Friday, November 1, 2013
Another twist to the Vikings' QB saga
By Ben Goessling
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Here's what Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said the afternoon of Oct. 7, when asked if quarterback Josh Freeman was signed with the chance to start at a later time:
The Vikings are banking on properly evaluating the sidelined Josh Freeman to have an idea by season's end about whether they have the right QB.
"That's part of the equation," he said. "When we talked with him that's definitely on the table. So we'll see how he progresses and how well he picks up our offense."
Here's what general manager Rick Spielman said the same day:
"Coach Frazier talked about it today, that we are going to get Josh Freeman ready to play. But again, all that stuff will take care of itself in due time. He'll start tonight with the playbook."
And here's what Spielman said Friday, almost two weeks after Freeman started on "Monday Night Football" with two weeks of experience in the Vikings' offense, went 20 of 53 and gave way to Christian Ponder after sustaining a concussion. This was in response to a question about whether the Vikings can evaluate Freeman without him playing:
"I believe you can because they [the coaches] are with him in meetings. They're with him at walkthroughs. We're out there watching him at practice. They're watching his work ethic. They're watching him interact with the trainers. All the unique things that you couldn't do, let's say, if you waited until the end of the season and then tried to go out and sign a quarterback or any other position. This was just a great chance, whether he played or not, that you would have a much better idea of what a Josh Freeman was or whoever that is by the end of the season just by him being in your building and being around that player for 12 weeks."
Read through all that again, and consider the timeline once more: The Vikings, returning from their bye week after their first win of the season, added a third quarterback to their roster, paid him $2 million and named him their starting quarterback nine days after they signed him. Now their general manager is saying the Vikings can evaluate Freeman effectively even if he's not in games.
The tricky part about the quarterback position is that, short of playing some kind of exotic scheme, you can only use one of them at a time, which makes it difficult when you have three getting playing time and two (Freeman and Christian Ponder) who could factor into your long-term thinking at the position. None of the Vikings' quarterbacks have played well enough to lock down the position, so maybe open competition is the right way to handle things. Ponder, who will start Sunday in Dallas, could be a better option for now as Freeman gets more time in the Vikings' offense, and it might make more sense to get a longer look at Freeman later in the season.
But then why the rush to put him in the lineup two weeks ago?
Spielman and Frazier are both telling the same version of how the decision was reached before the Giants game: that Frazier made the call along with his coaching staff, went to Spielman and the team's ownership to tell them his plan and to get their feedback on it, though it's impossible to know if Frazier felt pressured to rush the quarterback the Vikings had just signed into action.
In any case, that decision backfired on national TV, and with Freeman missing practice time because of a concussion last week, the Vikings have been slow to go back to him. They might be on the right course of action now, playing Ponder for a few games before getting a more complete look at Freeman, but the fact that so clearly wasn't the Vikings' initial plan means they might be worried about where Freeman is now.
However they got here, they've got nine games left to take a look at Ponder and Freeman (and Matt Cassel, if he were to wind up back in the starting spot). Spielman said the Vikings want to have some idea by the end of the season if they have their long-term QB on their roster, or if they'd need to look into the draft, where there is expected to be a bumper crop of quarterback prospects.
The way the Vikings got to this point, though, makes you wonder how they're going to handle the rest of the year at a position where steadiness is in such high demand. That characteristic, in everything surrounding the team's quarterback situation, still seems to be in short supply.