I’ve no intention to go into the finer details about the mess that was our quarterback situation last season, suffice to say that:
* Ponder looked like a lost rookie, who was unable to find the wide open Greg Jennings.
* Freeman was launching footballs into earth’s orbit.
* Cassel forgot for the most time, that he is supposed to be really bad and actually looked like a serviceable veteran instead.
Image courtesy of myfox
Now Freeman is gone, and is a mere bad memory. Cassel opted out of his contract, only so that we could sign him to a more expensive one. Ponder still have one year left of his cheap rookie deal. So at the moment our quarterback corps consists of Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. Cassel is a lock to stay on the roster: a veteran presence and top of the dept..hrmgh, shallow chart. Christian Ponder is not awful if considered a backup and his 3,2 mil cap hit equals his dead money amount (per spotrac). So there is really nothing to be gained by cutting him, at least from a salary cap viewpoint.
In addition to our two man corps of… not eliteness (to be very, very kind), the Vikings will draft a quarterback in the upcoming draft. There are naturally several options available. The three top dogs are considered to be Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles, all likely to be drafted in the first round. Quarterbacks like Carr, Garoppolo and McCarron are some other reasonable options. Of the above draft class Teddy Bridgewater is deemed "head of class" and to be most ready to start in the NFL. The others come with big questions marks, none with a bigger one than Manziel. The potentially best by many, but barely a 3rd rounder by those who generally think that his skill set will not translate to the NFL level, or that he is too short, or that he is too big of a character risk (or all of these). Bortles, Carr and Garoppolo are pocket passing talents, but will probably need time to acclimate to the NFL. McCarron could be serviceable from the let go, but I’d be surprised if he would be an upgrade over Cassel or Ponder. What does all this mean regarding our starting option? In my mind, that if we don’t manage to grab Bridgewater via some miracle or serious trade up, we’d better roll out with Cassel. Or that is the general idea at the moment. Could that change?
Let’s go back to my original question. Think about it. Cassel did look like a quarterback last season, while Ponder did not. That doesn’t mean that Cassel is head and shoulders above Ponder. Last season we got to mainly see the "good" Cassel, but there has been long stretches in his career when he has been really bad. Pretty much the same can be said about Ponder, some few good games and too many unbelievable bad ones. But there is on field where Ponder does seem to outshine Cassel : the training field.
Image courtesy of Vikings.com
DN’s inside man from training camp last year, Arif Hasan (the Waldo who can now be found at Vikings Territory), reported that Ponder did look better than Cassel in Mankato. Arif is in addition of being a very analytical and objective kind of guy, not a fan of Ponder’s (who could, based on Ponder’s stats?), so there should be no bias to Ponder's benefit. Cassel was new on the team though, so he was only starting to develop his timing and relationship with the Viking receivers. But there were many new receivers out there (Jennings, Patterson, Webb and other training camp bodies), which means that Ponder did not have a big advantage, excluding the existing rapport he had with Simpson and Rudolph. Ponder did know the offensive system from before, that was an advantage, if one can say that knowing Musgrave’s system is advantageous. But what will happen during this training camp? What happens if Ponder soaks in the wisdom being handled over to him by new OC Norv Turner and is able to once again outperform Cassel in training camp? Could he catapult himself ahead of Cassel, and secure a starting gig?
I don‘t know, it’s an interesting question and a real dilemma. One of the bigger mistakes committed by our previous coaching regime was not letting the players compete for their positions, and thus bull headedly start the wrong players instead of names as Rhodes, Patterson, Evans and Wright. Frazier seemed content in jamming a square peg into a round hole and just leave it there. This must change and I’m certain that it will change under new head coach Zimmer. But the other big mistake was spinning the quarterback carousel excessively. I understand and was all in favor of us starting Ponder. He ended the previous season on a high note against the Packers and outperformed Cassel in training camp. He was the right starter. The problem began when Ponder started to look like Tim Tebow, without the fourth quarter comebacks. Ponder regressed. Cassel was inserted and looked better and therefore should have been allowed to keep starting. So while stability at the helm is important, a change must be done if needed, as long as one don’t spin the merry go round needlessly - Frazier and company did. Cassel out, Ponder in. Cassel in, Ponder out. Cassel out, Freeman in. The wheel kept spinning and the end result was awful.
What to do now? I’d suggest a trade. That would rid us of the dilemma, net us something, and allow Ponder a fresh start. The problem is that Ponder has been deemed as untradeable. But is that true? If the Jags managed to trade Blaine Gabbert to the Niners for reportedly a sixth round pick, then surely Rick "the trademaster" Spielman could do something similar with Ponder? Especially as Gabbert was one of the few quarterbacks that was considered a more awful quarterback than Ponder!