Given that we're back at the point where we have a new coaching staff and need at least one quarterback out of the draft...it's not all that surprising how much virtual ink we've used up talking about how to get it right this time. With that, let's take a quick look at history and what led up to the last time we drafted a quarterback in the first round.
Flash back to 2011. The 2010 season has been an unmitigated disaster as a roster built to 'win now' by Brad Childress and the TOA has shown that the window was closed. They had also given up on Childress and his "my way or the highway" style of coaching. Then, in the middle of the season (after giving up draft picks for Randy Moss) Randy Moss has a tiny (for him, anyways) rant and Childress summarily cuts him. Less than one week later, Childress himself was also out on the street with Leslie Frazier promoted from defensive coordinator to interim head coach. Brett Favre suffered a concussion and his consecutive starts streak ended...and he never took another game snap again. Sage Rosenfels was a free agent and the only quarterback left on the roster was Joe Webb
Then another quirk happened when the CBA expired and, rather than enter into real negotiations right away, the owners locked out the players. This meant that teams (and coaching staffs) were not allowed any contact with the players at all. No contact with free agents, no contact with players already on their team...nothing. No offseason workouts, no interviews, no film sessions and no floating ideas. In fact, the only people that the teams were allowed contact with were those who were entering the NFL draft since they were not yet players and, therefore, not yet members of the NFL Player's Association.
With Favre retired (for good, it appears) and Rosenfels a free agent (and off limits), the Vikings were down to an extremely athletic but very raw quarterback in Joe Webb...and nobody else. With no chance to sign a free agent quarterback and drafting at #12, the Vikings were committed to drafting a quarterback high. We were also stuck hoping that a quarterback we liked fell to number 12 since we were far from being the only team that needed a quarterback. Then the draft happened and the two quarterbacks that the Vikings seemed most interested in (Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert) were both gone before #12. An attempt to trade back failed and so the Vikings turned in their draft card bearing two words we know all too well today: Christian Ponder.
The kicker for all this was that the minute we drafted Ponder, we were no longer allowed any contact with him since he was now an NFL player. There may have been a proviso put in place where teams were allowed one week of contact with their new rookies but that was about enough to give them a playbook and not much else. Fast forward to August, when the new CBA was signed and a free agency unlike any other we've seen was unleashed. The Vikings still needed a veteran presence at quarterback and were hoping to get someone with one year left in the tank. Donovan McNabb was that guy although we all know that his tank was bone-dry. Then, our starting left tackle (Mount McKinney) showed up morbidly overweight. He had sworn all offseason that he'd actually show up in shape but the only shape he showed up in was "round." Reports were that, rather than being close to his reporting-in weight of 320 (I think) he showed up tipping the scales at over 400 pounds. He was also so out of shape that he could not participate in team drills and soon after, the Vikings cut him and went with Charlie Johnson at left tackle. Five weeks into the season, McNabb was benched for good (never took another NFL snap) and the Ponder era began.
So, what does the 2011 situation have in common with today? Not much. For one, we have two quarterbacks on the roster who have proven that their ceiling is either decent or good (you can guess which one is which) with both of their floors being terrible. We have a new coaching staff with some decent to very good pedigrees-including one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. We have an offense that was league average and a defense that was the second or third worst in team history. Saying that we're as locked in to drafting a quarterback in the first round as we were in 2011 is pretty inaccurate.
Another difference is the effect that the new CBA has had. The limiting of rookie contracts means that the real money is in a player's second contract. So, college players (and their advisors) are of the mindset that they must get into the NFL as soon as possible so that they are able to cash in at a younger age. The result? Today, there is an NFL record of underclassmen who declared for the draft. This means fewer seniors next year and, therefore, talent that is more raw than polished. It is no longer a major pull to return to college and contend for the #1 pick since that #1 pick's contract is no longer equivalent to winning the lottery. In years past, sophomores declaring for the draft were frowned upon as having major red flags but now a prospect by the name of Johnny Manziel has done exactly that and is being projected to go in the top 10-if not first overall. In the past: teams would say that he was after the money and nothing else. Now, although that fact is actually even more true, we're not hearing any criticism of that nature.
We have discussed the relative merits and downsides of drafting a quarterback at #8 ad nauseum. One of the prevailing schools of thought cites the increasing success rate of quarterbacks with relation to how highly they were drafted. This culminates in a roughly 56% chance of success with the #1 overall pick being spent on a quarterback. But even this analysis is based on the outcome and doesn't delve into the details of why a certain pick was spent on a certain quarterback. In fact, I'd say that the chances of success are higher when a team drafts the right guy for the system that they plan to run. The reason that success rate climbs with the relative draft slot can therefore be attributed to the higher odds of the right guy being available...culminating with the #1 pick where, by definition, everybody is available. Which really begs the question: "Is it the draft slot alone or the player(s) available at that draft slot that determines success?"
I am of the opinion that the Ponder pick was desperation but could still pay off in some aspect. No, he probably won't ever be the elite quarterback that everybody wants but he could be a bridge-if he beats out Cassel for exactly that position. Whether that happens is, thankfully, not up to us. Honestly, I trust Norv Turner with this decision far more than I'd trust anybody else since it is Norv's job to find the best guy on the team to run his offense.
My next opinion is that we should not be looking at drafting one of the "big three" based off of whichever one is available. We need to decide which one is the best and pursue that guy. Maybe decide on a second-best who is worth the pick but, after that, we need to have somebody at another position targeted. We can't draft a guy simply because he's a highly rated quarterback. We need to draft a guy because he's right for the team. And I'm also of the belief that we have too many holes to fill to afford giving up the picks in a trade up into the top 3.
So that's my opinion with drafting a quarterback this year. I hope our coaching staff and front office set their hearts on one guy and take him if he's available. If he's not then I hope they either trade down or draft some other position. Drafting a quarterback for the sake of drafting a quarterback is what got us Ponder. We don't have that same desperate situation this time around and so we should not do the same thing. We have multiple needs all over the team and only a quarterback that our coaching staff truly believes in is a better pick than a guy who would address one of those other needs.