MINNEAPOLIS -- In time, the Minnesota Vikings' 30-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night -- a preseason game in which both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater played a full half, and each fashioned a passer rating better than 125 -- could come attached with an ignominious footnote: It could be the night when Christian Ponder's chances of appearing in another home game as the Vikings' quarterback were permanently snuffed out.
Coach Mike Zimmer said last week that Cassel could play as much as a half in the Vikings' second home preseason game, and after the game, he added that the plan all along was to give Bridgewater the whole second half. That meant the Vikings effectively went into the game planning not to use Ponder, who was firmly entrenched as the team's starting quarterback at this time last year. This came on the heels of a training camp where Ponder never got more than a cursory look, and as the Vikings make decisions about their roster composition, it raised this question: Would the Vikings be better off parting with Ponder before the season?
There's a danger in only carrying two quarterbacks, as the Green Bay Packers found out last season, and I've long thought Ponder carried some value for the Vikings this year, in the sense that he could step in if Cassel were injured or ineffective and the Vikings didn't feel the time was yet right for Bridgewater's debut. But their use of Ponder to this point speaks to how marginalized he's become, to the point where the value of his roster spot -- or the return he'd fetch in a trade -- might exceed what he could provide as an emergency option.
The San Francisco 49ers, for example, were facing questions about their backup quarterbacks after a 34-0 defeat Sunday, to the point that coach Jim Harbaugh had to give them a vote of confidence. The 49ers shipped a sixth-round pick in 2014 and a conditional draft choice in 2015 to Jacksonville in exchange for Blaine Gabbert, who was picked two spots ahead of Ponder in the 2012 first round. They also have McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who was the Vikings' third-string quarterback until the team signed Josh Freeman last October. Could San Francisco -- or a team in similar straits -- part with a seventh-round pick for Ponder, whose mediocre career has still featured more success than Gabbert's or Bethel-Thompson's?
The fact the Vikings haven't traded Ponder to this point would suggest they haven't yet found a team willing to pay that modest price, or that they put a higher value on the quarterback than that. But even if the Vikings cut Ponder at the end of the month, it would seem there's a good chance that he'll sign with another team, which would offset some or all of the Vikings' responsibility for Ponder's $1.76 million base salary through the language in his rookie contract.
As rookies like defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and second-year undrafted free agents like receivers Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith make their push for roster spots, the Vikings might find themselves in need of a little extra flexibility. They could get it by parting with a quarterback who's never looked like more of an afterthought in Minnesota.