Former Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon went through a similar three-quarterback situation when he used to play here, just as Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman are dealing with it now. The NFL MVP in 2002 and four-time Pro Bowler made it clear in a recent conversation that the situation is far from ideal.
Now that Freeman has suffered a concussion and might be out for some time, the Vikings are down to two healthy quarterbacks, and Ponder will get another chance to start and see how good he can be.
“You hate to go into a season and you’re only six games into it and you’re on your third different quarterback,” said Gannon, who does color commentary on Sunday CBS NFL games, before the Vikings’ 23-7 loss to the Giants on Monday Night Football. “I would tell you that I’ve done some of Freeman’s games over the years, and at times he has looked really good and at times he has had his problems. The thing with Freeman is he has to be able to avoid the four or five bad plays that creep into his game.”
Gannon talked about when he went through similar turmoil with the Vikings.
“You know, it’s tough [being in that situation],” he said. “I was with Wade Wilson and I was with Sean Salisbury, and a bunch of different guys. A couple seasons it wasn’t so much Salisbury, it was Wade and I. Then in 1992 when Denny Green came in, I was the starter for the first 11 games and then I was sat down for Salisbury.
“The problem is that, [former NFL coach and analyst] John Madden used to say, ‘If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one,’ ” Gannon said. “I was talking to Matt [Cassel] the other day and he said, ‘If you have three quarterbacks, you don’t have one.’ That’s the problem right now.”
But with Freeman out, it’s clear that if Ponder plays well, he will shut up all of the media types who have said his career in Minnesota is over.
The Vikings have to hope Ponder can step in and take some stress off the rest of the team and the coaching staff by being a reliable option at quarterback. Otherwise, as Gannon pointed out, the season will continue to spiral downward.
“It’s a mess,” he said. “If you don’t have a quarterback that can play for 16 weeks, it’s hard. If you go back and look at statistics, teams that have had multiple quarterbacks have a much more difficult time making the playoffs than a team that starts Week 1 and goes through Week 17 with the same quarterback. The numbers bear that out.”
Gannon said that after being part of QB controversies in Minnesota and Kansas City, there was never any doubt who the starter was once he got to Oakland in 1999 and he flourished.
“We won three straight AFC West titles, we went to two AFC Championship Games and we went to a Super Bowl,” he said. “You have to [have one quarterback]. You have to have a guy that … the team believes in, that gives you production and consistency each week. If you don’t, it’s too hard to make a living in this business.
“They just run guys off. They run players off, they run coaches off, they run general managers off. If you can’t get the quarterback position right, just look around the league. Every team that fires head coaches, they don’t have a quarterback and that’s a telltale sign. You better get that thing figured out or you’re going to have people out of work.”
Sizing up the two QBs
Gannon was asked to compare Freeman and Ponder.
“I remember talking to [Jets coach] Rex Ryan when Freeman was a rookie,” he said, “and Rex Ryan said that he reminded him of [Steelers quarterback] Ben Roethlisberger: big, strong, he can be physical, good mobility, throws the ball down the field, but he has been inconsistent.”
And what does Ponder need to do to regain control of the team?
“I think he hasn’t taken the steps that they thought he would,” Gannon said. “When you go from year one to year two, you see growth. Then the way he finished last year when they won four in a row and he played some of his best football, and I think people thought you’d see that carry over into this season and it didn’t happen. Unfortunately we don’t have the patience that we did back in the ’60s and the ’70s and even the ’80s. Once the salary cap came around and the rookie wage scale, we draft these kids and if they don’t work after a couple of years, heck, we just kick them to the curb and we find somebody else.”