I’m hearing a lot of pundits lately suggesting the Vikings should just wait to draft a quarterback rather than reaching for one with the eighth overall selection. I would gladly co-sign on that idea assuming Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are all off the board by the time the Vikings are on the clock, which could absolutely happen.
Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles have separated themselves from the pack as the consensus top-three signal callers (in whatever order) in this year’s draft class and if I were the Vikes, I would be happy with any of the three. My fairly well-documented preference remains Johnny Football, though I could see him going No. 1 overall to the Texans. Having said that, I would not consider any of them a “reach” with that eighth pick, as all three have the potential to be good or very good at the next level.
But what if all three are gone? The Texans, Jaguars, Browns, Raiders and Buccaneers could all potentially use a quarterback, and all five of those teams pick ahead of the Vikings. If all three quarterbacks get scooped up ahead of the purple they’ll need to wait on drafting a quarterback and pluck a blue-chip defender in Round 1 instead. In fact, the Vikings might want to use at least six of their eight picks to patch holes in their leaky defense. General Manager Rick Spielman is on record as saying he wants even more picks; he wants to deal his way into 10 draft picks. If he does so, I say he should spend at least eight on defense.
But the fact remains, as many needs as their defense has, the Vikings aren’t going anywhere without a solution at quarterback. Nor can they count on finding a Tom Brady, Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick – very good to elite quarterbacks that slip through the cracks and out of the first round (a.k.a. outliers). The Vikings just don’t have that kind of luck.
That’s why the Vikings can’t wait until the draft to figure it out. And they can’t close the door on Matt Cassel coming back.
The NFL year starts anew in one month, on March 11, and with it free agency begins. Jay Cutler is no longer an option, leaving the free agency quarterback crop mighty thin. The best fit of the bunch is probably none other than Cassel, who wisely opted out of his deal with the Vikings last Friday. It was the best move for Cassel and should result in a few million more dollars in his pocket. The Vikings have wisely been talking with him about potentially returning. Granted, he’s not the ideal long-term solution, but said solution doesn’t exist on the free agency (or trade) market. Cassel can do an adequate job, which will get the Vikings by for a few years – or until they find a better fix, whichever comes first.
Of the free agents, I’d prefer Cassel in purple to Michael Vick, who is too much of an injury risk and not known for his accuracy or taking care of the football. I’d probably put Josh McCown on about the same level as Cassel, maybe a little lower. His numbers last year with the Bears were unquestionably helped by two Pro Bowl wide receivers. After that, the free agency quarterback list gets murky in a hurry. Josh Freeman, anyone? Shaun Hill? Tarvaris Jackson? I hear Tim Tebow is still looking for work.
Yes, all this assumes that Christian Ponder will not be in Mankato when the Vikings begin training camp in July. Norv Turner had to discuss Ponder last week in meetings with the press because, well, he’s the only quarterback actually on the roster right now. Considering his history with the team, however, you have to believe Ponder won’t be a Viking much longer. I’m guessing Ponder won’t mind.
Read between the lines of what Turner had to say regarding what he looks for in a quarterback last week:
“I think this league has gotten to a point where the mental part of it is really, really critical; guys that can grasp concepts, who can make quick decisions, guys who understand how to play the game,” Turner said. “That is easier said than done, after that the physical skill set it takes to play and to me accuracy is an important as any skill in terms being a passer. You look at all the great passers in there, the starting point is that they have great accuracy.”
Making quick decisions and great accuracy… not exactly hallmarks of the Ponder tool kit.
So it’s come to this: the Vikings kind of need to pursue Cassel. They actually need him back to a certain extent. That gives Cassel some leverage -- unless the Vikings start exploring trades or some other quarterbacks get released to the free agency market.
It sounds like the Texans will save themselves some money by releasing Matt Schaub. Does he do anything for you? More than Cassel? Not me. What about Brandon Weeden? He wants out of Cleveland (who can blame him?) and it sounds like the Browns might oblige him. I’d rather have Cassel than him too.
The more interesting discussion is Kirk Cousins of the Redskins, who reiterated Wednesday that he wants a chance to start elsewhere. If you give me the choice of Cousins or Cassel, I’d opt for rolling the dice on Cousins. The guess here, however, is the Redskins would be looking for a second or third-round draft pick in exchange for sending any team a starting quarterback (which Cousins would likely be regardless of who they trade him to). At that price, give me Cassel. I’m guessing the draft-pick hoarding Spielman would agree.
I’m bracing for the onslaught of Derek Carr or Zach Mettenberger apologists in the comments section below, but to me the Vikings absolutely have to have Cassel, Bridgewater, Bortles or Manziel in Mankato this summer. Ideally, they’d have two of the four.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell