EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Ever since the Vikings added Josh Freeman to their already-complicated quarterback picture Oct. 7, there's been some question as to who in the Vikings organization backed the move and how much agreement there was about the direction going forward at the position. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King, who now contributes to Pro Football Talk and said in a radio interview last week he had talked to members of the Vikings organization who claimed coach Leslie Frazier wasn't on board with the move, which was the brainchild of general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikings' ownership.
It's certainly likely Spielman was the driving force behind signing Freeman; as the GM, he has the final say on personnel decisions. He liked Freeman before the 2009 draft and he stands to recoup whatever ground he lost as a talent evaluator by drafting Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011. But while Frazier said on Wednesday he ran his quarterback decision by Spielman and the Vikings' owners on Monday night, he initially arrived at it with his coaching staff, not the front office.
"What I did was talk with them on Monday when I had in my mind what direction I wanted to do, explained it to them and explained to them why I wanted to do it," Frazier said. "They asked me whatever questions they had and they signed off on it, they agreed.”
Frazier made a couple more points about his role in the Vikings' decision-making tree that I thought were important. As a head coach, he said, it would be hard for him to do his job if he didn't have the authority to make decisions on his own about who plays and who sits. Frazier said he does have that authority, and could have used it to decide he wanted to play Ponder or Matt Cassel over Freeman. But he also said in general, quarterback decisions are too big to make unilaterally.
"When you’re talking about the quarterback position, which affects your entire franchise, this is not a decision you make alone," he said. "I informed them of what I was thinking and why I was thinking this and what I wanted to do it, and they signed off on it. But you don’t make these kind of decisions on an island. I need their support and I need to understand why.”
Part of the reason the quarterback situation has been so interesting in Minnesota is because of how many people's reputations were tied up in the Ponder pick; few expected him to go that high in the 2011 draft, and while Spielman was running the draft, the Vikings' power structure at that time gave Frazier more weight in personnel matters than it does now. So in some ways, Frazier had skin in the game with Ponder, too, though probably not as much as the front office did.
The other factor here, of course, is that Frazier probably needs to reel off a handful of wins this season to keep his job after ownership decided to pick up his 2014 option, not extend his contract, following a 10-6 record last year. If he were to stick with Ponder in the face of the Freeman signing, and continued to lose with him, it probably would give the coach a very short ledge on which to stand. The Vikings have little to lose by giving Freeman a try at this point, and if it works, it could lead to another shot for more people than just the quarterback.
What happens to Ponder from here? He sounded more open to a trade on Wednesday than he did last week after getting the news Cassel would start against the Carolina Panthers. "I have to figure out what’s best for me and everything and for this team. I don’t know if that’s staying here and going somewhere else," he said.
He'll get the chance to be the backup on Monday night, and Ponder likely will get a shot with another team somewhere if he doesn't stick with the Vikings, though it might not be as a starter immediately. But the Vikings seem ready to move forward with Freeman for now.
"I like the things he's done in his career, along with what he's done since he arrived here with our football team, the time he put in, how well he's adapted to our system," Frazier said. "He's done enough for us to say we want to give him this opportunity, which is something we had in mind when we acquired him. I think now is the time. Our coaching staff is going to do a great job in preparing him, making sure we have a game plan that will allow him to be successful and allow our team to be successful."