Leinart, Cardinals reach agreement on six-year deal

Updated: August 15, 2006, 3:57 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

And then there were none.

Quarterback Matt Leinart, the former Southern California star and the 10th overall selection in the 2006 draft, on Monday night signed a six-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals, a contract that ESPN.com has learned includes a maximum value of $50.8 million.

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Leinart becomes the last of the 255 prospects chosen this year to agree to terms, and the accord ends his two-week absence from training camp.

"This was especially hard on me because I wanted to be in camp all along," Leinart said at a press conference on Tuesday. "But that's the business part of the game. Now it's over with and we can put this behind us and move forward."

The basic six-year deal averages about $6.75 million per season and includes $14 million in guarantees. The value of the contract, negotiated by agents Tom Condon and Ken Kremer of CAA, will increase if Leinart reaches predetermined playing time levels that will then trigger so-called escalators in the latter years of the deal.

In fact, it was a battle over escalators that stalled the progress in negotiations, even as late as Monday afternoon. Only a few hours before the agreement, both sides appeared solid in their respective stances, and it appeared the talks might break off. Clearly, there was plenty of high-stakes bargaining Monday evening.

In the end, Cardinals officials agreed to an escalator package similar to the one featured in the contract of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich, a first-round choice in the 2003 draft. That contract, also negotiated by Condon and Kremer, stipulates that the escalators were triggered if Leftwich participated in 55 percent of the Jaguars' offensive snaps for two seasons, or 70 percent of the snaps in one season.

Under the Arizona proposal sent to Condon on Sunday, Leinart could have played every snap in his first three seasons, been injured in his fourth year and unable to play, and would not have realized any of the escalators in the deal. That proposal would have made the escalator thresholds the most difficult to reach of any quarterback chosen in the top 10 since 1993.

Escalators are critical in any first-round contract, but particularly for quarterbacks, because they reward the player for becoming a starter.

The deal on Monday evening came after nearly a full a week of inertia in which the two sides did not engage in substantive negotiations. Leinart's representatives had agreed nearly a week ago to accept the six-year contract, the maximum term allowed for a player chosen in the top half of the first round, even though they preferred a five-year deal.

It is believed that the Cardinals made about three to four different proposals to Leinart before altering their stance with a Sunday offer that got the two sides talking again.

The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, Leinart, who posted a brilliant 37-2 record as the USC starter, is now expected to battle two-year veteran John Navarre for the backup job behind starter Kurt Warner. Navarre threw a pair of interceptions in Saturday's preseason opener. The consensus is that the Cardinals chose Leinart to groom him as the team's quarterback of the future.

During his celebrated college career, Leinart completed 807 of 1,245 passes for 10,693 yards, with 99 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions.

It is expected that Leinart will report to camp as quickly as possible. He had been in the Phoenix area two weeks ago, just before the Cardinals reported for camp, and was throwing with his new teammates. But when the talks broke down, and camp opened without him, Leinart returned to Los Angeles.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

SportsTicker contributed to this report.