Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said quarterback Christian Ponder “will be here” next season, but the team plans to address its glaring need at quarterback in the offseason.
Ponder, the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft who has started 35 games over his first three seasons, will enter the final year of his rookie deal in 2014 and is expected to make $3.2 million in base salary and bonuses. All of that money would still count against the salary cap if the Vikings cut Ponder.
“Christian will be here; I don’t anticipate anything — him not being here,” Spielman said Friday. “Right now we’re looking at quarterbacks, so we would say we don’t have that position solidified. I know Christian does have the physical abilities to do it, but for whatever reason things haven’t come together for him.”
Matt Cassel, who ended last season as the Vikings’ starting quarterback, will be a free agent. Spielman indicated that the Vikings are interested in re-signing Cassel.
Spielman said he’s interested to get the opinion of new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Turner’s son, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, when they get a chance to work Ponder during the offseason.
“We’re not closing the door on anything and any player here,” Spielman said.
“We really felt, coming out of the playoffs [after the 2012 season], and the way Christian was playing, because he played well toward the end of the season — he started out strong, and went in that dip, and started to come, that, ‘Hey, this is a second-year guy that’s on the come,’ and … [he] didn’t carry over last year. That’s going to make us look and re-evaluate that position.”
Spielman expects to speak with agents of every Vikings unrestricted free agent at the NFL Combine next week. Free agency begins March 11.
The Vikings have the eighth pick in the draft on May 8, and Spielman said the team isn’t locked in on a quarterback. He believes this year’s draft is deep at the position.
“Everybody’s going to be heavily involved in that quarterback decision,” Spielman said. “Again, I will take the full responsibility for that decision that’s ever made, but we are going to do it as a group and everybody’s got to be sold on that player.
“You’ve just got to keep getting up there and trying to keep turning it over to try and find that right combination and that right quarterback for your franchise. We’re going to be aggressive to try to do that to try to get that position right.”
Spielman said Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s decision to announce he’s gay will not impact Sam’s draft stock within the Vikings’ organization. Spielman said it’s wrong if a team does change its status on Sam because of his announcement.
“I don’t care if a guy has three heads, is black, white, purple, green,” Spielman said. “If we got a guy that can help you win football games, it shouldn’t matter, and it doesn’t here in this building.”
The Vikings initiated an independent review to investigate former punter Chris Kluwe’s allegations that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer had made anti-gay remarks. Priefer remains on staff under new coach Mike Zimmer. Spielman declined to comment on the investigation, which is expected to be completed next month.
Spielman said he isn’t concerned about media attention an openly gay player would attract, mentioning how the Vikings underwent intense media scrutiny with Brett Favre at quarterback.
“I know that we will make sure that our culture is created where he could fit in to our locker room,” said Spielman of Sam, who is expected to be a mid-round choice.
The Vikings completed their coaching staff by hiring head strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus and assistant strength and conditioning coach Jeff Hurd.
Marcus spent the last three seasons at the University of Virginia. Hurd was the strength and conditioning coach during Norv Turner’s tenure as San Diego Chargers head coach from 2007-2012.