like they're hoping to get Torain back via the practice squad, however. But that maneuver can be risky some times.

Pat White's failure to make himself valuable enough in Miami should dissuade NFL teams from drafting Wildcat formation-type quarterbacks anywhere near the top half the draft for the forseeable future. Unless Tim Tebow really changes the equation with what he's able to do in Denver as a rookie, White's failure to make an impact as a Dolphin and Vick's ho-hum first season as an Eagle should tamp down a good bit of the excitement that Wildcat-type quarterbacks generated in recent years.

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