No Reason To Panic At Quarterback In Minnesota

Patrick McDermott - Getty Images

This is sort of a long one. . .grab a beverage.

I feel like I did an post similar to this one a few years ago. . .not sure if I did or not. . .but even if I did, it's apparently something that needs to be brought up again.

For almost as long as I can remember, one of the most popular players on the Minnesota Vikings roster has been the backup quarterback. I'm not exactly sure what the genesis of this whole thing was, but I think it might have had something to do with Denny Green's "quarterback friendly" system that the team employed in the 90s under Coach Dennis Green. In Green's ten seasons as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach, the Minnesota Vikings had seven different quarterbacks lead the team in passing.

Year Leading Passer
1992 Rich Gannon
1993 Jim McMahon
1994 Warren Moon
1995 Warren Moon
1996 Brad Johnson
1997 Brad Johnson
1998 Randall Cunningham
1999 Jeff George
2000 Daunte Culpepper
2001 Daunte Culpepper

After Green got fired, we moved on to the Mike Tice era. And while Culpepper was the leading passer for the Vikings for three of the four seasons that Tice was the head coach, many Minnesota Vikings fans still harbored a really inexplicable infatuation with the team's back-up quarterback. Whether it was Todd Bouman or Gus Frerotte or Brad Johnson. . .but not Spergon Wynn (I mean, Vikings fans aren't crazy, after all). . .there was a segment of the purple and gold-loving population that always seemed to be under the impression that the guy on the sidelines with the baseball cap could do better.

So, in 2005, Culpepper got his knee turned into spaghetti against the Carolina Panthers, and Brad Johnson v2.0 stepped into the fray. Johnson did lead the Vikings to six consecutive victories and pushed the team into the playoff hunt that season, but losses in the final two games left the Vikings on the outside looking in and Mike Tice without a job.

In 2006, new head coach Brad Childress went into the season with Brad Johnson v2.0 as his starting quarterback, and when the Vikings got off to a 4-2 start, everything was great. Then Johnson completely fell apart and the team started spiraling towards 6-10. At this point, the calls for the new guy in town, rookie Tarvaris Jackson, started in earnest. Jackson started the last couple of games of 2006, and entered 2007 as the starting quarterback.

Jackson couldn't stay healthy for 2007, and was relieved at various times by the two-headed. . .ahem. . .monster that was Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger. Jackson again entered 2008 as the starter, and kind of stunk up the joint for the first two games of the year, and the calls for Gus Frerotte v2.0 began. Frerotte took over, and the Vikings made a nice run until Frerotte got hurt. Jackson came back in, and led the Vikings the rest of the way to the NFC North title (though, admittedly, Frerotte got them most of the way there), and after Jackson looked awful in a wild-card round playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the calls once again came for the Vikings to do something at quarterback.

Well, they did something about the quarterback situation in 2009, so we'll skip that year. We know what happened.

In 2010, when Brett Favre started to falter, the calls for Jackson started again, though they weren't terribly loud (and, really, it's not like Favre was getting benched anyway). After Favre shut it down for the year, Jackson came back in again. . .and, when we realized that he was still Tarvaris Jackson, the calls for another youngster, Joe Webb, started. Webb got his chance after Jackson got hurt, and led the Vikings to a wild victory on a Tuesday night in Philadelphia during the surreal 2010 season.

In 2011, the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick, and while they had Ponder and Webb ready to compete for the quarterback job, new coach Leslie Frazier decided that he needed a veteran. Enter. . .Donovan McNabb. We all know what happened with McNabb, and after hogging all the first-team snaps during an abbreviated training camp and the first six weeks of the regular season, Frazier pulled the trigger and made Ponder his starter the rest of the way.

Ponder had a very up-and-down rookie campaign, and spent a bit of time on the sidelines with injuries, giving Webb an opportunity to come into games in a relief role and, admittedly, light things up a little bit. Whenever Ponder struggled, the calls for Webb started to come out, and we even saw it in the Game Thread in this Sunday's loss to the Washington Redskins.

(Yes, I'm getting to the point here. Told you this was going to be a long one.)

With this Sunday's game against the Redskins, Christian Ponder has now started sixteen games in the National Football League (with appearances in 17, having come in to relieve McNabb on a Sunday night in 2011 in Chicago). In terms of starts, that's one full NFL season. Taking into account injuries and things of that nature, here are his numbers from those 16 games.

Record Completions Attempts Comp % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating
6-10 302 501 60.3 3,287 21 17 79.5

Throw in 309 rushing yards and a rush TD in on top of that as well.

And you know something? That's not awful. I mean, I don't know how much stock I put in the "record" portion of the whole thing, but it is what it is, as they say. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure you can find a lot of NFL quarterbacks that performed better in their first sixteen NFL starts. . .and I'm sure you can find plenty that did worse. You can probably find both starting at quarterback in the NFL right now.

But this is what frustrates me about the knee-jerk calls for Joe Webb. For the first time since they drafted Culpepper, and one of the few times in the nearly three decades that I've been a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, the franchise looks like they're committed to actually making a go at developing a quarterback instead of just trying to patch the position with spackle or duct tape or chicken wire or whatever else. Christian Ponder, for better or worse. . .and no, we don't know which it is yet. . .is going to get every opportunity to prove whether or not he's the guy.

Now, my saying that doesn't mean that I dislike Joe Webb in anyway. Far from it. I think Joe Webb is one hell of a football player, and I wish that this team had more ways of getting him the football. And the Vikings have had him on the field in various capacities over his two-plus years in Minnesota. They've had him at quarterback, at wide receiver, returning kicks, as a "Wildcat" (or "Blazer") option. . .they've made every effort to work him into the game more frequently.

However. . .and this is probably going to upset some people. . .I simply don't feel that Joe Webb is a long-term option as a starting quarterback in the National Football League. And the people that count. . .those that have watched him go through three training camps and however many National Football League games. . .apparently don't think that he is, either. He's an interesting change-up option, to be sure, but at this point I have a feel that that's his role on this football team. He's a guy that can be electric if asked to relieve in the short-term, but that really seems to be about it.

Again, this is not anti-Joe Webb, nor is it really meant to be pro-Christian Ponder. It's meant to be anti-"quarterback roller coaster B.S." This team is trying to build for the long-term, and we're going to see if Christian Ponder is the guy to take them there. If he's not, it will be time to draft another quarterback and give it another shot. And, no, I don't want to see Webb come in for a few plays a game as a "change up" option. There's another NFL team that thinks that kind of thing is a good idea. Which one? Well, I won't say, but I'll give you a hint. . .the guy they're doing it with has a name that starts with "T" and ends with "ebow." And, if it's all the same to you, I'd like to avoid that kind of circus in Minnesota.

I've had enough of circuses. I'd like to see this team make an attempt at long-term stability at the most important position in team sports. Going forward, that appears to be the goal for the Minnesota Vikings as well.

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