The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the quarterbacks.
Get excited: The word “excited” is a little too strong a word to use while discussing starter Christian Ponder. But even the most stubborn anti-Ponders among us would – or should – admit privately that Ponder’s final month of the regular season was “encouraging.”
After literally throwing away the first Green Bay game with two ridiculous interceptions at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2, Ponder pulled it together in a way that had to surprise even his most blindly optimistic supporters. Needing to win their final four games – including two on the road and one at home against a Packers team that had won 12 straight division games – the Vikings went 4-0 because Ponder complemented Adrian Peterson’s greatness with exactly the kind of efficient, alert, ball-secure play the Vikings currently ask of him.
Ponder threw only one interception in the final four games and closed the regular season with his best game as a professional. Knowing it was a win-and-you’re-in-the-playoffs situation against the Packers, Ponder had a career-high 120.2 passer rating, tied a career high with three touchdown passes and didn’t turn the ball over. How is that not impressive?
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they’ll never know how much more shocking their 10-win season could have been had Ponder not injured the triceps/elbow on his throwing arm and missed the playoffs. But one thing became abundantly clear early on in that wild-card loss at Green Bay: Without Ponder, the 2012 Vikings had absolutely zero chance of beating a quality team.
Overall, this season was another pogo-stick ride with Ponder at the handlebars. But the good moments outnumbered the bad.
Remember the unthinkable comeback in Week 1 against the Jaguars? The 94.7 passer rating in the upset of the 49ers in Week 3? Starting the year with four interception-free games? The 114.2 passer rating in that Week 10 win over the Lions? The first drives down the stretch against Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston and the Packers?
There were bad moments, too. Bad enough that maybe Ponder won’t prove to be this team’s quarterback for the next decade. But he made enough progress to prove that he’s the answer in 2013.
Some critics will never buy that. And that’s fine. But Ponder did help this team win 10 games. And he did it with a thin receiving corps that lost its only playmaker (Percy Harvin) in Week 9.
Keep an eye on: If nothing else, the playoff loss proved Joe Webb as Ponder’s primary backup is a flawed plan for a contending team.
So now what?
McLeod Bethel-Thompson isn’t ready to step up from No. 3 QB. And fans need to let go of Sage Rosenfels. Folks, he’s not coming back. Let … it … go.
The Vikings will at least explore alternative options for a No. 2 QB in 2013. But THEY WON’T BE LOOKING FOR ANYONE TO COMPETE WITH CHRISTIAN PONDER. So that rules out acquiring Alex Smith, so let go of that one, too.
And, no, Joe Flacco isn’t a possibility. His contract is up after this season, but … he … isn’t … leaving … Baltimore.
Remember, the Vikings are looking at experienced veteran backups who will be available in free agency. They aren’t elite QBs. They’re guys like Derek Anderson, Matt Moore, David Carr, Matt Leinart, Byron Leftwich, Bruce Gradkowski, Jason Campbell and Rex Grossman.
We’ll assume the Vikings will pass on a T-Jack reunion.
Reason for worry: Granted, it’s asking a lot to have a guy start a playoff game at Lambeau Field after not attempting a pass all season. But the very nature of playing backup quarterback requires one to possess the ability to hold down the proverbial fort while knowing your opportunities are going to be few and far between.
Webb never has been an accurate passer. He’s a big, fast athlete who was drafted in the sixth round to play receiver. But his inability to throw with any shred of accuracy in the playoff game was alarming and added another bullet point to GM Rick Spielman’s offseason To-Do List.
If anything, Webb has regressed as a passer during his three years of NFL tutoring. And that has thrust the Vikings into an offseason predicament that they never expected to be facing when the left the Metrodome after clinching that unlikely playoff berth back on Dec. 30.
This decision has many layers and reasons to worry. Webb still has value as an athlete and someone with potential to run the read-option attack that’s spreading throughout the league. Finding a way to use him could really help an offense that needs more playmakers and unpredictability.
Therefore, the Vikings could go back to an earlier plan that positioned Webb as the No. 3 QB behind a more experienced veteran backup. In that spot, the risk of injury would be diminished, so Webb’s speed and athleticism could be used in some capacity other than holding a clipboard on game day.
Of course, going that route would mean the Vikings just wasted a year developing Bethel-Thompson. MBT is a player the coaches really like. He might have the best arm on the team and could work his way up to No. 2 with more seasoning.
So the Vikings head into 2013 with their starter set, but still have a lot of questions to answer behind him.
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