News broke this morning that Kurt Warner called a press conference for Friday where Cardinals officials, his family, and inner circle will all be present. It can only mean one thing: Kurt Warner is hanging them up.
Warner leaves the game with high distinction and a legacy in two different cities having reconstructed two lousy franchises into winners. Warner brought the Cardinals their first two division titles in franchise history, the club's first playoff win in 60 years, and its first Super Bowl appearance.
While Warner heads off into the sunset, the Cardinals must look to the future. Who will be the guy to replace THE guy? The Cardinals have an in-house option, but will uncertainty lead them elsewhere? Other quarterbacks could be had. Where could the Cardinals go?
The Cardinals used the 10th pick in the 2006 draft to select Leinart and looked to the former USC quarterback to be their future. Leinart had tenuous opportunities to assert himself as the Cardinals starter, but injury and ineffectiveness opened the door for Warner to lead the team. He did, very successfully for two years, and simultaneously diminished Leinart's stock.
Leinart, who has thrown for 3,893 yards and a 14-20 TD-INT ratio in his career to date, has been unassuming and at times unimpressive in his limited playing time. He has shown enough, or not enough in some cases, that will force the Cardinals to find a competitor for Leinart which could suit him well.
Donovan McNabb's name has popped up the last few offseasons following disappointing Eagles playoff exits. Could this be the time and opportunity that finally leads McNabb away from the only team he's ever known?
The Eagles have three quarterbacks (yes, including Michael Vick) and still appear committed to 2007 second round pick Kevin Kolb. McNabb has an offseason home in Arizona right down the street from Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and would step into a situation with playmakers around him.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid remains steadfastly behind McNabb in the public eye, but the 33-year-old quarterback's best days in Philadelphia are behind him. A change in scenery could re-energize him. If Cardinals pursue it hard enough and come up with the right compensation, the Eagles will likely pull the trigger.
Chad Pennington underwent a third surgery in September to repair his right shoulder. However, the good news for Pennington is that the surgery repaired a dislocation and was not to repair a muscle or tendon injury. That leaves Pennington feeling positive he can play again in 2010. Would the Cardinals be interested?
Pennington is a high IQ quarterback with a history of strong leadership much like the guy he would replace. However, the big knock on Pennington is his lack of arm strength. Incumbent Matt Leinart does not possess a big arm, though bigger than Pennington's, but the Cardinals possess down field playmakers.
Deep threats like Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and the methodology of the Cardinals' offense, do not fit the mold of quarterback like Pennington.
Pluses: Smart QB. Veteran. Leadership qualities
Negatives: Short arm. Injury prone.
Daunte Culpepper backed up a rookie in Matthew Stafford in Detroit. He could play the same role or compete with Matt Leinart in Arizona. At 33, Culpepper is the same age as McNabb and though he saw limited playing time the last two seasons, he still possesses one key item: his big arm.
Culpepper played in eight games in 2009, his most since the 2004 season, but has the arm that will play in the Cardinals attacking offense. He certainly does not have the precision of Warner and is prone to mistakes, but he could fit as a one year stop-gap. Warner was signed through the 2010 season and Culpepper fills the void before the Cardinals get back on track with their organizational planning.
Campbell comes with a significant "if", and it's beyond his control. If the NFL manages to put together a new collective bargaining agreement before the March deadline, Campbell will become an unrestricted free agent. If not, he remains a restricted free agent.
Campbell has endured a rocky tenure in Washington, but he is coming off a career season when he set highs in rating, completions, yards, and touchdowns. A change in scenery would provide new opportunity and energy if the league makes its deal and Campbell gets his freedom.
ODDS: 60-1 (with new CBA), 100-1 (without new CBA)
Obviously there is an inherent risk in bringing in Vick as he hasn't truly quarterbacked in a team years. Vick signed a two-year deal with Philadelphia but that doesn't mean he isn't expandable.
Like McNabb, the Eagles will be looking to unload some weight and would jump at the first opportunity to get some value for Vick. He is under contract for one more year and will likely be had by some team looking for a new QB or depth. The Cardinals could land Vick for a mid-round pick, plug him in for one year, and see if he can bring a new dynamic to the offense.
It is likely that the recently oft-injured Marc Bulger will be let go by St. Louis. Bulger stands to make $8.5 million next season and has $30 million remaining on his contract. That is a lot of cash to be paid to a quarterback with recent troubles of staying on the field and a roster that is getting younger around him.
Bulger has a history in a wide-open offense like the Cardinals, still has the arm, and is another 33-year-old QB who could be a reclamation project in Arizona.
Coming off a forthcoming release from his big contract, Bulger will likely be had on the cheap and at a limited rate. He is also young enough that the Cardinals could lock him to start in 2010 and then keep him on board as a veteran backup beyond that.
Like Bulger, Jake Delhomme's injuries and poor play could spell his end in Carolina. The one thing working in his favor is that he is owed $12.67 million regardless of whether the team cuts or retains him.
The Cardinals saw Delhomme up close and personal in his 5 INT game during the 2008 playoff run. Delhomme's last two seasons have included 23 touchdowns and 30 interceptions, and at 35 years old may be too much of a risk with not enough reward for Arizona.
Dan LeFevour personifies the chance that Cardinals could take a mid-round quarterback in the draft and see if he sticks. LeFevour is a solid, safe option. The Central Michigan quarterback has size, (6-foot-3, 240 pounds), mobility and a strong arm that should play in the NFL.
LeFevour was a four-year starter and is fairly polished. He would require the necessary adjustment to the league, but his personality and pro-style of play in college would make for a relatively smooth transition without having to commit big bucks to another quarterback.
Tim Tebow is likely the biggest quarterback project in the draft. The offense he ran at Florida is spread out with lots of options and he would have something similar in Arizona. Four, five receivers, lots of looks would suit Tebow's style. Plus, he brings a leadership quality similar to Warner that could fit well in the locker room.
The biggest question is whether or not the Cardinals want to undertake that project. The club's recent run of success has made it a win-now team despite being very young. Tebow could regress or delay that progress and thus would need to be a very convincing fit for the Cardinals.
Colt McCoy is another four-year collegiate starter who projects to the middle of the draft. If the Cardinals are looking for depth and value in the later rounds, McCoy could be a fit but he would not be an instant impact player for 2010.
He is an excellent passer with short, quick routes but scouts have questions about his ability to throw the deep ball. The Cardinals need that kind of signal caller who can comfortably hit his targets 15-20 yards down field.
Leinart would get the green light well before McCoy, but the Cardinals could look the Longhorn's way if they seek a high makeup, solid value pick.
Yes, Brett Favre. Who knows if he'll actually retire or not, or retire and finagle his way out of his contract for a new opportunity. You cannot put anything passed the ol' gunslinger given his recent track record.
Arizona provides a roster and model very similar to Minnesota. The Cardinals have a deep-and even stronger-receiving corps like Minnesota. The Cardinals have an established running game, and the Cardinals could get back to the Super Bowl simply on the back of strong quarterback play. If Favre does return and works his way into free agency, the Cardinals cannot be overlooked.
(Odds change based on Favre's mood each morning)