One of the best fantasy quarterbacks in the last decade has decided to hang up his cleats.
Kurt Warner announced his retirement from the National Football League on Friday. The decision ended what some consider a Hall-of-Fame career as one of the league's most prolific quarterbacks, both on the field and in the world of fantasy football.
Warner's career was quite the roller coaster ride. After appearing in just one game in his first NFL season with the Rams, he took over the reins of the offense in 1999 after Trent Green was lost to an injured knee. Warner immediately became a fantasy superstar, throwing for 4,353 yards with 42 total touchdowns. He was without question the top waiver-wire claim in all leagues that season and was the top overall pick in some 2000 fantasy drafts.
Unfortunately, Warner missed five games due to injuries and saw a decrease in statistical success as a result. He did rebound to throw for 4,830 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2001, but that would be the end of his first run as an elite fantasy quarterback. In 2002, he missed more than half the season with a broke finger on his throwing hand. He would lose the top spot on the depth chart to Marc Bulger and wound up in New York (2004), where he was fantasy irrelevant before losing his starting role to Eli Manning.
Warner's next move was west to Arizona, where he was named the starter for coach Dennis Green. He put up unimpressive fantasy numbers from 2005-2006, and at one point even lost his starting job to Josh McCown. Still, Warner would open the 2006 season atop the depth chart. The move was short-lived, though, as Green handed over the offense to Matt Leinart. The Southern California product became a major fantasy sleeper heading into the 2007 season, but it would be Warner who turned into the more valuable quarterback.
The veteran would start 11 games in the absence of an injured Leinart, who landed on injured reserve. Warner would go on to throw for 3,417 yards and 27 touchdowns. Those were his best numbers since 2001, when he was a member of the "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis. New coach Ken Whisenhunt was set to use Leinart as his starter in 2008, but Warner took over the role during the summer and was again a tremendous bargain in most drafts.
After a virtual dip in the fountain of youth, Warner started all 16 games and threw for 4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns at the ripe old age of 37. Those numbers were good enough to make him the sixth-most productive player in fantasy football that season. On the field, Warner led the Cardinals to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
He wasn't able to duplicate those tremendous totals this past season, but Warner still finished with a respectable 3,753 yards and 26 touchdowns and remained a viable No. 1 fantasy quarterback. Now that it appears he's retired, the Cardinals offense is certain to have a much different look in the near future.
In fact, I would argue that the Cardinals will become more of a balanced offense once Leinart takes over the reins. The left-handed quarterback hasn't shown that he can be a statistical monster in his time at the NFL level, and while his value will rise as the starter he's still no more than a No. 2 fantasy quarterback.
This potential move to a more run-based offense will of course be a positive for the value of Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower, though the former would be the more attractive option in 2010 drafts.
The big question will center around the value of Larry Fitzgerald, who will miss Warner more than any other player in red and white. Based on how Leinart has performed in the past, can we expect Fitzgerald to record 100-plus receptions, 1,200-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns?
Finally, the loss of Warner (and maybe Brett Favre) to retirement will thin the list of reliable and productive quarterbacks in drafts. Owners would have two fewer No. 1 fantasy options at the quarterback position, one of which (Favre) finished last season in the top three in points.
In their place would be Leinart, Tarvaris Jackson and/or Sage Rosenfels. None of that trio would be worth more than a middle- to late-round selection as a reserve choice or matchup-based starter.