The Vikings revealed a new starting quarterback on Wednesday, their most recent starter was demoted to third team and their original starter indicated he might welcome a trade.
Got all that straight?
Coach Leslie Frazier announced that newcomer Josh Freeman will start Monday night against the New York Giants after signing with the team on Oct. 6.
Christian Ponder will serve as his backup while Matt Cassel — the starter the previous two games, including Sunday’s 35-10 loss to Carolina — was downgraded to No. 3 quarterback.
This will be the 10th time in franchise history that the Vikings have started three quarterbacks at least one game in a season and the third time since 2007.
The decision to move Freeman into that role seemed inevitable after the Vikings signed him a few days after his messy divorce from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became official. Freeman has engrossed himself in the playbook since arriving in the Twin Cities in order to gain enough working knowledge to feel comfortable operating the offense.
The coaching staff has condensed the playbook to speed up the process. Asked if he’s confident he will be adequately prepared to play, Freeman replied, “No question.”
“I have a pretty good grasp of the offense,” he said. “I’ve got three years of college and kind of a mixture the first few years in the NFL with this exact offense, so it’s coming along pretty quickly. At the end of the day, football is football.”
The Vikings want to evaluate Freeman, who signed a one-year contract, the rest of the season to determine if he is a possible long-term option. The organization had hoped Ponder would fill that gaping hole by drafting him No. 12 overall in 2011. But Ponder’s struggles continued into this season, he lost his job after suffering a fractured rib and he acknowledged Wednesday that his future might be elsewhere.
“You let everything run its course and you try and figure out what’s the best situation for yourself and for your family and see what’s going to happen going forward,” he said.
A week ago, Ponder said a trade would be “difficult to deal with.” On Wednesday, he offered a different answer to the same question.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I have to figure out what’s best for me and for this team. I don’t know if that’s staying here or going somewhere else.”
Ponder said he is not sure if he has a chance to win his starting job back.
“I don’t know what’s going on, what the decisions are,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out what’s best for this team. I don’t really know.”
It’s unclear what, if any, trade value Ponder would have at this point, but Frazier said that’s not in his plans right now.
“That’s never crossed my mind that Christian wouldn’t be on our roster, and it’s not crossing my mind now,” he said. “I don’t see any scenario where he would not be on our roster.”
Frazier made the quarterback switch after consulting with Vikings ownership and General Manager Rick Spielman on Monday. Frazier said he has ultimate authority to make that call, but he noted that a quarterback change is an organizational decision.
“When you’re talking about the quarterback position, which affects your entire franchise, this is not a decision that you make alone,” he said. “I informed them of what I was thinking and why I was thinking this and why I wanted to do it, and they signed off on it. But you don’t make these kinds of decisions on an island. I need their support and I need them to understand why.”
Frazier said he felt comfortable that Freeman’s learning curve would be minimal after watching him run the offense in a post-practice session with younger players Oct. 9.
“The way he functioned that day, it was far different than what I expected, than what any of our coaches expected,” Frazier said. “From the moment he stepped in the building, he wanted to learn. And the way he handled himself in that practice, it changed my mind-set about the possibilities. We had a time frame in mind originally but watching what he did from the day he arrived, that cemented it for me that sooner was a possibility.”
At age 25, Freeman will make his 60th career start Monday night. He credited his coaches and teammates for helping make a potentially awkward situation a relatively “smooth adjustment.”
“It really hasn’t been that difficult,” he said. “It’s been an opportunity to come in here and just focus on football.”
Football took a back seat to the soap opera he lived with Tampa Bay. Reports emerged almost daily about missed team photos and the fractured relationship between Freeman and coach Greg Schiano.
Given the negative attention he received before being released, Freeman was asked if he’s approaching this new opportunity extra motivated to prove that he can become an elite quarterback.
“That’s a lot of the underlying questions that I’ve been getting from a lot of people,” he said. “Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Sure I do. But I think it’s more deeply rooted than just the past six months, 12 months. It’s just wanting to go out and wanting to be great.”