What Does Vikings' Signing of Matt Cassel Mean for Christian Ponder?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 15, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 30: Christian Ponder #7 of the Minnesota Vikings signals during a game against the Green Bay Packers on December 30, 2012 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Packers 37-34. (Photo by Andy Clayton King/Getty Images)
Andy King/Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings made the playoffs in 2012, despite a passing game that ranked dead last in the NFC. On Thursday the team took steps to hedge their bet against further struggles from third-year quarterback Christian Ponder.

Well, at least I think they did.

Only hours after being cut loose by the Kansas City Chiefs, the Vikings scooped up quarterback Matt Cassel, signing the eight-year veteran to a one-year, $4 million contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

In fact, Schefter also reported that Cassel will compete for the starting job for the Vikings with Ponder in training camp.

That thud you just heard was thousands of Vikings fans fainting.

However, ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert took issue with Schefter's report, stating that he doesn't expect Cassel to challenge Ponder for the starting job unless Ponder "regresses or otherwise struggles early in the 2013 season."

So what does Cassel's arrival really mean for Christian Ponder's future? Was it simply a depth move by the Vikings or should Ponder be looking over his shoulder?

Well, if head coach Leslie Frazier's recent comments (referenced in Seifert's report) are any indication, the Ponder has little to fear, at least in the early going.

"We really like the progress that Christian has made for us, Christian Ponder, and we expect in his third season he's going to take another jump, and part of that will be what happens this offseason. So, we're not at a point where we're looking for a quarterback to come in and move Christian at all. We expect him just to keep getting better. So, it’s a little bit different for us at the quarterback position than maybe some of those teams you mentioned. We feel like we have our guy in place. We just want to see him keep improving."

Of course, it's also worth noting that as recently as last month the Vikings said they had no intention of trading Percy Harvin.

We all know how that turned out.

Frankly, Christian Ponder hasn't done a whole lot to inspire a ton of confidence from the Vikings.

Just look at the two matchups with the Green Bay Packers in 2012.

In the Week 17 matchup that propelled the Vikings into the playoffs, Ponder had perhaps the best game of his career, throwing for 234 yards and three touchdown passes while posting a quarterback rating of over 120.

In their first meeting in Week 13, Ponder completed less than half of his passes, threw a pair of interceptions and put up a quarterback rating of less than 45.

And that's Christian Ponder for you so far in his NFL career. One minute he looks great, the next you're watching the game through your hand and shaking your head.

Ponder's supporters will point to the lack of receiving talent around him as as explanation of sorts, and that may very well hold some weight.

With that said, however, Percy Harvin's in Seattle now, and as things stand today, the weapons at Ponder's disposal aren't going to be much better in 2013 than they were in 2012.

All of that added together might not seem to bode well for his future, but the biggest thing that may keep Christian Ponder starting in Minnesota might well be the player the Vikings just hired to back him up.

Yes, Matt Cassel was once a quarterback who, over his first two years in Kansas City, threw 43 touchdown passes against 23 interceptions, leading the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2010.

Over his past two years, it's been a much different story. Over that stretch Cassel has 21 touchdown passes, a mind-blowing 50 turnovers and a quarterback rating that's barely over 70.

Granted, this isn't to say that Christian Ponder has nothing to worry about. If he face-plants in training camp or early next season, there's now a veteran quarterback with 62 career starts under his belt waiting in the wings, as opposed to Joe "Oh my God, no, he's going to throw the ball" Webb.

However, unless Ponder struggles mightily, Seifert's spot on, and this was a move made more for depth than with a change under center in mind.

You can wake up, Vikings fans. Christian Ponder is still your quarterback.

For better or worse.


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