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Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks Christian Ponder, left, and Teddy Bridgewater

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Souhan: Vikings realizing error, and cost, of drafting Ponder

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • August 18, 2014 - 9:39 AM

One of my favorite sayings is employed by writers who cover international sports. They say: “Nothing is so over, when it’s over, as the Olympics.’’

One day, the world is watching pageantry and sporting nationalism play out in packed venues described as the pride of the host country. The next day, you drive by and there are tumbleweeds rolling past buildings that may never be used again, while workers tear down any banner bearing interlocking rings.

There is another way to employ the Olympics saying, if you care about the Minnesota sports. Nothing has ever been so over, when it’s over, as Christian Ponder’s Vikings career.

Saturday night, Ponder was given no reason to remove his baseball cap during the second preseason game of his fourth professional season. Matt Cassel played the first half. Teddy Bridgewater played the second half. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said that was the plan all along.

Three years after he was the 12th pick in the draft, and two seasons after he helped maneuver the Vikings to 10 victories and a playoff berth, Ponder is as big a part of the team’s future as Chris Kluwe.

We knew Ponder’s Vikings career was close to an end. We didn’t realize just how “over’’ it was until Saturday night.

This wouldn’t matter much if Ponder had been acquired in a low-level trade, or picked in the third round.

This does matter because Ponder now ranks as the worst quarterback bust in Vikings history, and the worst draft pick at any position since 2005, when the Vikings mistakenly thought they could replace Randy Moss with a short, skinny kid from South Carolina named Troy Williamson.

Because of the organization’s ability to find and develop quarterbacks not taken in the first round, such as Fran Tarkenton, Wade Wilson and Rich Gannon — and because of the franchise’s recent propensity for signing veteran quarterbacks — the Vikings have selected only four quarterbacks in the first round in franchise history.

In 1977, the Vikings chose Tommy Kramer with the 27th pick. In 1998, they chose Daunte Culpepper with the 11th pick. In 2011, they chose Ponder with the 12th pick. In 2014, they chose Bridgewater with the 32nd pick.

Bridgewater has a chance to be the best quarterback drafted by the Vikings since they chose Tarkenton in the third round in 1961, because Culpepper’s reign as a spectacularly talented player was so short-lived.

The Vikings may be able to trade Ponder for a low-round draft choice. Nothing they receive in return will offset the true cost of drafting him.

Drafting Ponder cost the Vikings the chance to select a good player. Of the first 16 players chosen in 2011, 12 have been named to a Pro Bowl. Of the four who haven’t — Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Ponder and Nick Fairley — three are quarterbacks.

Drafting Ponder cost the Vikings the incentive to look at other quarterbacks available in 2011. The productive Andy Dalton and the often spectacular Colin Kaepernick were taken early in the second round.

Drafting Ponder in 2011 kept the Vikings from seeking a quarterback in the 2012 draft, when Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson were available.

Drafting Ponder led to a disastrous 2013 season that cost Adrian Peterson a season late in his prime, and cost Leslie Frazier his job.

There are no true disaster stories in the NFL. The league allows any intelligently run team to rebound quickly.

The Vikings will recover from having drafted Ponder, just as they recovered quickly after the most lopsided trade in NFL history. They dealt for Herschel Walker in 1989, giving up three first-round picks and a number of players, and were back in the playoffs by 1992.

Cassel is a better player than Ponder. Bridgewater should eventually be better than either. The Vikings enter the season with the best quarterback situation you can have if you don’t have a star in his prime, with a competent temporary starter allowing a talented rookie to ease into the league.

None of which should distract anyone from the harsh truth: Drafting Ponder was a historic mistake.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. @SouhanStribjsouhan@startribune.com

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