Note: This is the final part in our series examining the Vikings draft needs by position.
The issues: This is the No. 1 issue hanging over the franchise right now. Who is the Vikings starting quarterback now that Brett Favre has retired? Joe Webb got an unexpected chance to play late last season because of injuries to Favre and Tarvaris Jackson, who is a free agent and will not return. But it’s still unknown if Webb’s future is at quarterback or wide receiver. The Vikings want to find a long-term answer at quarterback in the draft but will that happen?
What they have: Webb and Rhett Bomar, who was signed off the Giants practice squad late last season. That’s why this is such a critical need.
Originally drafted as a wide receiver, Webb went from No. 3 quarterback to starter the final two games. He completed 54 of 89 passes (60.7 percent) for 480 yards. He had no touchdown passes and three interceptions. He also rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Webb earned a lot of praise for how he handled himself in his first start at Philadelphia on the road. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 195 yards, including a key third-down completion to Percy Harvin that helped the Vikings upset the Eagles.
But Webb also looked extremely raw at other times and still is more of a project. The Vikings have said Webb will get an opportunity to compete at quarterback in training camp because they want to get a closer look at him. But it’s still too early to know whether Webb will stay at quarterback or possibly move to receiver or some sort of hybrid position that includes using him in Wildcat formations.
Bomar spent a few seasons on the Giants practice squad so he remains an unknown.
What they need: A quarterback of the future, but can they find that guy in this draft? That’s the dilemma. Coach Leslie Frazier said ideally the team would take a quarterback in the first two rounds and let him learn on the job. The problem is, the top two quarterbacks -- Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert -- are expected to be taken in the Top 10.
That means the Vikings must decide whether they’re comfortable taking anyone in that next group of quarterbacks -- Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton -- at No. 12 overall or try and get him later in the first round by trading down. Those quarterbacks likely will be gone by the time the Vikings pick in the second round.
The Vikings held private workouts with Newton, Locker, Ponder and Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi while Dalton and Mallett visited Winter Park.
The NFL lockout further complicates the issue because players are not allowed to visit the facility or have contact with coaches. If the lockout (which was blocked by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson on Monday but appears headed for an appeal) extends into late summer, that means a rookie quarterback will not have the benefit of learning a new offense in minicamps, OTAs and by spending time at Winter Park. It would be difficult to ask a rookie to jump into a starting role with only a few weeks of training camp to learn everything.
That’s fueled speculation that the Vikings could target Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb once the lockout is over. The Redskins likely will release McNabb, who could serve as a stop-gap quarterback while the rookie learns the ropes. But would McNabb be willing to fill that role or would he view the Vikings as a new opportunity to play several more seasons?
It seems likely the Vikings would want to sign a veteran -- McNabb or someone else -- regardless to help mentor Webb and the rookie and possibly start right away if the NFL loses the entire offseason because of the lockout.
Conclusion: The Vikings are in a tough spot because they desperately want to find a long-term answer at quarterback, but every quarterback prospect has some issues.
They must decide whether it’s a reach to take a quarterback at No. 12 overall or can they move down, maybe pick up a third-round pick and select a quarterback later in the first round? Or do they fill other needs and draft a quarterback in the middle rounds?
History has shown that drafting a quarterback is an inexact science no matter when he’s selected, but the Vikings need to address this glaring hole in their roster sooner than later.