If the Buffalo Bills’ decision to cut Matt Leinart signals the end of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s career, at least now he can finally go party. Or party more. Or stop partying. Or all of the above.
Leinart’s career didn’t amount to much of anything in large part because he was an overhyped creation from playing for USC. It didn’t hurt that he was lefty, handsome and tried to live a life like Joe Namath. It’s not really necessary to go into the litany of differences between Leinart and Namath. All we need to know is that Namath could play and Leinart couldn’t. Namath wanted to play, but Leinart never appeared to really want to.
There are players who are more comfortable with their baseball cap and/or headset on the sideline and don’t actually want to get into the game. There’s really nothing wrong with that as long as they’re honest with themselves about it. Leinart put forth the pretense of wanting to play, but the evidence shows that he was perfectly happy not playing. Stuck wih the inconvenience of having won the Heisman Trophy, he was expected to join the NFL and be a success, not hold a clipboard.
In truth, Leinart didn’t get a fair shot with the Bills. Arriving on Sunday, playing on Thursday, cut on Friday is almost like a Solomon Grundy poem. How was he supposed to show up and play effectively with that short a window to give the Bills an indication of what he could do? That leads us back to the circular problem of what Leinart is capable of doing. He’s had one chance to play regularly as an NFL quarterback and ran the rebuilding Cardinals during a 5-11 season in 2006. Eventually, he lost his job to veteran Kurt Warner whose own career was in decline until his second act in which he led the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance.
Bouncing to the Texans, there couldn’t have been a better situation for Leinart when Matt Schaub got injured and Leinart took over a playoff-bound club with a stifling defense. All he would have had to do was not screw it up and he could conceivably have rejuvenated his career a la Jim Plunkett. He had his collarbone broken in his first start and was playing well when the injury occurred. No matter how well he was playing though, there was a blasé “oh, whatever” reaction from Leinart as if his injury was fine and he’d be perfectly content not having the responsibility of running the Texans’ offense and carrying the load for a team with serious aspirations of going deep into the playoffs.
Bills’ coach Doug Marrone’s offense is fast paced and if the quarterback doesn’t have a strong arm, he has to at least have a quick mind and dedication to maximize his abilities. As limited as Leinart’s abilities have proven to be, he doesn’t have the dedication either. His mind may have been resting for far too long to be all that quick by now.
Football was a means to an end for Leinart, but not in the way it is for other players who sacrifice their bodies for money and glory. Leinart wanted to meet girls and the best way to do that is to be the star quarterback. Once in the NFL, he wasn’t going to be the star quarterback but his paycheck and reputation was still enough to meet girls. So where was the motivation to be anything more than the journeyman he was? Presumably he could have willed himself to be better as Jeff Garcia did, but why? Why exert the energy?
Leinart was overrated because of his college accomplishments, but he could have made himself into a decent NFL player if he’d chosen to do so. When his career epitaph is written, two words will exemplify what it was: Why bother?