Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer got what they wanted at quarterback this offseason.
The Vikings GM and new coach both wanted to create competition at every position, and now have a trio of quarterbacks jockeying for the starting spot. That could be the main storyline at the start of OTAs on Tuesday and throughout training camp.
The Vikings re-signed quarterback Matt Cassel and traded back into the first round to select Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd overall pick to give Spielman a veteran and a rookie he wanted to acquire this offseason to go along with Christian Ponder.
The situation seems similar to Seattle's around this time two years ago. They signed Matt Flynn, who didn’t have Cassel’s resume but was looked at as a short-term quarterback solution when he signed a three year deal; drafted Russell Wilson in the third round; and had former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson on the roster.
While everyone assumed Flynn would be the starting quarterback, the Seahawks had an open competition throughout camp. Wilson was named the team’s Week 1 starter, and it has turned out pretty well for the Super Bowl champions.
Not to say the same will happen to the Vikings if Bridgewater starts, but all three quarterbacks will get a shot to prove they’re worthy to start on Week 1. Who is the favorite, who is the dark horse and who is the underdog at the start of this race?
The Favorite: Cassel at this point is probably slightly favored over Bridgewater and Ponder. It’s a new system and a new coaching staff, but Cassel played well at the end of last season and created some good chemistry with some of the receivers (especially Greg Jennings). He’s got the most experience of the group heading into this 10th season and could give Bridgewater more time to develop if the team decides to go that route.
The Dark Horse: But it doesn’t appear they’ll go that route with Bridgewater, who will get some first team reps along with the other quarterbacks during OTA’s. Zimmer hopes he’ll be the guy if he’s ready, and let’s not forget that Bridgewater was considered the most NFL ready quarterback in the draft. The 21-year-old has the ability to start immediately and will get a fair shake in this competition. He already made a good first impression on Zimmer during rookie camp.
The Underdog: Just about everyone is counting out Ponder and how we quickly forget he beat out Cassel for the starting job in camp last year. (OK, so maybe that's a stretch ... since Ponder figured to keep the job coming off a playoff season where he played well in the final month.) Ponder is entering the final year of his rookie contract, which the Vikings opted not to exercise a fifth-year option this offseason for financial reasons. Pair that with the Bridgewater selection, and it’s clear Ponder isn’t in the team’s future plans.
So what will the team do with its 2011 first-round selection? The best case scenario would be that Ponder flashes some talent during camp and preseason and a team would look to trade a late round pick for him. Let's remember the 49ers traded a sixth-round and possible conditional 2015 pick for Blaine Gabbert. Ponder is better than Gabbert.
The worst case scenario is the Vikings have an overqualified third string quarterback on the roster, which isn’t a bad thing at all in case Bridgewater or Cassel get injured. It just would be very difficult to see Ponder start on Week 1 again this season.