INDIANAPOLIS – The Vikings have needs at every defensive position outside of safety, but General Manager Rick Spielman’s media session at the NFL combine on Thursday wouldn’t reflect that.
Spielman was bombarded by questions about quarterbacks — or lack thereof. With Christian Ponder as the only one at that position on the roster, it’s an important offseason for the organization to finally acquire a franchise quarterback and pair him with new head coach Mike Zimmer. Yet Spielman, at least publicly, doesn’t let on that there is any added pressure. He has a quarterback guru in his back pocket, offensive coordinator Norv Turner, to lean on this time during the process.
“You always feel pressure,” Spielman said. “You always want to get good players, regardless at any position, and we’ve got a pretty good track record of bringing in some pretty good players. The quarterback thing is always going to be the one you’re going to get judged on.”
Spielman’s decision to pick Ponder with the 12th pick in the 2011 NFL draft hasn’t panned out. He still hasn’t given up on Ponder, but it’s clear he’s not the team’s long-term solution Spielman hoped for. Ponder has lacked consistency as he enters the final year of his contract, and the Vikings can’t afford to whiff at the position twice in three years.
Ideally, he said he’d like to have Ponder, a veteran and a rookie compete for the starting position. Spielman spoke to quarterback Matt Cassel’s agent on Thursday and has expressed interest in re-signing Cassel, who opted out of his two-year deal to become an unrestricted free agent.
He’ll need Turner’s guidance on the most important quarterback acquisition this offseason. Turner has a successful track record with quarterbacks from Troy Aikman to Jay Fielder, which Spielman saw firsthand as the senior vice president for the Dolphins. In the two seasons Turner spent as Miami’s offensive coordinator, the team went 19-13 with two winning records under Fiedler.
“He’s an expert in that area,” Spielman said. “We rely on everything, some outside stuff that I use, and rely on Norv. He’ll have a huge influence on what direction this quarterback goes.”
The Vikings finalized their initial draft board last week before the NFL combine. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles have been widely considered as the top three quarterbacks in the draft.
With the eighth overall pick, the Vikings might not get a chance to select any of them. It is a deep draft, however, and Spielman thinks there are quality quarterbacks in the following three rounds.
“I know Norv has been working extremely hard on it, doing a lot of group studying on these guys,” Spielman said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of depth in this quarterback class where you don’t have to take one at eight. We’re not going to force the issue, I can tell you that.”
The Vikings will get the benefit to see Bortles throw at the combine, but Manziel, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron opted not to throw. It’s unknown whether Bridgewater will throw.
Still, Turner and his son, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, will get a chance to interview the quarterbacks and see their mental makeup, an area that Ponder has struggled with during his tenure.
“The quarterback’s going to be judged on wins and losses,” Spielman said. “And when you’re not winning, it’s the quarterback’s fault. Whether that’s fair or not, that’s the business. And ultimately, that’s why we have to get that position solidified.”
Spielman might have the final say on the player the franchise hopes will finally solidify the position, but he’s in good hands with Turner.
After all, he’s still being judged three years later for his last quarterback selection. So it might be a good thing for all parties that he’s leaning on Turner.