Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Quandary Creates Potential Mess

Scott ReighardAnalyst IOctober 8, 2013

Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Quandary Creates Potential Mess

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    The Dive That Launched a 1000 Theories
    The Dive That Launched a 1000 TheoriesAdam Bettcher/Getty Images

    There's a theory that goes: when you have three quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. I don’t know which is more appropriate to say, whether the Vikings have solved their quarterback issue, or if they have further muddied the water?

    But as it goes, opportunity knocked and the Vikings organization took full advantage. A former first-round draft choice is dismissed by his current team—no not Mark Sanchez—and the Vikings pounced like true opportunists would expect. This is one of those, no harm, no foul moments—unless you’re Christian Ponder.

    The acquisition of Josh Freeman temporarily keeps the restless natives at bay, and it has Minnesota Vikings fans opining their joy at this transaction. There are multiple layers to all of this, so let’s see if one of these is something agreeable to you, the reader. By all accounts, most Vikings fans have been wishing for the Ponder experiment to be over. Perhaps you have received your gift from the football gods.

    In the subsequent slides, I examine a few scenarios that could play over the next few weeks or months. As a disclaimer, this is an opinion piece, so if you have something to say, be civil and logical.

Scenario 1: Christian Ponder, Exit Stage Left

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    Will Freeman be the signal caller sooner rather than later?
    Will Freeman be the signal caller sooner rather than later?Winslow Townson/Getty Images

    It’s hard to gauge the barometer of fan temperatures for Ponder, but the poor record and performance thus far has most people pointing the finger squarely at Ponder despite this being a team sport.

    Today's game has seemingly evolved into track meets, and have somehow replaced "real" football games. We are witnessing the NFL's version of Baylor versus Texas Tech. Most of these Ponder bashers basically wanted him to fail and feel as though he should put up 300-yard games, average two or three TD passes per game and not turn the ball over.

    Yes, Ponder has had his struggles early on, but hasn’t the whole team really struggled? Was it Ponder who gave up two successive game winning drives to Chicago and Cleveland? The Vikings pass defense ranks 29th. They give up an average of 430 yards and nearly 31 point per game. Conversely, the offense averages nearly 29 points per game, enough to win most games.

    Can anyone honestly say that because of Ponder, the Vikings lost? If you say yes, you are being intellectually dishonest.

    Hadn’t Ponder and the offense put the team in a position to win those games? How about some questionable play calling from the offensive coordinator? Sometimes coaches can put their players in poor situations. I think that has happened to Ponder many times. If the kid has to always think, “I can’t make any mistakes,” doesn’t that only compound his lack of being able to just play? If you are an athlete, or a former player, you know exactly what I am talking about.

    I am not delusional. Ponder needed to up his game this year and it appears as though he got off to a slow start. However, I would point out the coaches made the decision to not have him play hardly any preseason games. Even Tom Brady played in the final preseason game. If these guys have their finger on the pulse of their quarterback, surely they would have known that the kid needed more work, rapport with his receivers, real game action and so on.

    And so it comes to this: has Christian Ponder played his last game as a Viking?

    In order to mitigate the possible poor draft decision, the Vikings are almost compelled to move Ponder. I think most people would feel good if the Vikings are able to trade Ponder and get a third- or fourth-round pick. Ponder definitely has trade value, and should have an opportunity to go somewhere else and compete.

Scenario 2: Ponder Stays, Cassel Goes

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Oh, I can hear the screams now. I know it seems unlikely given the current dynamics and his play against the Steelers, but Cassel has been a perennial backup. It seems likely that Cassel will start this week against Carolina and perhaps against the Giants, and he will then give way to Freeman against the Packers. Again, the edge goes to the Vikings due to a lack of no current game film of Freeman. They could only scout and game plan his tendencies.

    Imagine the Horned Domers' cries of disbelief and Armageddon if Ponder walks onto that field to start the game. It would be extremely unfortunate but not unexpected should that occur. And I would say, “Way to go Vikings fan. Way to show some class.” I must admit, never have I seen more vitriol about hoping for someone’s failure as I have seen toward Ponder.

    However, the alternative is this. Let’s say that Freeman bombs and the Vikings have either cut or traded Ponder? If they are left with Cassel or yet another inconsistent Freeman, which he has been, the Vikings find themselves in the unenviable position of quarterback searching…again.

    If you keep Ponder, you have a young quarterback who is very athletic and can certainly be a capable backup. Cassel is a good player, but seriously, who has more upside? Don’t forget, Cassel had Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki, Dexter McCluster, etc. in Kansas City and couldn’t make it work. True, he was successful with the Patriots, but he had Belichick, and no offense to Leslie Frazier, but he’s no Belichick.

    My analysis of Cassel’s play against the Steelers is akin to Hoyer’s play against the Vikings. The Steelers had no film of Cassel, the offense had some different formations and plays not seen yet this year, and the idea was to push the ball down the field. The Vikings were successful and were able to hang on.

    Again, lady luck may be on the side of Cassel and the Vikings against Carolina. One, they had a bye week, so they had time to implement new formations, plays, personnel groupings, etc, and two, Carolina struggles on the road. A perfect recipe for win number two, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

    One thing we cannot forget is the money aspect. Would it be more cost effective to keep Ponder or Cassel? Again, football seems to be more of a business than a game, and so it may come down to money.

    Aside from my assertion here about Cassel starting because the writing may be on the wall, keeping Ponder and moving Cassel makes sense because the upside with Ponder is greater, and Cassel is a pro. He understands the business side of it.

Scenario 3: Ponder Plays Well, Remains Starter

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Once again, the screams are now calling for this article to be pulled. I know most of you are probably thinking, no way, but this article is about scenarios. As many as possible should be offered.

    Maybe this whole Josh Freeman deal spurs Ponder on to be the guy the Vikings had hoped. Look, the kid is a gamer. How many times I have seen, “He’s not a NFL quarterback.” Again, another unfair assessment. Ponder has shown some definite flashes. Yes, he’s had bad games, but how many quarterbacks are guarantees week to week? Even Cutler has those, “What is he doing?” games. Is Ponder a Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers? No, but I firmly believe that a more patient fan base and creative offense is needed, and another full year’s evaluation will prove worthy and most prudent.

    And all this talk about Adrian Peterson wasting away in Minnesota, give me a break. The football playing graveyard is full of players who never reached the promise land during their career. So this whole pity for Peterson is fodder.

    This final scenario could be a win-win for the Vikings. On the one hand, you have possible trade bait with Ponder; to recoup a draft pick is doable. Ponder has one more year on his contract, so this makes sense to trade a 25-year-old starter who has shown he can play.

    The other scenario is that Ponder plays well enough to stay, and since the Vikings own Freeman just for this year, they really have no obligation to him if he doesn’t pan out. Or since they have officially signed Josh, they could try to trade him. Again, doubtful, but you never know.

    Although this scenario seems implausible, this is the NFL. My guess is that Freeman will be a Boy Scout this year. He has no choice. Maybe Freeman becomes the quarterback the Vikings have been searching for, or else he is just another in a long line of misses.

Final Analysis

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    Winslow Townson/Getty Images

    The last time the Vikings had a No. 5 as their signal caller, things didn't go so well. Will this time be different?

    It seems inevitable that Freeman will be the guy very soon. He has a big arm, good movement and certainly looks the part. But remember, this is the same guy who had a pretty talented team in Tampa yet never led them to the playoffs. Will Freeman continue to grow, or has he reached his ceiling? Only time will tell, and it may come at the expense of another young quarterback, who in the long run, may have the better career.

    I cannot say that I am angry with the Vikings organization. Obviously, they see a lot more than we ever could, and maybe they realize that Ponder was taking longer than expected to blossom. I actually thought re-signing Antoine Winfield was more realistic.

    However, I am disappointed in how this whole thing went down. People are so impatient. Our culture of immediacy is destroying the natural growth and progression of things. Progress is relative, but in this case it doesn't appear to be so. I am not saying that Ponder would have ever developed into an All-Pro quarterback, but he should have at least been given this whole year in order to provide the staff a resume for two full seasons to evaluate. Imagine had the Giants done that with Eli Manning. Even the Jets gave Mark Sanchez four years. And we're talking New York, folks! New York!

    This is a team sport, and unfortunately the media and fans look squarely at the quarterback position as if it exists within its own universe. The scrutiny these guys come under is, at times, unfair. I have laid out several reasons why Ponder may have gotten off to the slow start he has, but sometimes it’s not enough in a world of what have you done for me this week.

    Finally, some closing perspective.

    I think the greater disappointment comes from the fact that Ponder has not been horrible. No, he is not a top-level quarterback. He may never be, but then again, with proper grooming and guidance, he might.

    The Vikings brought in Donovan McNabb to be that bridge for Ponder to grow and learn, but his miserable play, for a seasoned veteran, compelled the Vikings to put in Ponder before he was ready to grab the reins. And so we have, “It is what it is.”

    I think it has become that convenient adage of, “throw someone under the bus,” and Ponder is the man on the firing line.

    My hope is that Christian, if traded, or released at season’s end, or if something happens sooner, will find an organization where he can grow and excel, and perhaps one day will be able to look at the Vikings organization and give them the middle finger as an appropriate symbol for how he was treated mostly by the fans.

    By signing Freeman, the organization is taking a calculated gamble that in the end may pay off, and at the very least, tempers the foaming mouths of its fan base that seemed to call for Ponder’s head on a platter. But the flip side is this all blows up and the Vikings muddle through a so-so year.

    The organization has seemingly given you your wish, but be careful what you wish for.