Leinart's contract makes backup role OK

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Chris Mortenson's report about Kurt Warner likely getting the starting job in Arizona affirms what we saw in the Cardinals' 24-0 exhibition victory in Oakland. Warner didn't make a strong case for the job so much as Leinart proved he might not be ready.

Putting Leinart on the bench would not be a financial killer for the Cardinals even though Leinart was a first-round draft choice in 2006. Leinart's base salary this season is a very manageable $735,000. Warner's salary is $4 million this season, the final year of his deal. Leinart gets $1.11 million in 2009 and $2.485 million in 2010.

In other words, the Cardinals can put Leinart on the bench without putting themselves in the 49ers' situation. In San Francisco, Alex Smith isn't starting even though he's making much more money that starter J.T. O'Sullivan.

With Leinart under contract for the long term at relatively reasonable salaries, the Cardinals can choose to develop him even if he's not the starter. The financial part of it becomes irrelevant in determining whether Leinart should be the starter. Not only are his base salaries low, but the amount his contract counts against the salary cap is also modest for the time being.

Leinart was going to be the starter heading into this season, coach Ken Whisenhunt indicated, but only if he played well. Leinart did not play well last night. I was looking to see if a similar situation would play out in San Francisco, but O'Sullivan won that job by putting up impressive numbers. In Arizona, Warner stated his case with 27 touchdown passes last season.