“It means good things for the 49ers, bad things for the Cardinals,” the 49ers tight end said after the Pro Bowl Sunday night.
<!–inline1–>Warner’s retirement from the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals will affect the balance of power within the division more than any single move in recent memory.
And if the Cardinals lose other key players — Pro Bowl safety Antrel Rolle and franchise player Karlos Dansby could hit the market this offseason, with Anquan Boldin‘s long-term status unresolved — look out.
“If we don’t keep our talent, I’ll be the first person to tell you, yeah,” said Darnell Dockett, the Cardinals’ Pro Bowl defensive lineman.
The gap between Arizona and the rest of the division shrunk the minute Warner walked away from $4 million in salary and another $7.5 million in unpaid bonus money. The 49ers already swept the season series from Arizona with Warner in the Cardinals’ lineup, and San Francisco appears to be improving.
“It’s a reality, and they are going to be stronger,” Dockett said. “And they have, what, two first-round draft picks this year? If we don’t keep our talent, how can we compete? Teams are getting better. They ain’t getting worse. You look at our biggest rival and they are getting better — with young guys, too. And if we don’t keep our talent, I don’t know.”
Having an elite quarterback masks deficiencies elsewhere within a roster.
“It’s going to be tough,” Rolle said. “Kurt is someone you can’t replace. He is a guy that is in a league of his own, but things like that happen. We have to rebuild and hope for the best.”
Rolle expressed confidence in Warner’s replacement, Matt Leinart, but the drop-off is obvious even if Leinart quickly develops into a steady player. Warner made the Cardinals a contender. Losing Warner affects that status.
“It’s good news for us, bad news for them,” 49ers defensive end Justin Smith said. “But they have a capable quarterback there in Matt Leinart and they wouldn’t have drafted him if they didn’t think so. They are still the team to beat. They still own the division. We have to continue to get better and hopefully regain that spot.”