I do not hate Josh Freeman.
Really, I don't. Those of you that follow me on Twitter are probably shaking your heads and muttering a word that rhymes with "full spit" right now, but I'm here to tell you that I harbor no ill will towards the newest addition to the Minnesota Vikings roster.
My fellow Daily Norseman writer Arif made a compelling case for signing Freeman last week before the team signed him a few days later. It's hard to argue with most of his points. Freeman has all the skills to be a top-ten NFL quarterback. The Buccaneers offense made it hard for anyone to succeed. His accuracy and turnover numbers aren't much different than Christian Ponder's but he can definitely throw a better deep ball. Freeman is still very young and his attitude "issues" are really a non-starter by most accounts. I can appreciate all the positive traits of Josh Freeman that Arif presented.
Not to go all Curb Your Enthusiasm on you, but having said that, I still despised the Vikings signing Josh Freeman.
I'm not that upset about picking up Josh Freeman from a personnel point of view. I think he should be able to compete for the starting quarterback job. Freeman has his flaws--which I'll get to in detail shortly--but it's not like the Vikings had a stable of All-Pros to begin with. The 1-year, $3 million contract he signed wasn't much to pay for what should amount to a half-season tryout. The team is 1-3 and needs a kick start coming off their bye week. So I shouldn't really be asking why the Vikings signed Freeman. I should be asking "Why not?", right?
Why not?...Why not?!...WHY NOT?!?! Because "Why not?" shouldn't be a valid reason for filling the most important position on the field, that's why!!
When it comes to quarterbacks, the "Why Not?" Syndrome has plagued the Minnesota Vikings franchise for most of its recent existence. Spoiler alert: it hasn't worked out all that well. The "Why not?" reasoning has justified the following starting quarterbacks over the past 20 years: Jim McMahon, Sean Salisbury, Jeff George, Brad Johnson (a few times), Spergon Wynn, Todd Bouman, Gus Frerotte (a couple times), Tarvaris Jackson (too many times), Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, Joe Webb, Donovan McNabb, and Matt Cassel. I'll concede that there's actually some success scattered among that murderer's row of mediocrity while some of the starts were necessitated by injury. But for the most part it was the Vikings front office throwing the proverbial quarterback sh*t against the wall to see what would stick.
Am I comparing Josh Freeman to the likes of Vikings legends Spergon Wynn and Tarvaris Jackson? Of course not. But comparing him to the upper tier of NFL quarterbacks doesn't work either. His mechanics and decision making don't just have room for improvement--they have acres for improvement. Freeman has had stretches of brilliant play intertwined with periods of absolutely dreadful play throughout most of his career. If we wanted that kind of inconsistency, why didn't we just stick with Ponder? Christian is one of the league's best at fluctuating between competent and clueless.
Are fans more excited about Freeman than Ponder because he has more of the sporting world's favorite buzzword--upside? Most Vikings fans have already given up on Ponder being a viable option. (With good reason, in my opinion.) The naysayers haven't seen enough from Ponder in his 2+ seasons to warrant going forward with him. So isn't it curious that many of the Ponder haters are so anxious to see what Freeman can do even though Freeman has had exactly twice as many games to prove himself?
"But he already HAS proved himself," you say. "Look at that amazing 2010 season!" There's no doubt that Freeman's first full year as a starter was impressive. He had almost as many fourth quarter comebacks (5) as interceptions (6). Since then he has thrown 42 picks while his team went 11-23. I realize that you can't pin the record on Freeman alone, especially after enduring the likes of Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano as his head coaches. But lately the 2010 season looks more and more like an anomaly with each game Freeman plays.
The Vikings coaching staff probably doesn't buy into the notion that Freeman has regressed since the start of the 2011 season. They certainly didn't see any poor play in the Metrodome the past two years. Freeman led Tampa Bay to impressive road victories over the Vikings in both 2011 and 2012, averaging over 7 adjusted yards/attempt in each game while committing only one total turnover. I have a feeling that those two games went a long way towards the Vikings' courtship of their new quarterback.
No matter what it was that brought Freeman to Minnesota, it certainly seems like he will get his chance to start sooner rather than later. And when he does get that chance I hope he proves me 100% wrong. I hope I'm bombarded with sarcastic tweets about how well I evaluate quarterbacks. I hope Arif writes a 6,000 word opus with diagrammed screen shots of how Freeman made throws that Ponder could never dream of. I just don't think Freeman will differentiate himself enough from Ponder and Cassel in 2013.
I would have been more on board with the move if it had come before the season. I don't see how Freeman excels this year after being thrown in with new teammates and a new offense. I'd like to think the Vikings could bring him along slowly and start him only when he's ready, even if Freeman isn't "ready" until 2014. But if they were being patient at the quarterback position why would they sign a new guy to a 1-year deal in the middle of a season to begin with?
And if Freeman is "just OK" during his abbreviated audition, what should the Vikings do the following year? As the old football saying goes, "If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks." So what happens when you have three quarterbacks?
You probably have another case of "Why not?" in 2014. And the syndrome starts its vicious cycle all over again.
Just once I'd like the Vikings to be one of those lucky franchises that has an undisputed, long-term solution at quarterback. Then maybe I wouldn't have to spend 1,000 words in my weekly preview article talking about someone that probably won't even play on Sunday. How about we actually discuss that upcoming game against the Carolina Panthers?
This Carolina team is eerily similar to the Browns that visited Mall of America Field for the home opener: a down-on-its-luck team with a quietly tenacious front seven and a sputtering offense. If there's something that Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is bad at besides having a last name that sounds like it's spelled, I haven't seen it. Carolina's defensive line has been formidable all season. Ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are among the highest rated in the league through four games. Their first-round rookie defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei, is making an early case for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Carolina's secondary isn't outstanding by any means but it's certainly more serviceable than Minnesota's at this point. (Especially when the Vikings coaches refuse to start Xavier Rhodes over Josh Robinson. Let's move on before I punch through my laptop screen.)
The Panthers should be a lot better than they have shown on offense. The team has the sixth-highest overall offensive rating from Pro Football Focus despite scoring only 18.5 points per game. (If they didn't blow up for 38 points against the hapless Giants in Week 3 that number would be even lower.) Cam Newton is playing OK at best. He's not quite having a Freeman-esque "QB with all the talent that can't put it together" year but you'd expect more from someone that finished last season with such panache. They've had a dependable if not flashy running attack including the second highest run-blocking rating in the league according to PFF. Ted Ginn and Greg Olsen have finally given Newton some passing options outside of Steve Smith. But the offense can't seem to get out of their own way. Whether it's a crucial drop, a bad penalty at the most inopportune time, or a boneheaded coaching decision by Ron Rivera and his staff, the Panthers are yet again off to a disappointing slow start.
The numbers certainly seem to point to Carolina turning things around against the Vikings on Sunday. The Panthers are in the top 10 of PFF's ratings in all three phases of the game. If Carolina's solid overall performance continues the bounces should start going their way eventually. (Plus, the Vikings are STILL STARTING JOSH ROBINSON ON DEFENSE. In case you missed that the first time.)
Given my frustration with the Vikings quarterback carousel and all the metrics pointing to how Carolina is a much better team than their 1-3 record, one would think I might persist in my pessimism and pick the Panthers to win on Sunday. The Vikings have been atrocious post-bye week under Frazier (0-3, outscored 102-37 in his tenure) but I'm still picking them to snag their second straight win. The Vikings are putting up points this year regardless of who has been under center. Besides, I think it would be a lot more fun if Cassel played well enough to make us question the coaches simply handing the reigns over to Freeman next week. So I'm going heart over brain here and making the homer pick.
Why not, right?
Prediction: Vikings 27, Panthers 23
And now for the rest of my Week 6 picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
BEARS over Giants: I thought the Giants would win the NFC East this year. They're 0-5 and there's still an outside chance I could be right.
Bengals over BILLS: Because Thad Lewis is starting. Thad is short for Thaddeus. Why would you shorten that name?! Wouldn't you rather sound like a Roman warrior instead of sounding like someone with a lisp is telling you he's sad?
Lions over BROWNS: Wow. One of these teams is going to be 4-2. No matter which team that is, both teams will still be better than the Vikings, which makes me incredibly Thad.
RAVENS over Packers: Joe Flacco is 35-7 at home in his career. Aaron Rodgers is 5-24 when trailing in the 4th quarter with a chance to take the lead in his career. Just throwing that out there before you take the Packers as a road favorite.
CHIEFS over Raiders: Oakland has proven they can actually be competitive this season! But only at home. And only in the middle of the night or against Jacksonville. This game is none of those things. KC will win this one to get us one step closer to one of my favorite January traditions: horrible Andy Reid clock management in the playoffs!
TEXANS over Rams: Despite their 2-3 record, the Texans have the #1 defense in yards allowed per game. Of course when Matt Schaub is throwing pick sixes every other possession it's not like you're on the field enough to allow any yards in the first place.
Eagles over BUCCANEERS: The Browns are 3-0 since they got rid of Trent Richardson. If Tampa wins this game after getting rid of Josh Freeman I fear that every team is going to start getting rid of one of their marquee players to improve their chances of winning.
BRONCOS over Jaguars: The largest spread in NFL history = the easiest Survivor Pool pick in history. (Now 5-0 on the season after Green Bay beat Detroit last week.) And since you already know how good the Broncos are and how awful the Jags are, it's Gratuitous Picture of the Week time.
SEAHAWKS over Titans: Yep, Seattle is still unbeatable at home until further notice. Hey, look who gets to play in Seattle Week 11! The Vikings! Oh crap, now I'm Thad again.
PATRIOTS over Saints: New Orleans has looked amazing this year but they'll probably start resting players since they have already clinched the NFC South.
Colts over CHARGERS: I think San Diego is capable of the upset but instead they'll get caught looking ahead to their next game--a tough road trip to Jacksonville.
Last week: 7-7
Season so far: 47-30