Jim Mone/Associated Press
Unfortunately for Minnesota Vikings fans, they didn't have to look very far to see a good comparison to the team's revolving door at quarterback in 2013.
Minnesota Twins fans have spent the last several seasons hoping for anyone who could grab the ball and throw it with authority. As good pitching is paramount to having a successful Major League Baseball team, good quarterbacking is vital to NFL success.
The Vikings drafted quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in the 2011 draft, and it simply hasn't worked out. Ponder joins a long list of first-round quarterbacks who have failed and in almost every instance, such a failure sets a franchise back a couple of seasons.
Problems tend to arise because teams are unwilling to admit that their selected quarterback doesn't have it. While it's true that many NFL quarterbacks need three or four years of nurturing to hit their stride, the list of quarterbacks who never work out is infinitely longer.
The Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl appearance on Sunday was in no small part due to their smart, quick and definitive decisions at quarterback. They signed highly-sought free agent Matt Flynn in 2012 to a big contract but immediately saw that rookie Russell Wilson was the better player and gave him the job.
The Vikings wisely brought in free-agent quarterback Matt Cassel last offseason to serve as an experienced backup and mentor to Ponder. Perhaps unwisely, they also brought on the waived Josh Freeman five weeks into the season and immediately threw him into the starting lineup.
In the end, the Vikings were a consistent mess at quarterback, but it was evident to everyone who watched that Cassel was their best option.
Speaking of options, Cassel has through Friday of this week to opt out of the second year of his deal with Minnesota.
Free Agent Wish List:
Keeping Cassel is the obvious priority. He proved he can be a capable starter and is the Vikings best option as a bridge to the next quarterback. Cassel is at least as good as any quarterback in free agency, and he's already proved that he's a team-first guy who can perform when called upon.
Draft Wish List:
It's crucial that the Vikings come up with at least a solid starting option at quarterback in the 2014 draft, but depending on what round they take one, it might not be critical.
While that might be a slightly confusing sentence, here's what we mean: If the Vikings use their first-round pick on a quarterback, it teeters towards critical that that player is the answer. Taking a quarterback at the expense of filling a huge hole on defense means it simply has to work out.
If the Vikings decide that none of the quarterbacks available to them at the time of their first pick is worth the gamble, they should draft for defense and take a quarterback later.
The top quarterback prospects of this draft are Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles, all of whom are solid first-round options. Derek Carr seems to be a player who some see as first-round talent and some don't. Carr might be the only one of the three available when the Vikings choose, and that would leave them with a tough decision.
If the Vikings aren't completely convinced that Carr or another prospect available at their first pick is the answer at quarterback, they should draft defense and look at other quarterbacks in the following rounds.
The next tier of quarterback options could include Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Zach Mettenberger and AJ McCarron. Again, if the Vikings aren't sold enough on that group to pull the trigger on one of them in the second round, they would be wise to fill another hole on defense and address the quarterback position in the third round.
The truth is, the long-term answer for the Vikings at quarterback may not be in the 2014 draft. They'll almost certainly have to take a shot on somebody in the first three rounds, but the higher they select one, the more important it is that that player be the guy around whom they can build.
If they sacrifice the chance of getting one or two defensive starters on a quarterback who doesn't pan out, they'll set the franchise back another two or three years. To wit, defensive stalwarts Robert Quinn, Nick Fairley, Ryan Kerrigan and Cameron Jordan were all selected just after Ponder in 2011.