Reusse: Cassel signed here because no one knows if Ponder is the real deal

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2013 - 12:55 PM

No one knows if Christian Ponder is legit. That’s why Matt Cassel signed.

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Matt Cassel likely studied the Vikings close enough to know that they are a good team with a question at quarterback.

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Matt Cassel agreed to a contract with the Vikings and went along with the notion that it was to serve as the backup to quarterback Christian Ponder.

Cassel’s remarks included the humorous platitude “that Christian obviously had a great year’’ and summarized the situation thusly: “The fact of the matter is, again, Christian’s the starting quarterback, and I think that we’ll have a great [meeting] room. I’m there to add value.’’

What Cassel didn’t offer was what seems the obvious scenario that brought him to Minnesota:

There wasn’t a team to take him on as a starting quarterback after the past two putrid seasons in Kansas City. The money was going to be about the same, no matter where he went.

So, Cassel looked around to see where there was a good team with a shaky quarterback. He found Example A with the Vikings, a 10-6 playoff team with a starting quarterback who had a run of ineptitude that covered half of his second NFL season.

If you prefer to dismiss this theory and take Cassel’s comments about embracing a backup role at face value … you also believe it was something other than a bald-faced lie when General Manager Rick Spielman said a month ago that the Vikings “had no intent’’ to trade Percy Harvin.

Seattle wound up trading for Harvin, 25 in May, and giving him a five-year contract with $25.5 million in guaranteed money. On Friday, the Vikings gave Greg Jennings, 30 in September, a five-year contract with $18 million guaranteed.

Jennings was asked about Ponder on Friday and said he had studied the quarterback and the Vikings offense, adding: “I had to see what I was getting myself into.’’

Join the club, Greg.

Two years and 26 starts later, no one is certain what Spielman and the Vikings got themselves into when taking Ponder at No. 12 in the 2011 draft and declaring that he would be the long-term answer at quarterback.

The majority of Purple zealots — and local sports media — have bought the idea that the unexpected playoff season of 2012 came due to the greatness of Adrian Peterson, and despite Ponder.

Minnesota has been part of the NFL since 1961, and for 40 years a quarterback had to be extraordinary to play more than a few snaps in his first couple of seasons.

Fran Tarkenton was that extraordinary force from the time he came off the bench in the Vikings’ first game ever. Even then, veteran George Shaw received three more starts and Tarkenton had 10 in that expansion season.

Over the next 44 seasons, the Vikings had two quarterback starts from rookies: One apiece for Ron VanderKelen in 1963 and Tommy Kramer in 1977.

Tarvaris Jackson made two starts in the lost season of 2006. Joe Webb made a pair in 2010 after both Brett Favre and Jackson were hurt.

Add it up: From 1962 through 2010, there were six rookie starts for the Vikings. In 2011, the Vikings spent six games watching the ineptitude of veteran Donovan McNabb, and then went to Ponder for 10 starts as a rookie.

Even Daunte Culpepper, No. 11 overall in the draft and eminently more talented as a QB than Ponder, had to spend a full rookie season sitting before Denny Green went with him in 2000.

What’s the point? This:

As with every position in the NFL, there are more dynamic athletes arriving at quarterback than ever before. There’s also a draft system that generally sends the most dynamic to the neediest teams — i.e., Andrew Luck to Indianapolis, and Robert Griffin to Washington.

That doesn’t mean the old view is the wrong view. That doesn’t mean that allowing a quarterback to figure it out before making a decision on his worthiness is a bad thing.

Back when, Tommy Kramer didn’t really play until his third year in 1979, and he was ready. Ponder is entering his third year. The difference is Ponder has had to play, and many of us have reached the conclusion that he’s not the answer.

We could be wrong. Maybe Ponder will figure it out in Year 3. Maybe he will be ready.

Matt Cassel doesn’t know. Greg Jennings doesn’t know. Rick Spielman doesn’t know. And as rabid fans and media pundits, we sure as Hades don’t know.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500 • preusse@startribune.com

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