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Kurt Warner Retires? Enter Matt Leinart, and Other Possibilities

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If Kurt Warner retires as expected, the biggest question to be answered in the Cardinals' offseason is what will happen at the quarterback position?

Matt Leinart is the obvious choice to step into Warner's shoes and have a go at leading the team. The organization has invested many millions and four years into this former first round draft pick, and despite the valid concerns about his arm strength and overall effectiveness he will begin the 2010 season with more knowledge of the Cardinals offense than any other quarterback should Warner follow through with retirement.

Since Leinart has more going for him than any quarterback currently outside of the organization, it is his job to lose. However, with only one inexperienced QB behind him in Brian St. Pierre—a career backup who is not a lock to return to the team next season—it is logical to think that the Cardinals will bring in at least one other QB either through the draft or free agency to compete for a roster spot.

It is not a stretch to imagine if that player is impressive enough they could wrestle the starting job away from Leinart, but at the very least the team will need depth in case Leinart gets injured or cannot get the job done. Where will that player come from?


You'd have to think the team would add at least one college QB through this year's draft. If there is one thing that we have learned about head coach Ken Whisenhunt, GM Rod Graves and the scouting department of the Cardinals is that they have an eye for unearthing talent at all levels, and are not afraid to draft small school players that are mostly off the radar otherwise.

This is the same team that drafted Tim Hightower in the fifth round in 2008 from the University of Richmond and Greg Toler in the fourth in 2009 from tiny Saint Paul's College, both players from small schools that were not invited to the annual scouting combine.

Hightower has been a starter and has already proven he belongs in this league, and Toler ended his rookie season by outplaying starter Bryant McFadden in the season finale, setting himself up nicely for future success.

 

Based on that the Cardinals could like what they see from any of the big names coming out of college like Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow or Tony Pike, or they could surprise and dig up a virtual unknown.

 

There are so many variables with the draft that I will not delve into specific players, though it goes without saying that there are a tremendous amount of possibilities.

Another possibility is that Arizona will look to add a proven veteran or a promising young QB via trade or free agency. Keep in mind some of these are more legitimate options than others, as some are under contract and some will be free agents.

There are two common themes in my list: 1) those that I would target in my search if I were looking around the NFL at QB options for the Arizona Cardinals if Kurt Warner does in fact retire, and 2) all of these teams could use a top tier WR such as Anquan Boldin.

It is no secret that Boldin is unhappy in the desert and wants out, and with the way Early Doucet emerged at the end of the season I fully expect them to try their best to move Boldin now that he is expendable.

So here it is. 11 ideas for quarterback depth. Some of these may seem radical but hear me out.

1.Tyler ThigpenDolphins

Thigpen is another Rodney Dangerfield, the guy gets no respect. Yet if you scrutinize what he did when he played for the Chiefs, it is in the very least respectable.

Thigpen played college ball at the anti-powerhouse Coastal Carolina, and began 2008 as the No.3 QB with no experience. The only reason he sniffed the field at all was because Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard both went down with injuries.

This unknown guy playing at a rookie level outperformed many of the first seasons of Hall of Fame QBs. Playing on one of the worst teams in the league, he still managed to compile over 2,600 yards passing and an impressive 18 TDs versus 12 interceptions.

He can make all the throws and he has wheels too. He is fast and can make plays with his legs out of the pocket. That same year Thigpen gained 368 yards rushing and scored 3 TDs—tops in the league for QBs.

Oh yeah and did I mention, the Dolphins could use a top flight receiver like Anquan Boldin? It wouldn't be too far fetched for the Cardinals to be able to get Thigpen and a draft pick in exchange for Boldin.

2. Troy SmithRavens

Derrick Mason may be retiring—again—and let's face it the WR department in Baltimore has been a need for many years. Anquan Boldin would be a perfect fit.

Troy Smith doesn't get a lot of attention. In fact I would be willing to bet most NFL observers don't think he can be a legitimate starting QB in this league.

Rewind to August of 2008 for a second though. Smith earned the starting job ahead of rookie Joe Flacco, and the primary reason he wasn't under center on opening day was because he came down with a rare illness that caused him to be very sick for several weeks. Flacco grabbed control and never looked back.

Smith has voiced his desire to play elsewhere because he wants another shot, and obviously sitting behind Flacco is not very promising.

While I will not say that Troy Smith looks like a superstar, I think there is more potential there than most people want to give him credit for. Maybe all he needs is a chance.

3. Jordan PalmerBengals

Is Jordan to Carson what Eli is to Peyton? I don't know if it is that simple, but it certainly doesn't hurt that he has good blood lines.

The Bengals have a now aging receiving corps in Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles as their top two options. Chris Henry's untimely death leaves them even more depleted at WR. Anquan Boldin would make perfect sense.

How far along has Jordan come in his development? It is hard to tell since he still sits at No.3 on the depth chart, but if the pot were sweet enough like two draft picks and Palmer for Boldin, the Cardinals may take a chance.

4. Derek AndersonBrowns

There is a new sheriff in town in Cleveland, and that's President Mike Holmgren. While it is too early to tell how he views the QB position there, it is possible either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson may get jettisoned.

People have short memories in general, and after seeing how Anderson performed this season in particular, it is easy to understand how we might forget about how well he played in 2007 when he made the Pro Bowl.

The Browns do not have a go to receiver unless you count Joshua Cribbs. I don't—I call Cribbs the go to playmaker, but not receiver. Once again, Anquan Boldin could win games by himself in Cleveland. Stay tuned.

5. Brodie Croyle—Chiefs

We all know head coach Todd Haley was the offensive coordinator in Arizona during the Super Bowl run, and yes we all also know that Haley and Boldin were known to yell at each other on the sidelines even during the playoffs.

Both men say that that was brought on only by the heat of battle, and that they co-existed nicely otherwise. I don't know what to believe but I do know what football sense it would make to have perennial Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin on one side and talented young Dwayne Bowe on the other. That would be an absolute nightmare.

Croyle is a leftover from an old regime and the new administration brought in not one but two ex-Patriots to man the QB position. Starter Matt Cassel and No.3 QB Matt Gutierrez. How do we know the Chiefs prefer Croyle to stay?

Perhaps the Cardinals could swing a trade, Boldin for Croyle and either LB Derrick Johnson or Tamba Hali?

6. Bruce GradkowskiRaiders

How would Boldin look in silver and black?

Well, Darrius Heyward-Bey is a bust right? There is at least one reason to consider trading for him.

Bruce Gradkowski is a warrior. He makes unorthodox throws sometimes, but he is a winner and the Raiders just hired Hue Jackson to tutor JaMarcus Russell which appears to be a clear signal that they don't intend to give up on him just yet.

7, Jason CampbellRedskins

Still rough around the edges but how many head coaches and offensive coordinators does this guy have to go through? At some point you have to cut him some slack.

I think Campbell would like nothing more than to get out of D.C.

Big arm. When he is firing on all cylinders, Campbell throws one of the prettiest deep balls in the game.

The 'Skins are another team whose perennial weakness seems to be WR. Santana Moss is a good receiver, but would be best served as a No.2 or 3. Pair him with an Anquan Boldin and sprinkle in their young receivers particularly Devin Thomas, and voila, done, a fortified receiving corps.

8. Matt Moore—Panthers

If you stopped paying attention to the Panthers at the end of the season, you missed Matt Moore putting on a heckuva show. He led the team to a 4-1 finish with a passer rating of 110.9.

Next season the jury is out for the starting QB job in Carolina, if only because Jake Delhomme is good for a hefty dividend whether he is on the roster or not. Moore clearly, greatly outplayed Delhomme in limited action.

I figure if the Panthers were near-sighted enough to give Delhomme that fat of a contract, maybe there is some way to pry Moore away? Doubtful, but possible.

You would imagine that Steve Smith would be eager for someone as talented as Anquan Boldin to start opposite of him.

9. Hunter Cantwell—Panthers

I admit this pick is a supreme dark horse. This is why I like Cantwell:

He has a big arm and a big frame. When he was a walk-on at Louisville, he strolled right in and spelled Brian Brohm without missing a beat as a true freshman. Shortly thereafter, Brohm was considered a potential No.1 overall draft pick, but as I watched I thought Cantwell was better.

Cantwell ended up being undrafted, and any No.3 QB is a risk I admit. However, in limited exposure, he has displayed moxy that made me take notice. Though the Panthers eventiually lost, Cantwell was able to rally Carolina this preseason against the Giants in a thrilling finish.

While Carolina is unlikely to let go of Moore, they would probably not hold on to Cantwell very tightly if the Cardinals came knocking with an offer.

10. Josh JohnsonBuccaneers

Josh Johnson got a few chances to start this season before Josh Freeman took over and outplayed him for Tampa Bay. Johnson may just need more seasoning though. He is clearly not going to get that chance where he is, with Freeman expected to be the franchise QB for years to come.

As fast as he is, he is not a run only gimmick QB. Johnson can air it out. In his senior year at San Diego U., he passed for 43 TDs with only one INT. Out of all of his impressive college stats, the one that stands out the most is that he is now the NCAA all time leader in career passer efficiency (176.68).

Boldin could feel comfortable playing in his home state of sunny Florida, and the Buccaneers are yet another team that perpetually need help at WR.

11. Marc BulgerRams

I admit this is fellow Bleacher Report writer Jon Star's idea. I thought it was so good I had to include him in my own list.

Marc Bulger has proven that with the right support around him, he can be a lethal, Pro Bowl QB. What is more interesting about Bulger replacing Warner is that he has already done that once.

Bulger got his QB 101 course directly from Warner and Mike Martz when all were with the Rams. Had Bulger not had the good fortune to learn from them and develop under their guidance we may never have heard of him. That alone makes him a perfect candidate to run a system that Warner has mastered.

Bulger is not expected back in St. Louis, and could be an ideal match for the Cardinals.

Alright let's hear it. Agree? Disagree? How would you fortify quarterback depth on the Cardinals if Kurt retires?