So The Christian Ponder Era Ends. Not With a Bang, But With A Broken Rib

Al Messerschmidt

With the signing of Josh Freeman, the Vikings have moved on. But is it the right move?

The NFL is a cold, cold business. Players are like stock, with teams trying to buy low and sell high. But if you buy high, and don’t see a return on investment right away, unlike the stock market teams will cut their losses and move on.

And that seems to have happened with the Vikings and former first round pick Christian Ponder. Oh, no one is coming right out and saying it, but when Ponder struggled coming out of the gate, there was a substantial cry from the masses to put in Matt Cassel. And when Ponder suffered a broken rib in a week three loss to Cleveland, it was the door that lead to the hallway that lead to the room we like to call at Valhalla Estate ‘The End Of The Christian Ponder Era’ room.

And who did we find sitting in that room? Josh Freeman and his shiny new Vikings contract.

Matt Cassel stepped in against Pittsburgh and played, well, like an NFL quarterback should play. He seemed in command of the offense and sure of himself and what he was going to do, whereas Ponder looks tentative and unsure more often than not. It seemed the Vikings were going to go with Cassel and ride that horse as long as they could, until Tampa Bay had their own Bonnie Situation pop up with Josh Freeman.

I always thought that Freeman was just background noise, and if he really was going to be released, he would sign elsewhere. GM Rick Spielman and Coach Leslie Frazier had too much invested in Ponder to cut bait on him until at least the end of this season, or so it seemed. To cut and run on Ponder would mean admitting failure, and that’s a hard thing to do, especially when you look at the recent track record of success the Vikings have had in the draft.

But cut and run they apparently have done, and it’s a bold move. I’m not saying signing Freeman is the right move, and I’m not saying it’s the wrong move. But it is a telling one. Because it tells me that Spielman and Frazier know that can’t ride Ponder anymore, and they need to move in another direction.

So in that regard, I like the signing. It’s tough to put your ego aside for the greater good, especially when you think you’re right. But if you’re certain that neither Ponder nor Matt Cassel is the answer moving forward, then you have to make the move.

I have no idea if Josh Freeman will be the long term answer or not. He’s had good seasons and bad ones, good games and bad games, just like Ponder and Cassel. So far, it seems like there are two camps on this signing—one group feels like it’s a great, no risk move that potentially shores up what has been a long term problem at the most important position on a football team. The other group thinks Freeman is Fool’s Gold, and that this reeks of desperation for a team that sees their season rapidly slipping away.

Both sides are right, to an extent.

For the first group, Freeman is a no-risk move. $2.5-3 million is nothing for a guy that could be a long term answer at quarterback, and the Vikings have most of the 2013 schedule left to make that determination. He didn’t cost them any draft picks or players, and Freeman moves into an offense that boasts the best running back in the NFL and a very competent group of receivers. Unlike Tampa, Freeman is wanted here, and everything is in place for him to succeed. Like Fearless Leader said in his article about this earlier today, the Vikings didn’t bring in Freeman to wear a baseball cap and carry a clipboard; he’s going to get a generous audition. If he pans out, they have a young (25), experienced guy with all the physical tools to succeed long term, and he can go head to head with the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFC North, which has the best collective group of players at that position in the NFL. If Freeman performs well, look for a contract extension at the end of November or December.

For the latter, this is just another guy in the long line of ‘just a guy’ quarterbacks the Vikings have had at that position since the days of Fran Tarkenton and Tommy Kramer, with a few notable exceptions. For all his physical skills, Freeman has been up and down, and recently, more down than up. Now, a lot of those issues could be laid at the feet of Greg Schiano, who seems to be the latest in a growing list of successful college coaches who have no business coaching in the NFL. Seriously, he has mismanaged the Buccaneers worse than Republicans and Democrats have mismanaged our government, so maybe a change of scenery is all Freeman needs to blossom.

But if recent history between the Vikings and the quarterback position is any indication, this move will ultimately not pan out, either. And come draft day, we’ll be talking about another quarterback the Vikings just selected, and the debate will rage on as to whether he’s going to be the guy or just a guy.

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