Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Friday that he’s not planning a coaching change and that he can adequately judge whether Josh Freeman is a possible franchise quarterback, even if Freeman sees little game action.
Spielman also noted that he leaves decisions on who starts at quarterback in the hands of coach Leslie Frazier and his staff. Those admissions were key takeaways during a wide-ranging 42-minute interview with writers at Winter Park.
Spielman said he has no intention of firing Frazier despite the team’s 1-6 record and three consecutive lopsided losses.
“Leslie Frazier is not going anywhere,” Spielman said. “I am telling you that we are very committed to Leslie Frazier and this coaching staff.”
Frazier’s contract expires after next season, but it seems unlikely that the organization would allow him to coach as a lame duck because of the obvious distraction. That means the Vikings would need to make a decision on Frazier’s status at the end of this season.
The team’s disappointing performance and chaotic approach at quarterback have generated questions about Frazier’s immediate job status.
“We back Coach Frazier 100 percent and we’ll do everything we can to help him get this thing turned around,” Spielman said.
The quarterback uncertainty has hovered over the entire season. Frazier named Christian Ponder the starter for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys but declined to announce whether Freeman or veteran Matt Cassel will serve as the backup.
The revolving door at that position creates the perception that Frazier and Spielman might have different agendas. Freeman endured a disastrous start against the New York Giants only two weeks after signing with the team and after only four days of practice with the first-team offense. Spielman said he leaves playing time decisions to Frazier.
“I will express my opinions one way or another [to Frazier],” he said. “I will always come up with the pros and the cons on everything. When it comes to the personnel, I weigh all that and I make that decision. When it comes to who plays, Leslie weighs that decision.”
Spielman was asked whether he believes Freeman was rushed into action too quickly.
“No one would say he went out there and played a great ballgame,” he said. “But you’re going off, again, coaches make those determinations. I feel they felt very confident that it was the right time to put him in, and I support that 100 percent.”
Spielman defended his decision to sign Freeman for $2 million for the rest of the season. The Vikings already had a proven backup in Cassel.
Spielman signed Freeman because he saw an opportunity to evaluate him on a daily basis, even if he doesn’t play in a game. However, the team put Freeman on an accelerated timetable to start for a reason.
“This was just a great chance — whether he played or not — that you would have a much better idea of what a Josh Freeman was by the end of the season just by him being in your building and being around that player for 12 weeks,” Spielman said.
Spielman touched on a few other subjects:
•On Ponder’s struggles: “I think Christian would say too that it’s the consistency thing. I understand outside the building there’s not as much patience as there is inside the building because you know the development. But the biggest thing we talked about was where Christian was more consistent toward the end of [last] season, we probably haven’t seen that same consistency through the first part of the season. Now, if he ends up being our starting quarterback and playing the rest of the games and you see him come on and see that he is playing consistently, then maybe he is the guy we’re going to go into the future with.”
• On any regrets releasing veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, whom Spielman described as an “aging vet”: “Antoine was a great football player here, there’s no doubt what he brought to our football team. You can only keep a certain amount of players at a specific [salary] number. When we have our meetings, we talk about it. ‘We have ‘X’ amount for these veterans. What’s the most important thing for our football team?’ We tried to sign Antoine back. It just didn’t work out. Once that didn’t work out, we have to move forward.”
• On the possibility of having to start over at quarterback next season: “From a personnel standpoint, on the hits and misses on players, I’m taking that responsibility. My goal is to be 100 percent every time. Am I going to be right all the time? I’m probably not but I don’t think anyone is. But that’s our goal and right now I’m not worried about that. What I’m worried about is seeing what we have here and then making those assessments at the end of the year.”