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Sloter, Mannion or Browning? Unpacking the Vikings’ backup quarterback dilemma

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Kirk Cousins is going to be the starter, but there’s a lot going on behind him.

Seattle Seahawks v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

If you aren’t a die-hard Vikings fan, you probably don’t know who Kyle Sloter is, which makes sense considering he’s only been active for a handful of games and has never seen NFL action. But the Vikings have kept him around for a reason, and last season they kept him on the 53-man roster even though Trevor Siemian was locked in as the backup quarterback. This offseason, the Vikings lost Siemian to the Jets but signed veteran Sean Mannion to replace him. Then they scooped up former Washington star Jake Browning, who went undrafted after a remarkable collegiate career. So what is the plan?

Kyle Sloter (aka Welcome to the Sloterhouse, Sloterhouse-five, etc)

Sloter started his college career at Southern Mississippi and didn’t get a chance to start, so he transferred to Northern Colorado and earned the starting job during his senior season in 2016. In his final college game, he was 26-of-42 for 438 yards and six touchdowns. That game was against Cal Poly, so you decide if it’s impressive or not. Anyways, he then went undrafted and was signed by the Broncos.

After a pretty good preseason, Denver cut him but tried to keep him around on the practice squad. The Vikings ended up signing him to their practice squad, and he was promoted to the active roster later in the season. The Vikings kept him around during the 2018 offseason and despite consistently outperforming Siemian in the preseason, he still ended up third on the depth chart.

And yet...the Vikings easily could’ve cut him and elected to keep only two quarterbacks on the active roster, something a lot of teams do unless your third quarterback is Taysom Hill. The way I see it, you don’t hold a roster spot for a player who you know isn’t gonna play unless you have some plan for him.

It looked like the plan was starting to reveal itself when Siemian left for New York, ostensibly paving the way for Sloter to take over as Kirk Cousins’ backup. But then the Vikings signed Mannion, who’s spent a few years with the Rams and doesn’t project to be a starting-caliber QB. That brings us to...

Sean Mannion

This is where I start to get confused. It’s possible Mannion was brought in to compete with Sloter during training camp and not to actually make the final 53. For some background: Mannion, 27, was a third-round pick by the Rams back in 2015. Then they picked Jared Goff a year later, and it was clear Mannion had no path to the starting role. After the Rams got rid of Case Keenum (lol), Mannion took over as the backup.

Maybe Rick Spielman thinks signing away Rams backup quarterbacks for cheap is a sustainable strategy for finding QBs. I dunno, it worked once in the past. I’m assuming Spielman or Mike Zimmer or someone sees something in Mannion that they like, but it would be pretty surprising to see him surpass Sloter on the depth chart, considering the time and money the Vikings have invested in him. Anyways, I was already confused and then...

Jake Browning

Hey look, an undrafted free agent QB! But this isn’t just some random guy. Browning was one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in college football by the time he graduated, and he holds pretty much every Washington passing record. He also led the Huskies to a couple Pac-12 titles. He was really good in 2016 and won the Pac-12 offensive player of the year, but struggled with inconsistency in his final two collegiate seasons and isn’t good under pressure.

This is probably one of those “look we signed an undrafted free agent you know” kind of things, but it’s worth keeping an eye on, especially when you consider that Sloter started his career as an undrafted free agent.

What is the point of all this?

Fair question. We know Kirk Cousins is going to be the Vikings’ starter this season and next, and no one is saying any of these guys should be starting for any NFL team. But there are two things to think about here: 1) you never know when a guy is gonna go down with an injury, and every team needs a quality backup to right the ship if this happens and 2) Cousins is under contract for two more seasons, but we don’t know what the plan is beyond that. If Cousins isn’t going to stick around after that, the Vikings need to start thinking about the future at his position. These guys might have something to do with that.