While NFL quarterbacks are studying playbooks and jostling for jobs as the season approaches, Matt Leinart has been working out, spending time with his son, and, apparently, eating alone.
A photo of a solo Leinart in a Manhattan Beach bar/restaurant has shown up on several websites recently, including bustedcoverage.com. "Unemployed Matt Leinart seems to be lonely," one caption read. Said another, "Over/under he's searching Craigslist for work?"
Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner at USC and No. 10 pick by Arizona in the 2006 NFL draft, has been out of a job since the Oakland Raiders didn't re-sign him after last season. He worked out for the Seattle Seahawks in April, but they instead signed Brady Quinn to back up Russell Wilson.
"I think he's on the outside looking in," said Rob Rang of nfldraftscout.com, the senior NFL draft analyst for CBSsports.com. "At this point in his career he's a quarterback who doesn't have the mobility that the NFL now seems to be moving toward."
After two national championships and a 37-2 record as a starter at USC, Leinart's NFL journey has been a tale of misfortune and missteps. At 30, he doesn't have the upside teams look for in a backup or third-string quarterback.
"I hope that he gets an opportunity to play again," said Steve Beuerlein, an analyst for the NFL on CBS. "But there's nothing that's happened to this point to make you think that it would happen that way."
Leinart didn't return messages and declined to comment through his publicist, Sandy Friedman of Rogers and Cowan. Friedman said Leinart won't talk until he's placed with a team. The chances of Leinart snaring a job seem remote.
"It's hard to say the window closes. JaMarcus Russell got another look. Pat White spent three years out of the game and the Redskins brought him in to compete for their third position," Joe Theismann told The Times' Sam Farmer.
"I think the big question for Matt is this: Do I want to do it? How important is it? How important is being a quarterback in the National Football League to me? Only he can answer those questions. It has to be a hunger."
That desire has to be backed by a strong arm, and most pre-draft scouting reports questioned whether Leinart had the tools to succeed in the NFL.
Greg Cosell, executive producer of the "NFL Matchup" show and a respected analyst, didn't think Leinart warranted being picked so early. Cosell (nephew of the late Howard Cosell) emphasized he doesn't know Leinart or the quarterback's work habits but said his study of film told him Leinart is limited.
"He's got an average NFL arm. He's got slower feet than you'd like to have for a quarterback, so when it comes to playing the position at a necessary level to be a consistent NFL starter, he's ultimately lacking," Cosell said.
"So his career becomes that of a journeyman backup and those guys are almost year to year, depending on particular needs of particular teams in any given seasons."
Leinart entered the NFL in a good situation. He played 12 games for Arizona in 2006, completing 56.8% of his passes for 2,547 yards and 11 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He sprained his shoulder late that season and broke his collarbone the next season, losing his job to Kurt Warner. He played four games in 2008 and eight in 2009 and was released before the 2010 season.
Rang said he thought Leinart had a chance to succeed in the NFL despite his limitations, but Leinart's development stalled.
"When he came out of USC he was so well-protected and had so much talent around him that it seemed like he entered the NFL already at one level," Rang said, "and he didn't show enough athletic ability as well as work ethic, at times, to improve."
Leinart signed with Houston but didn't get into a game in 2010. He played two games in 2011, including his first start, but broke his collarbone again and was waived after the season.
Leinart signed a one-year deal with Oakland before last season to back up his Trojans teammate Carson Palmer, and Leinart got a chance to make an impact after Palmer was hurt against Carolina on Dec. 23.
Beuerlein, who played at Anaheim's Servite High and followed fellow Orange County product Leinart, was assigned to the Raiders-Panthers game and said he was excited to see Leinart get a chance.
"I was thinking, 'Here's a guy that has bounced around a little bit and hasn't had many good things happen to him in his NFL career, but this is a great opportunity because Carson Palmer might be out for a little while,' " Beuerlein said. "If he can step up, this could be a chance for him to reestablish himself as a quarterback in the NFL.
"And he just didn't do it. He did not play well in that game, and I think that's the kind of thing that puts a player like him in trouble."
Leinart was 16 for 32 for 115 yards and no touchdowns and a costly interception in that game. It would be sad if that stands as his NFL finale.
"I just never felt like anybody bought into him 100%, not a coach," Theismann said. "It doesn't take long for people in this business to go and find somebody else and you become an afterthought."
And above all, it is a business. "This isn't me talking, this is reality: he's not on a team right now," Cosell said. "The league has decided as to what he is, and that's what he is."