Revisionist History: McCown produces Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2011 – 11:04 am

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

The Cardinals were sitting with the third overall pick in a draft heavy with quality quarterback options, so when the just-hired Dennis Green decided to cut incumbent veteran Jeff Blake in early February of 2004, it didn’t really raise any eyebrows (although it did lead to one of the greatest quotes I have ever collected, from Blake when talking about his career: “It’s not like I’ve played bad ball. I’ve just been on bad teams.”)

That changed quickly. So too did the future of the Cardinals.

Less than a week later, I happened to be at the Cards’ facility when Green was going to give what was expected to be an innocuous TV interview. No other reporters were there. Denny proceeded to say odds were “slim” the Cards would take a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft.

“Josh McCown, I think he is going to be a great one,” Green said. Wait … what? I was stunned.

(So were a couple of other print reporters, who worked around their absence by coming the next day in an attempt to get Denny to repeat himself. He wouldn’t – not as strongly. At one point one reporter said, “We’re trying to get you to say what you told Darren yesterday.” Denny’s response was classic Denny: “That was yesterday.”)

McCown’s résumé wasn’t long. He had made the miracle pass to beat the Vikings in the season finale of 2003. He had five touchdowns and six interceptions in a three-game starting stint, but with a new coach, it just seemed like the Cards would nab someone like Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.

The new coach was Green, however. As became evident soon, his belief in Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald – with whom Green was also close personally – was strong enough to make Fitz the Cards’ target. Clearly, Fitz was talented, and Green’s thoughts on what Fitzgerald could be have definitely played out over the years. Yet quarterback is always important, and regardless of how talented Fitzgerald would be, was it worth passing on what was available? You have to wonder, did it color Green’s evaluation of McCown? Because the only way the Cards could really justify taking Fitz at the time was the knowledge McCown could play. Green never was big with the draft smokescreens. I remember at the Scouting combine in 2005 he all but announced he wanted J.J. Arrington. In 2004, it was obvious he wanted Fitzgerald.

Draft weekend was a memorable couple of days. Pat Tillman’s death came to light on Friday, the day before the draft, overshadowing football. Then, as expected, the weeks of Green talking up McCown was capped when the Cards took Fitzgerald. (Green also kept to his word about the first three rounds, taking non-QBs Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett in one heck of a first-day draft haul. John Navarre was the QB selected, in the seventh round.) McCown was the Cardinals’ guy.

I believe the Cards would have taken Roethlisberger if they had decided on a quarterback. How different would things have been for so many connected to the Cards? Big Ben and no Fitz in Arizona probably would have meant Anquan staying and Kurt never coming. Would the Steelers – with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – won a Super Bowl after the 2005 season? Would Whiz still have ended up with the Cards?

In the long term, it worked out well for the Cards. Warner and Whisenhunt did come to the desert, a combination that led to a Super Bowl appearance. McCown – one of the greatest guys ever to come through the Cards’ locker room – didn’t work out. But without him, there was no way the Cards take Fitzgerald, a potential Hall of Famer.

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Revisionist History: Warner’s arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on May 12, 2011 – 3:30 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

We all know what Kurt Warner did for the Arizona Cardinals. We all know the power of his decision to retire.

At the time he arrived, though?

In this first installment of “Revisionist History” (which isn’t so much revising how people should think about a moment for the Cardinals since coming to Arizona as much as reminding them the mindset at the time), a glance back at when the Cards first signed Warner in March of 2005. Denny Green was in his second year as coach. Warner was coming off a benching for the Giants. The Cardinals were coming off a season in which Josh McCown, Shaun King and John Navarre were the quarterback-merry-go-round for Denny.

So Warner was signed. Both local papers compared the decision to the Cards signing Emmitt Smith a couple of years before (“Desperate teams – and desperate players – do desperate things” wrote the Tribune’s Scott Bordow). Remember, Warner only signed a one-year contract in 2005. He re-signed a three-year deal before 2006, and then the Cards took Matt Leinart in the draft, much to his chagrin.

I remember doing a big story on Warner (part one and part two) right before minicamp (that’s a Warner shot from that camp below). There was still much to prove. His halcyon days as a Ram were far behind him, his rebirth with the Cards under Ken Whisenhunt far ahead, relatively speaking. (I mean, I remember how he was showered with boos after the early-season Rams’ loss in 2006. Leinart was the starter soon after, and before the infamous Monday Night Meltdown against the Bears, Kurt was already considering retirement after the season. Can you imagine had he done that, and not had his run in ’07, ’08 and ’09?)

One thing was for certain, Warner still very much believed in himself, and always did, regardless of the circumstances of the team or even Leinart’s showing as a rookie.

A couple of quotes from my Warner opus stand out, especially in retrospect. The first: “It’s kind of my story, the underdog story, no chance to have success. It’s kind of like what I stepped into in St. Louis. I get a chance to rewrite my story and I get a chance to rewrite the story of the Arizona Cardinals.”

There is no question he did.

The second quote? “I am moving my family, I am buying a home and I am believing things are going to work out great. The great thing about it is so much of it depends on me.”

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Starting a rookie QB in Arizona

Posted by Darren Urban on October 7, 2010 – 9:35 am

The Cardinals have been in Arizona since 1988. Max Hall becomes just the fourth rookie quarterback to get a start for the team in that span. The trio before him included Jake Plummer, John Navarre and Matt Leinart.

Year Name Att Comp Yds TD Int Sacks Oppt Result
2006 Matt Leinart 35 22 253 2 1 4 K.C. Loss
2004 John Navarre 40 18 168 1 4 1 @Det Loss
1997 Jake Plummer 40 21 195 2 4 6 Tenn Loss


As you can see, a rookie starter isn’t a guarantee of success (and, in all honesty, a rookie doesn’t get a start in the first place unless the team is struggling, so the rest of the team has to be taken into account). It can be argued that, of the four rookie QB situations for the Cards, Hall walks into the best team situation (although Leinart had a decent supporting cast, he had less of a running game and less of a coaching staff).

Expectations, however, should always be tempered in this situation.

“I’m going to make mistakes,” Hall said, “but I am going to give it everything I have.”

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After the talk

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2010 – 10:02 pm

Early in the afternoon, Matt Leinart was looking for an explanation, and Ken Whisenhunt reiterated — which he has actually talked about many times in various situations — he has an open-door policy for any player.

Sometime later Monday, Leinart and Whiz finally spoke.

I don’t know exactly what was said, but I think we can all guess. I don’t know if it makes an immediate impact on anything. I’m not sure why it took place four days after Leinart was told he’d be behind Derek Anderson for the Chicago game (don’t get me wrong, the two had been talking, but they didn’t have a sit-down to clear the air). Some have argued Whisenhunt should have instigated it. Then again, if you have a boss and he sets down some rule or situation at work, sometimes you have to go and find out why. Leinart could have done that. And we can talk about this and that with Leinart off the field, but it is true there was concern about the lack of offensive production in those first two preseason games, Whisenhunt shook it up, and then the offense played well.

I was a little surprised at a couple of the things Leinart said Monday considering it didn’t seem like much had changed since he spoke after the game Saturday. Maybe he was expecting Whisenhunt to flip-flop the depth chart back and when it didn’t happen (I am not sure exactly how the reps were doled out Monday) he wasn’t thrilled. I can’t think of another reason, and I’ve been thinking about it since after the media comments hours ago.

Here’s the thing, and whether you are pro-Leinart or anti-Leinart or somewhere else on the spectrum, it’s tough to argue with this — Whisenhunt wants to win. Does anyone really think Whisenhunt would move away from Leinart if he believes Leinart gives him a better chance to win than Anderson? I just can’t see it. Maybe Anderson starts. Maybe Leinart does. Either way, I am guessing Whiz wouldn’t jeopardize his chances at victory by making a QB choice based on anything else. The man has an engineering degree. He thinks through everything and he makes decisions very deliberately. This isn’t Denny Green, making spur-of-the-moment emotional choices — like John Navarre starting in Detroit.

OK. That’s enough on this for now. Maybe I can write about something besides quarterbacks tomorrow.

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