MANKATO – The NFL is an unmerciful business that has a way of knocking smiles from the faces of men who otherwise have it all. Even that quarterback with the beautiful wife, the new baby girl and the $1.76 million guaranteed contract.
“Yeah, I get down when I’m getting like four reps in practice,” said Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, whose fall from first-rounder to third-stringer took only three years. “I understand what’s going on. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t stink. As a competitor, it stinks that I’m not playing. It stinks to be the third guy on the depth chart.”
Getting down is unavoidable in the NFL. Staying down gets you thrown out of the NFL. So Ponder might not be smiling enough for training camp’s Twitter crowd, but he’s scoring character points with coaches and teammates who insist he’s still giving maximum effort.
“For me, it’s exciting to head into Friday’s preseason game to try and get some good film out there,” said Ponder, who is expected to play at least the fourth quarter against the Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium. “That will help when I am looking for a team come, hopefully, after February. It’s a crazy game. Anything can happen. But I assume once the season is over, I’ll be looking for a job somewhere else.”
Ponder said he hasn’t asked to be released or traded. He says it’s possible that his guaranteed contract could be the reason he’s still a Viking, but also points to the fact the Vikings traditionally keep three quarterbacks.
“I honestly don’t know what the future holds for me,” he said. “That’s a strange feeling considering how different things were my first three training camps.”
In 2011, Ponder came in as the promising 12th overall draft pick. Last year, he was entering his second full season as a starter and coming off a playoff season.
“It’s an unusual situation, but, eventually, stuff like this happens to almost everybody in the NFL,” left guard Charlie Johnson said. “Sometimes, it’s a little sooner than expected. But I think Christian is making the best of whatever the situation is.”
Defensive end Brian Robison gives Ponder a verbal pat on the back for keeping his mouth shut.
“Everybody at some point thinks they’ve been given the short end of the stick in the NFL,” Robison said. “You don’t want a guy in the locker room that’s crying and whining about it. Christian hasn’t been that guy.”
Many of Ponder’s teammates have been in similar situations.
“My fourth year in the league, I got released twice,” fullback Jerome Felton said. “Carolina claimed me and then didn’t run any two-back sets. I was basically twiddling my thumbs. Christian has handled his situation a whole lot better than I did. The Panthers released me.”
To be fair, Ponder’s situation is the result of his own cumulative performance. Veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater deserved to move forward based on better consistency and potential, respectively. What is unfair, however, is spewing venom based on Ponder not yet living up to a lofty draft pick he had nothing to do with.
Speaking of venom …
“I used to go on Twitter all the time to see what everybody was saying,” Ponder said. “But I haven’t been on since last summer, honestly. It just feels better that way.”
The wife, Samantha, an ESPN college football sideline reporter, has been known to return fire on the hubby’s behalf.
“She definitely has my back,” Ponder said with a smile rarely seen these days. “But most of the time, she doesn’t tell me, so I still don’t know what’s going on with Twitter anymore.”
Samantha is much more productive when she texts Christian photos of their month-old daughter, Bowden Sainte-Claire.
“When I’m getting those four reps and Sam sends me that photo, or is here with our daughter, it helps,” Ponder said. “It does bring a smile to my face despite everything else that’s going on.”