With the selection of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, it became even more obvious that Matt Cassel was not the long-term answer at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. The 32-year old Cassel opted out of his contract this off-season, only to sign a two-year pact just before the start of free agency. At best, he's seen as a "bridge" quarterback until Bridgewater is ready to go.
For as long as he's been in the league, he isn't getting a whole lot of respect league-wide, either. Mike Sando of ESPN.com did a poll of 26 league officials and had them rank every starting quarterback in the NFL on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst.
Of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. . .currently projected starters, anyway. . .Cassel polled at #28 overall. The quarterbacks he ranked ahead of were Brian Hoyer of the Cleveland Browns, Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Houston Texans, Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans, and Geno Smith of the New York Jets. He ranked behind such luminaries as Jacksonville's Chad Henne, Oakland's Matt Schaub, and Buffalo's E.J. Manuel.
The quote that accompanies Cassel's ranking is the following:
Cassel was at his best in New England and Kansas City under Charlie Weis. There's some thought among evaluators that he has a tendency to hold the ball and stare down his receivers in the absence of proactive coaching. Perhaps Norv Turner can help him out. "Everything has to be right to win games with him," a GM said.
I've said this on numerous occasions this off-season, and I'm going to continue beating this drum until it happens. As soon as the pen hit the paper on his rookie contract, Teddy Bridgewater became the best quarterback on the Minnesota Vikings roster. Matt Cassel, experience and wisdom notwithstanding, is not better than Teddy Bridgewater. Christian Ponder is not better than Teddy Bridgewater. And we know what we're going to get with Cassel. . .for every start like the one he had against the Philadelphia Eagles last season (26/35, 382 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT), he'll have a start like the one he had against the Cincinnati Bengals the following week (13/27, 114 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, one lost fumble).
I can understand the school of thought that says that Matt Cassel should start "until Bridgewater is ready," and that Cassel should be the starter unless Bridgewater completely blows away the field in Training Camp. On that second part, I feel exactly the opposite way. . .unless Bridgewater shows that he's in completely over his head and has no idea how to grasp Norv Turner's offense (something that doesn't sound like it's going to be an issue thus far), then Bridgewater should get the reins from the word "go." Why? Two reasons.
First of all, the last time the Vikings took a quarterback in the first round, they tried to go the "bridge" route rather than giving Christian Ponder the reins from the start, in part because of the NFL lockout. As a result, we got six-plus games of Donovan McNabb throwing bounce passes and smiling after being sacked in the end zone for a safety in a performance in Chicago that was so bad his mother even checked out early. The Vikings gained nothing from having Ponder. . .ahem. . ."learn" from McNabb for six weeks. (Inasmuch as he could "learn" from someone who spent his Vikings' career out of shape and couldn't be bothered to learn the playbook.)
To that end. . .and this is my second point. . .Bridgewater isn't going to "learn" a hell of a lot from Matt Cassel and/or Christian Ponder, and he's not going to learn a damn thing by sitting on the bench with this team. This isn't exactly Aaron Rodgers sitting behind Brett Favre or something. Unless a team finds itself in such a situation. . .and the Minnesota Vikings, decidedly, do not. . .you learn by doing, plain and simple.
Matt Miller, a guy that's been at it for quite a while now, has Teddy Bridgewater as the second-best quarterback prospect he's scouted. . .in the last decade. Better than Robert Griffin III, better than Cam Newton, and better than anyone else not named Andrew Luck. Yes, I know that the "weak arm/small hands/skinny knees" crowd will do everything they can to discourage that, because Vikings. To those people, all I can say is sit down, shut up, and watch the man's game film. There's a reason that some "fans" were imploring teams across the league to "Tank for Teddy" during the college football season this year.
Teddy Bridgewater is a talent. . .a potentially special one. He's got talent across the board on the offensive line, at the receiver and tight end spots, and the world's best running back to work with. Unless he wakes up in Mankato one morning and completely forgets how to play the quarterback position, he should be considered the favorite to start. Matt Cassel doesn't have the talent to make the Vikings' offense special, and neither does Christian Ponder. But Teddy Bridgewater certainly does, and he should get that opportunity as soon as possible.