Yes, as the only general manager in the NFC North without a franchise quarterback to build around, Spielman views the Freeman signing as one of the stones that needed to be turned whether he played this year or not.
“If you’re not out there always looking and trying to find a Peyton Manning, then I feel you’re not doing your job,” Spielman said last month. “Our job is to be aggressive, to try and get that position solidified.”
Don’t bury Ponder yet
Although the Vikings obviously love Freeman’s arm strength and are satisfied with his ability to learn, they’re careful not to reveal what their level of interest in re-signing him will be.
Part of that is for competitive reasons, while a lot of it has to do with the fact that the team waits until after the season before crafting its final roster evaluations.
And quarterback will be a complicated process because of all that has transpired, including Cassel’s late-season surge and the fact that he has an option to void the final year of his contract and sign elsewhere this offseason.
Ponder could be traded but also can’t be written off because, frankly, the coaching staff could be entirely different or significantly altered. If that’s the case, Ponder might be kept in hopes that his career path follows those of notable late bloomers such as current Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.
In his first five seasons, Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, was inconsistent with 51 touchdowns and 53 interceptions. But since being coached by Jim Harbaugh and his staff in San Francisco and now Andy Reid and his staff in Kansas City, Smith has become one of the league’s more steady quarterbacks with 53 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in three seasons.
Cassel playing well down the stretch is adding another layer to the possibilities. At 31, he could be brought back as the starter in 2014 while the Vikings address their long-term future in the draft, depending on where they end up in the selection order.
Altogether, the three quarterbacks cost the Vikings $8.5 million in salary and bonuses this season.
That’s not a heavy investment in quarterback dollars, but it isn’t insignificant considering any one of the three or none of the three could be the team’s starting quarterback on opening day next fall.
“If that [money] helps us make a decision on who’s our quarterback going forward,” said Spielman, “then it’s well worth it.”