Ken Whisenhunt Defies Rod Graves, Sends Matt Leinart Back to the Bench

Ted ChoateCorrespondent ISeptember 1, 2008

As local Arizona sports writers have noted, Ken Whisenhunt seems to have the ear of the Arizona Cardinals' management.

Whisenhunt is the first head coach in recent memory to have the free reign to hire qualified assistant coaches and then pay them enough to keep them content.

Whether it be the new weight room or more convenient team travel plans, it seems plain as day that Ken Whisenhunt has more influence than any recent Cardinals head coach.

In fact, sometimes, it seems like Ken Whisenhunt is part of the front office. And that is something a head coach just cannot let happen.

Let's look at the Anquan Boldin and Matt Leinart situations.

Anquan Boldin believes that he has outplayed his current contract and has sought a new deal from management this offseason.

Management, despite repeated assurances to Boldin that such a deal is forthcoming, have repeated failed to deliver.  And in Anquan's mind, the Cardinals had not even made a serious efforts to work out a new deal.

Who knows for sure, but Boldin had claimed on Michael Irvin's radio show that the Cardinals approached him one time about a new contract extension that included no guaranteed money!

Boldin felt insulted, and rightfully so.

What compounds the bad feelings from Boldin's viewpoint is that earlier this season the Cards had successfully reworked Larry Fitzgerald's contract and now pay Fitzgerald over twice what Anquan is making.

So, what did Ken Whisenhunt have to do with this?

In both cases, Whisenhunt had sat in on the contract talks. After signing his mega-deal, Larry Fitzgerald praised the work that his coach put forth to get this high-dollar deal done. 

Undoubtedly Boldin had noted that. 

And undoubtedly, Q had also noted Whisenhunt's same presence at the failed Boldin-Drew Rosenhaus negotiation table. Unlike Fitzgerald, Boldin did not like nor appreciate the efforts that Whisenhunt had given on his behalf.  

Q even reported that after the Cards presented him with an unattractive extension offer, a rather indifferent Whisenhunt asked Boldin to go ahead and sign it.

This is not a smart move by a head coach.

Coaches ask players to give their all on the field and do things some of us consider unimaginable. With this in mind, it is not smart for a coach to put himself (or even give the appearance of putting himself) between a player and his money. 

Boldin felt that Whiz had crossed this line and sided with management in his failed contract-renegotiation talks. And this cannot be a good thing for the relationship between a player and his coach.

Coach Whisenhunt's handling of the Matt Leinart saga also appears to be riddled with a conflict of interest, yet clearly it should not be.

Whiz didn't draft Leinart and certainly didn't write Leinart's asinine rookie contract. That contract is Graves's problem, and Whiz has let it become his problem.

The Cards' front office is genuinely terrified about how to handle Leinart's rookie contract escalators, and hope mightily to avoid another crippling fiasco like Larry Fitzgerald's rookie contract.

In looking at Leinart's contract, one can note that by simply playing 25 percent of the snaps his rookie year, Leinart has earned a $15M escalator in contract-year five. And it also seems likely that Leinart may earn more escalators in his fifth and sixth contract years.

Unfortunately, to date, Leinart has done nothing to earn such a huge amount of money, and many in the Cardinal organization are not even sure that the guy can become a capable NFL QB.

Thus, the Card's management feels it is urgent to get Leinart on the field for an extended period of time to evaluate Leinart's game, and the front office has undoubtedly laid that burden on their Head Coach/Front-Office Assistant. 

Can there be any other explanation for benching Kurt Warner and his sensational talents for a guy that put up the lowest QB rating in the NFL last season?

Here is how management wanted this situation handled.

First of all, they want Matt Leinart on the field now, not holding the clipboard.

If Leinart is able to play well and shows that he is indeed their future, then the Cards will want to re-work his deal before his fourth year, not before the critical fifth year, when the escalators are actually due to be paid out (like they did with Larry Fitzgerald's rookie contract).  

If Leinart is the future, then the Cards will try to get Leinart back to the renegotiation table at the end of this year, when both sides actually have some interest in working out a contract re-do.

On the other hand, if, after a full year of playing, the Cards believed that Leinart's game is not top-tier, then they would re-work a more appropriate deal or simply release him before he was due this $15M escalator.

But say Whisenhunt does not make Matt Leinart the starter?

What happens if Leinart holds the clipboard and doesn't get a chance to show what he has on the field?

The Cardinals' front office wants to avoid this. This would essentially leave the Cards and Graves faced with two bad choices. They could pay an outrageous $15M bonus to an unknown commodity. Or more embarrassing yet, they could release a player that they have been hawking as "the face of the franchise" without the guy ever getting to show his stuff.

But this is what Whisenhunt needs to realize: These are Graves's problems, not Ken Whisenhunt's.

Ken Whisenhunt is paid to coach his team and to win games.

Whiz is the coach; and yes, he can help his team by keeping management's ear. But he will most definitely hurt his team if he allows himself to be seen as a head coach/management stooge.


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