- Associated Press - Saturday, September 4, 2010

PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona Cardinals have released Matt Leinart, parting ways with the former Heisman Trophy winner who was supposed to be the team’s franchise quarterback but couldn’t escape the backup role.

The team made the announcement on Saturday, shortly before the Cardinals had to reach their 53-man roster limit.

“In fairness to Matt, I think that it would be a tough position for him to be in a backup role,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Maybe a fresh start for him is what would be a good thing, for all of us.”

The Cardinals tried to trade Leinart but found no acceptable deal. By cutting Leinart, Arizona doesn’t have to pay him the $2.5 million he was due for the coming season, not to mention the $7.4 million, plus a $5.5 million roster bonus, he was scheduled to make next season.

Arizona thought it had a steal when Leinart, who led Southern California to two national championships and a third title game appearance, fell to the Cardinals at the No. 10 overall pick in 2006. Then-coach Dennis Green called it “a gift from heaven.”

He started 11 games as a rookie under Green, then the first five the following season under new coach Ken Whisenhunt. But the big left-hander then went down with a broken collarbone and Kurt Warner took over.

Warner finished his career with two spectacular seasons, leading Arizona to consecutive NFC West titles, an incredible run to the Super Bowl and a 51-45 overtime victory over Green Bay in a playoff thriller last season.

Leinart mostly watched.

Even before Leinart was hurt, Warner was being used more and more. After the collarbone injury, Leinart started one game, at Tennessee last season when Warner was injured. This year, he expected to finally get his chance after Warner retired, but was replaced by Cleveland castoff Derek Anderson in the third preseason game.

“Do I feel like we didn’t put him in a position to be successful?” Whisenhunt said. “I think that is open to debate. It has obviously been talked about a lot. I think that with every player on our team we are trying to give him the opportunity to succeed. I think we have always tried to be fair.”

Leinart went public with his frustration on Monday, complaining he had outplayed Anderson and that his problems with Whisenhunt were “probably away from football.”

That led to a meeting with Whisenhunt the following day. Although he was unhappy that Leinart took his issues public, Whisenhunt praised how the quarterback has handled things.

“The one thing I want to make very clear is how professional Matt was about the whole situation,” the coach said. “I was very impressed with his conversation with me. He thanked the organization, the ownership, for all the time and effort that they had invested in him. He felt like he had gotten better and he had learned a lot and it meant a lot to me to hear him say that.”

Leinart played two series in the final preseason game on Thursday night.

“This process was not about what some people said, two weeks into training camp or two preseason games,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s a complete body of work over a period of time. I will say like I have said before, Matt made tremendous progress. I was excited about what he had done, the work he had put in. I do believe that he is a better quarterback now then he was when I got here four years ago. It is not a slight on Matt, it was a decision that I felt gave us the best chance to win.”

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