Minnesota Vikings: Josh Freeman

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.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Between now and the Minnesota Vikings' first training camp practice July 25, we will break down each position group. We'll get started at quarterback.

Returning players: Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder

Gone from last season: Josh Freeman, coach Craig Johnson

New this season: Teddy Bridgewater (first-round pick from Louisville)

Position coach: Scott Turner (first season), hired from Cleveland to replace Johnson (now the New York Giants' running backs coach).

Biggest issue: The Vikings need to settle on a starting quarterback who can provide stability. Cassel heads into training camp as the incumbent after one of the most chaotic years the Vikings have ever had at the position, but Bridgewater (and probably to a lesser extent, Ponder) will get a chance to compete for the job. We've been of the opinion that the Vikings shouldn't rush Bridgewater into action unless he's clearly shown he's the best quarterback on the roster, and the Vikings have decided they're going to let him keep the job and run with it. The Vikings will spend a fair amount of training camp trying to answer that question, and it could determine the direction of the most important position on the roster.

Player to watch: Bridgewater was impressive during the Vikings' OTAs and minicamp, throwing a better deep ball than many expected him to have and making a number of difficult sideline throws down the field. He's shown an eagerness to learn the Vikings' offense and was already making checks at the line of scrimmage during minicamp, after about a month in the playbook. He hit 53.5 percent of his passes under pressure at Louisville last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information; Ponder hit only 46.9 percent of his throws under pressure, while Cassel was at 38.5 percent. Defenses will certainly be tougher in the NFL, and Bridgewater will have to make even quicker decisions, but his success under pressure in college gives him a good foundation for the NFL.

Medical report: Both Cassel and Ponder were healthy at the end of last season, and the Vikings shouldn't have many medical concerns about their quarterbacks headed into camp. Bridgewater could stand to put on muscle, but that won't happen overnight.

Help wanted: The Vikings should be set at quarterback, barring injury. They don't have a developmental quarterback on their roster at the moment, and probably wouldn't have many snaps for one in camp as they try to sort through a three-man race for the starting job.

Quotable: "Matt's been a productive player and he's a better player than a lot of people think," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "I'm excited about Christian. This is still a very young player whose done a lot of really good things and been put in a tough situation. We're just going to work with both of them and get the best out of them we can."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Some quick thoughts on a few Minnesota Vikings quarterback items:
  • Freeman
    Josh Freeman has signed a one-year deal with the New York Giants -- the beneficiaries of his now-infamous "Monday Night Football" misadventure last October -- and one of the most bizarre quarterbacking episodes in Vikings history has an appropriately perplexing conclusion. But for a team like New York, who has a proven quarterback in Eli Manning, there might be some logic behind the move. The Giants obviously evaluated Freeman on more than his 20-for-53 performance against them at MetLife Stadium, and after Freeman's 2013 season -- which included an unsightly divorce with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano -- the Giants probably didn't spend much to acquire the quarterback. If they felt they could rehabilitate his game away from the pressure of a starting spot, they might have made a sensible move in signing Freeman. It's essentially the same reason the Green Bay Packers would have had interest in signing Freeman had they not brought back Matt Flynn, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan, and it's a derivation of what the Vikings were trying to do with Freeman, with one important difference. The Vikings didn't have a stable enough quarterback situation to treat Freeman purely as a speculative signing, which is probably what they should have done. Instead, they tried to rush him into the lineup, and paid for it with an embarrassing loss to an 0-6 team on national TV.
  • Ponder
    By May 3, NFL teams have to decide whether they will exercise fifth-year contract options for 2011 first-round picks, keeping those players under contract through the 2015 season. Those options are guaranteed only against injury; otherwise, teams face no penalty for cutting a player before the start of the 2015 season. If the Vikings picked up quarterback Christian Ponder's option for the 2015 season, and Ponder played under that contract, it'd cost the team the average of the third through 25th-highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL, or $9.686 million. As expensive as that number sounds, the Vikings could always buy insurance against injury and pick up the option if they saw any chance of offensive coordinator Norv Turner coaxing more out of Ponder. Essentially, it's another year of control that likely doesn't include any guaranteed money, since insurance would get the Vikings a cap credit in the event of injury -- and the only way Ponder would play at that number in 2015 is if he surprised the Vikings so much in 2014 that they felt compelled to keep him. The decision will indicate what the Vikings still think they have in Ponder: whether they see any potential left, or whether they're just hanging onto him as a backup in case they only take a developmental QB in the draft. If the Vikings do harbor any belief Ponder can still improve, though, they'll be going against the current of history, as ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando points out. There's a strong historical precedent to suggest quarterbacks are who they're going to be after just 16 starts.
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw at his pro day on Wednesday morning, five months after tearing his ACL, but as CBS Atlanta reporter Robbie Rosenhaus told Vikings play-by-play guy Paul Allen on his show this morning, the Vikings only had a scout there. General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer were both at the team facility during the Vikings' offseason workout on Tuesday, and the Vikings have draft hopefuls in town on Wednesday and Thursday for their top-30 prospects event. They've typically been sending Spielman, Zimmer and Turner to meet with quarterbacks after their pro days, and though the Vikings could still schedule a private workout with Murray between now and the draft, their approach to his pro day might indicate he's not as high on their list as other quarterbacks. Then again, we're in that time of year where teams are doing their best to conceal their intentions, and it's always possible the Vikings are trying to do that with Murray.
MINNEAPOLIS -- If Matt Cassel hadn't already learned plenty about the value of keeping his mouth shut and going to work -- and during his years as Tom Brady's understudy in the School of Belichick, there is a good bet he did -- he probably realized it last season, when the Minnesota Vikings sent Cassel through what had to be the most bizarre season of his career.

Cassel went from being praised by his teammates for his assertiveness in guiding the Vikings to their first win of the season, to unseating Christian Ponder for the starting job, to the inactive list in a matter of three weeks. He reclaimed the job at the end of the season, after the Vikings seemed to have realized neither of the 25-year-olds on their roster (Ponder and Josh Freeman) were their long-term answer at quarterback, but the process left Cassel confused.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMatt Cassel on if he plans to be the Vikings' starter in 2014: "I do. That's my mentality, absolutely."
"I don’t think I always knew where I stood from week-to-week," he said Tuesday. "As you guys well know that there was always something going on, and you never really knew until Coach would tell you what’s going on."

There should be no such ambiguity for Cassel next season. He has a new two-year, $10 million deal with the Vikings, who were eager to bring him back after Cassel opted out of his original 2014 contract to get a better deal and guaranteed money. He's had a warm introduction to new coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and a year after Cassel came in repeating the Vikings' talking point about how he was there to back up Ponder, there was no such talk from Cassel on Tuesday.

Asked if he plans to be the Vikings' starter in 2014, Cassel said, "I do. That’s my mentality, absolutely. I go in with the expectation to be the starter and that won’t change. At the same time, you've got to go out there and prove it and compete. There’s going to be two other quarterbacks, maybe three other quarterbacks in here competing, as well, and that’s what it is on every NFL roster."

The only scenario I see where Cassel isn't the starter in Week 1 is if a rookie comes in and plays so well that the Vikings can't keep from going that direction. That scenario might be even more far-fetched if the Vikings don't take a quarterback with the eighth overall pick -- though as Russell Wilson proved in Seattle, good rookie quarterbacks can come from further back in the draft. But if Cassel was here to be an insurance policy for Ponder, at least initially, in 2013, he's here for a much more significant reason this year. The bizarre carousel ride seems to have come to a smooth stop for him, for now.

"I felt comfortable -- like if you turned on that film from last year that you’d see that I could play and was confident in my abilities," Cassel said.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The last time Josh Freeman was on the open market, faced with a handful of destinations where he could reboot his career, he chose the Minnesota Vikings over several other interested teams that might have presented him a chance to play.

Freeman took a one-year, $2 million deal from the Vikings in a decision that worked out horribly, leading to one now-infamous flop on "Monday Night Football" and two months on the Vikings' bench. Christian Ponder took back the starting job and Minnesota ultimately ended its open audition for 25-year-old quarterbacks, giving the job to 31-year-old Matt Cassel at the end of the season.

Now, Freeman is about to hit free agency once again, and as ESPN's Jeffri Chadiha writes, he has to make sure he gets the choice right.

As much baggage as Freeman has acquired in the past six months -- from his feud with Greg Schiano on the way out of Tampa Bay to allegations he was lazy and unprepared in Minnesota -- he is still likely to get a shot to play because he A) is young, B) is the owner of a big arm and C) has a 4,000-yard season on his résumé. That Freeman could get another chance has as much to do with the state of quarterbacking in the NFL as it does with anything he has done recently, but if Freeman can land in the right situation, it's possible he could get his career headed in the right direction again.

It was tough to assess Freeman's time in Minnesota fairly, simply because he was thrown into such an odd situation by a Vikings organization that was searching for any sense of stability at quarterback. If Freeman had given that to the Vikings, it's likely he would have a new contract with the team by now; Cassel got a two-year deal simply through a handful of serviceable games and one prolific one (against Philadelphia) at the end of the season.

The Vikings apparently saw enough to determine Freeman wasn't their guy, but his time in Minnesota probably shouldn't be a permanent black mark on his record.

Sometime in the next week or two, Freeman will likely land with another team, ending his brief and bizarre relationship with the Vikings. It will be interesting to see if his next reboot works better than his last one.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Welcome to another edition of "What If" Wednesdays, where we take a peek in the funhouse mirror to show how things might have changed if a key moment in Vikings history had gone differently.

(The keener observers among you will note that today is Thursday, not Wednesday. I'm not trying to deprive you of your progress toward the weekend; I just didn't get a chance to post this while we were wrapping up our ESPN NFL Nation summit in Bristol and traveling back to our respective locales. So call this a special Thursday edition of "What If" Wednesday.)

For today's edition, we've only got to go back to the spring of 2009, when the Vikings held the 22nd overall pick. They liked Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman, as general manager Rick Spielman confirmed when the Vikings signed Freeman to a one-year, $2 million deal last fall. They were in need of a quarterback, but so were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Freeman went there with the 17th overall pick, instead of lasting until the Vikings could have taken him.

Instead, the Vikings drafted Florida receiver Percy Harvin, coaxed Brett Favre out of a second retirement and embarked upon one of the most exciting seasons in franchise history.

Would all that have happened if the Vikings had drafted Freeman? It's hard to say, but tempting to think about. Favre seemed to have an itch to play for the Vikings and stick it to the Green Bay Packers ever since the team decided to trade him instead of giving him his old job back in the summer of 2008. As surreal as it would have been to see Favre giving another first-round pick a chance to develop behind him after he famously bristled at the idea of mentoring Aaron Rodgers, it might have been tough for the Vikings to draft Freeman and also bring in Favre. If Freeman had lasted until No. 22, it's possible the Vikings don't get Favre, and the wild ride of 2009 that went with him.

It's almost certain, however, they don't get Harvin under this scenario. Would Freeman have been able to develop without a dynamic young wideout? Would Sidney Rice have blossomed like he did in 2009 with Favre? If Freeman had eventually fizzled in Minnesota like he did in Tampa Bay, and the Vikings didn't have Harvin to juice their offense, their next few seasons might have looked very different, especially without the 2009 NFC title game run to prolong the tenures of coach Brad Childress and general manager (then VP of player personnel) Rick Spielman. It's possible Freeman would have put together some good years in Minnesota, especially with a team that had gone to the playoffs the year before with Tarvaris Jackson, but the experience of 2009 centered around one man, and it wouldn't have been nearly as rich without Favre.

We could follow this one down a number of different threads, and we won't venture too much further down the rabbit hole with it, but knowing what we know about Spielman's three-year plan for quarterback development, the Vikings likely wouldn't have drafted Christian Ponder in 2011 if they'd taken Freeman just two years earlier. When would they have come up in a search for another quarterback? Would Adrian Peterson have felt good enough about all of it to sign his seven-year, $100 million extension in 2011? Without the energy of Favre's run in 2009, the Vikings could have gone in any number of different directions.

As Freeman prepares to hit free agency after a disjointed 11-week stretch with the Vikings, we'll close with Spielman's logic about why it made sense for the Vikings to sign him at all last October: It gave them a chance to observe a quarterback they had liked in the 2009 draft, at little cost to them. While we can debate the soundness of that reasoning, it's no stretch at all to say that if Freeman was going to fizzle in Minnesota, it was certainly better to have that happen in 2013 than if it had precluded the Vikings for their unforgettable season with Favre.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Minnesota Vikings heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.

Free agent to be: Josh Freeman

Position: Quarterback

Age: 26

Years in the league: 5

What he made last season: $2,000,001 (cap number); $2,000,001 (cash value)

What he did last season: Freeman provided one of the most interesting subplots of the Vikings' season, signing a one-year deal on Oct. 7 for the $2 million the Vikings had nearly given to Antoine Winfield to come out of retirement. He was in the starting lineup two weeks later, and didn't see the field again after completing 20 of his 53 passes for just 190 yards against the New York Giants. He habitually overthrew receivers against the Giants, still had accuracy issues in practice and spent much of the season working on his footwork. Freeman seemed bewildered by the Vikings' plan for him, and it wasn't hard to see the Vikings didn't have enough confidence in him to put him back on the field.

His potential market value: Freeman had several teams vying for his services when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut him, but the fact the Vikings signed him, only to not use him, has to send off some alarm bells for other teams. He is still only 26, and has a Pro Bowl season to his credit, but it's tough to see a team committing more than a one-year deal to Freeman, simply because he carries so much uncertainty at this point.

Will he still fit the Vikings? Unlikely, though Freeman's arm strength could make him an intriguing option for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. But bringing Freeman back would likely mean the Vikings would have to regain his trust, and convince themselves that they'd seen enough from Freeman's practice performances and work habits to move forward with him. It's hard to see that happening at this point.

What happens: Freeman will likely have to go somewhere as a backup quarterback, but he might find a team to take a chance on him because of his size, talent and flashes of success as a NFL quarterback. He didn't get the chance to rebuild value for himself in Minnesota, when it seemed like he had the opportunity to do so, and now he'll likely face a much cooler market than he might have seen otherwise.
Each week, I will field questions via Twitter with the hashtag #VikingsMail, then will deliver the answers over the weekend.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Welcome to the offseason.

Well, officially the Minnesota Vikings have been there since Dec. 30. But now that they've got a coach in place and they're beginning to fill out their staff, the daily news cycle for the team should slow down a bit. We'll keep you informed on all the latest goings-on with the team, but we'll also have some room to stretch out a little bit and break down some issues and trends that could affect the team heading into the 2014 season.

We'll begin that effort today with the start of our positional review series, which will run through the next two weeks and give you a brief outlook at where the Vikings stand at each position group on the roster. We'll begin today with the quarterback position, where the Vikings have a few things to talk about.


2014 free agents: Josh Freeman (and possibly Matt Cassel).

The good: The Vikings can't claim too many successes at a position that probably contributed to Leslie Frazier's firing and still looks unsettled heading into 2014, but Cassel did emerge toward the end of the season to give the team some sense of stability at quarterback. He played in nine games, completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,807 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Those numbers aren't terribly impressive by today's standards at quarterback, but they were better than the Vikings could get from anyone else on the roster. It's probably also a good thing, in a manner of speaking, that the Vikings saw enough of Christian Ponder to make a decision on his future.

The bad: The Vikings can make a decision on Ponder's future in large part because he showed he couldn't keep the starting job when he was pushed in 2013. He lost it after three games, when a rib injury coincided with three turnover-prone games, and though he offered glimpses of effectiveness when he got the job back in late October, he threw two ugly interceptions in a loss to Seattle and didn't play again after Dec. 1. The Vikings' experiment with Freeman was also a disaster; Freeman was signed Oct. 7, for the $2 million the Vikings had nearly used to bring cornerback Antoine Winfield out of retirement, and after he was rushed into the lineup for a "Monday Night Football" pratfall on Oct. 21, he didn't see the field again. If Ponder's inability to play like a first-round pick showed why the Vikings had a problem at quarterback, the Freeman move captured them at the height of their quarterback confusion.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Ponder ($3.2 million) and Cassel ($3.7 million). The Vikings and Cassel will both have decisions to make on the quarterback's future, thanks to a mutual option on the second year of his contract. Cassel can void his deal up to five days after the Super Bowl, while the Vikings have until the seventh day of the new league year in March to make a decision on Cassel's option. If Cassel thinks he can earn more money and playing time as a starter somewhere else, he could opt out of his deal, but it's tough to see the Vikings letting him go when he might be the best bridge they have to a young quarterback.

Draft priority: Very high. Once again, the Vikings find themselves in the hunt for a player who could be a franchise quarterback, and if there's one available with the No. 8 overall pick, they'll likely take one. At the very least, it's tough to see them not drafting a quarterback in the first two or three rounds of the draft.
MINNEAPOLIS -- While new Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is busy filling out his coaching staff in Minnesota -- he is close to hiring Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner to run the Vikings' offense in Minnesota, and is reportedly talking to Miami Dolphins linebackers coach George Edwards about being the Vikings' defensive coordinator -- the Vikings' former head coach left some interesting hints when he was introduced as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive coordinator on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
AP Photo/Julio CortezLeslie Frazier said Josh Freeman "got caught up in the shuffle" as the Vikings tried out different quarterbacks during the season.
(And yes, we can already hear those of you telling us that Leslie Frazier and Josh Freeman are yesterday's news. We'll get back to your regularly-scheduled, Zimmer-related programming shortly.)

Amidst the questions he fielded about the Buccaneers' defense, Frazier was asked why things with Freeman -- who signed with the Vikings after Tampa Bay cut him last season -- didn't work out in Minnesota. Here's what Frazier had to say, via ESPN.com Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas:

"He worked as hard as he could every week to prepare and be ready to go," Frazier said. “He was a pro in every sense of the word. But we made a decision to try to figure out where Christian Ponder was and also take a look at Matt Cassel because we were trying to determine and get some answers regarding our quarterback position. Josh got caught up in the shuffle. It probably wasn’t a fair situation for him. It made it difficult for him. It made it difficult for all of us when you’re trying to evaluate quarterbacks in an NFL season. That’s not a wise thing. Nothing to do with Josh. He prepared and worked as hard as he could to get on the field. It just didn’t work out."

Frazier made some suggestions in his final weeks with the Vikings -- probably when he saw the writing on the wall -- that the quarterback decision wasn't solely his, and that he was a victim of general manager Rick Spielman's inability to put solid quarterback play around him. His comments in Tampa would seem to corroborate that. The guess here has been that Frazier was told the Vikings needed to see more from Ponder after Freeman's lone start for the Vikings in October. Both Frazier and Spielman have said the decision on the starting quarterback was always ultimately made by the coach, but Frazier might have felt as though he could only go one way, and ultimately got fired after being a company man. But as Spielman said in his press conference after the Vikings fired Frazier, a head coach has to be confident enough in his own decision that he'll make it regardless of what others might think. If Frazier felt there was a way to circumvent the Vikings' quarterback evaluation to win a few more games and save his job, he probably should have done that. Starting Freeman might have been his attempt to do that. But it didn't work out, and Zimmer is now in place as the Vikings' new coach.

We're guessing it won't require quite as much sleuthing to figure out Zimmer's opinions on things as it did Frazier's. Each approach, however, can offer its own kind of fun.
Leslie Frazier Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsLeslie Frazier may have coached his last game with the Minnesota Vikings.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's not in Leslie Frazier's nature to point fingers in public or play politics, so anyone expecting him to stump for keeping his job in what might have been his final news conference as the Minnesota Vikings coach was probably misguided. But if Frazier had anything to say about why he shouldn't be fired after a 5-10-1 season, Sunday was his chance.

Asked after a 14-13 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday how quickly he thought he would find out about his job status, Frazier said this:

"Not sure about that. I have a contract -- our staff has a contract -- through 2014, and I hope that the Wilf family will honor that and give us a chance to come back next season and try and get our quarterback situation fixed, try to get the depth of our roster along with some other errors that need to be fixed. I hope they'll give this staff the chance to finish what we've gotten started. We're only a season removed from the playoffs. I think our guys are still playing hard and we're under contract. We'll see."

Frazier parsed his comments carefully, but I thought the remarks he made about the quarterback situation and the depth issues on the Vikings' roster were his attempts to point out that he didn't create two of the biggest issues on the Vikings' roster. General manager Rick Spielman did, drafting Christian Ponder, cutting Antoine Winfield and, instead of bringing Winfield back after the Vikings had discussed a return with the cornerback in September, spending $2 million on Josh Freeman on what amounted to one disastrous game as the starter and the rest of the season on the bench.

The Vikings were bad at the two things you can't be bad in the NFL -- throwing the ball and stopping the pass -- and there was only so much the Vikings' coaching staff was going to be able to do with the roster as it existed coming out of training camp. Frazier also said two weeks ago that the Vikings had to "go through the process" of evaluating Ponder before going to Matt Cassel, hinting he was being asked to fight a war on two fronts (trying to win while doing due diligence on Ponder). He made that point in even clearer terms on Sunday.

"When we made those decisions early in the season regarding our quarterback, you're making decisions based on, in my mind, the short-term and the long-term," he said. "When we decided to stay with Christian, there was a reason why we did that at the time. Now in retrospect, you can look back and say, 'Well, maybe you should have done this,' but we've talked about why we did what we did, and if it worked out, there would be no second-guessing. It didn't, but we knew why we did what we did."

Later, he said this: "In this position, when you're talking about the quarterback position, you don't make these decisions alone. The quarterback position, this is a franchise position. It's a collective decision. At the end of the day, I'm the head coach, but when it comes to the quarterback, it's not like inserting an offensive guard or a wide receiver or a tight end. That's a completely different matter, so believe me, there was discussion in each one of those situations. ... I've been in the league too long and been around football too long. You don't want to make decisions regarding the quarterback without ownership and the general manager being involved in some degree. You can make decisions, but they need to sign off on it. This is the franchise. It's not the center position, it's not the guard, it's the quarterback. So, yeah, we discussed each one of those moves."

Frazier may well have a case if he was handed Ponder with the instructions the Vikings needed to give him more time. Spielman has often talked about a three-year rule on evaluating quarterbacks, and Ponder went into the season as the unquestioned starter, even after the Vikings signed Cassel, who started or played significantly in every game they won. It would be a cold way to go out if Frazier were asked to develop a quarterback, and pay for the losses with his job, though it wouldn't be the first time it's happened.

[+] EnlargeFreeman
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsInconsistent quarterback play may be one of the two reasons Frazier loses his job.
Still, the Wilfs seem tied to Spielman, who hasn't yet had the chance to pick his own coach, and if Frazier was trying to make the case that he couldn't have won with this team, he'll have to address two key factors.

First, Frazier said as recently as last week that Ponder was the quarterback the Vikings targeted in the run-up to the 2011 draft. He still had some say in personnel matters at that point. And to use his own logic, if the quarterback position is an organizational decision, Frazier must bear some responsibility for drafting Ponder, or for staying with him as long as the Vikings did.

Second -- and probably more importantly -- Frazier was the one who picked offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Alan Williams, hiring the former in 2011 and tapping the latter to replace Fred Pagac before 2012. Both have looked overmatched in Minnesota; Musgrave was slow to incorporate Cordarrelle Patterson, who looks like a transformational talent on offense, and several veteran players have criticized Williams' play calling throughout the season. If Frazier had any chance to stay, he'd likely have to replace his coordinators, and his comments on Sunday seemed to tie him to his staff. That could always change behind closed doors, but even if it did, Frazier essentially would be asking the Vikings to bank on his ability to hire coordinators more than Spielman's ability to hire a head coach.

He'd also be asking them to trust his staff could develop another quarterback, in the final years of their contracts, with a team two years from moving into a new stadium and a fan base itching for some sense of momentum. Frazier has shown he can win when he gets competent quarterback play. Cassel provided that for the better part of the second half of the season, when the Vikings went 4-3-1. Players campaigned for him again on Sunday, and Adrian Peterson said he plans to talk to the Wilfs on Monday.

In the end, though, making the case that this year wasn't his fault probably won't save Frazier's job. He would have to convince the Wilfs the Vikings will be better with him than without him, and if he's unable to do that, the two factors we mentioned likely could be the reasons why.

Vikings inactives: Rhodes out

December, 29, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- Hello from the late, great Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which sees its final NFL game today as the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions finish their seasons (and possibly the tenures of their respective coaches). We'll have plenty more on that later, but from a competitive perspective, today's game will be missing a few things.

Both the Vikings and Lions are out of the playoff chase, both will be missing their star players (Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson) and both will be missing at least two of their top five cornerbacks. For the Vikings, that means rookie Xavier Rhodes will be out with a sprained ankle. Rhodes had been listed as questionable for the game after working out late last week, but he evidently wasn't able to go today. Chris Cook, Shaun Prater and Marcus Sherels will be the Vikings' top three corners today. Not having to defend Johnson will make things easier, but the Lions showed in September they can gash the Vikings' defense with Reggie Bush, too.

Josh Freeman, of course, ends his season on the inactive list, which could bring his bizarre tenure in Minnesota to a close. Freeman has only been active as a backup quarterback since his "Monday Night Football" debacle in October, and it seems unlikely he'll be in the Vikings' plans going forward, unless a new coach would have some strong ties to him.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

The Vikings will play their final game at the Metrodome on Sunday afternoon, and the team has already said it will have extra security on the field to prevent a repeat of what happened the last time the team shut down a stadium.

That happened on Dec. 20, 1981, when the Vikings lost a 10-6 game to the Kansas City Chiefs at old Met Stadium, which was home to the Vikings and Minnesota Twins in 1961-81. The stadium was slated for demolition as the Vikings and Twins moved to the new downtown dome, and the site in suburban Bloomington was repurposed for what would become the Mall of America. But before the stadium was razed, fans stormed the field to take home a piece -- any piece -- of the Met.

Thanks to the brilliance of YouTube and the diligence of Viking Update's John Holler, we get to watch a nine-minute cutup of two Twin Cities newscasts from the day of the Vikings' final game at Met Stadium. (Just search for "last Vikings home game at Met Stadium.") The footage, from TV stations WCCO and KSTP, shows fans making off with pieces of the Met's scoreboard, sound system, seats and even its turf. There's also a promotion for former Vikings receiver (and eventual TV personality) Ahmad Rashad's sports show toward the end.

The entire thing is worth watching, especially if you're nostalgic for outdoor football and looking forward to the Vikings' next two years at TCF Bank Stadium, but we'd particularly recommend tuning in around the 6:17 mark, for a lively altercation between a fan who disapproves of the raid and a drunken reveler, caught on camera and highlighted by the phrase, "Get out of here, you creep!"

They just don't do TV newscasts like they used to.

Here are today's other Vikings stories of note:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday that the Vikings plan to stick with their current pecking order at quarterback, starting Matt Cassel on Sunday against the Detroit Lions and keeping Christian Ponder active as his backup.

"I don't know what would change that as the week goes on, but that's the thought process as we speak," Frazier said.

That offers some finality to what has seemed evident for quite some time: that Josh Freeman won't start another game this season for the Vikings at quarterback. As the weeks have turned to months since Freeman's one start for Minnesota -- a "Monday Night Football" debacle in which he became the second quarterback since 1960 to attempt 50 passes and not reach 200 yards in a game -- it's become more and more curious why the Vikings haven't gone back to him after rushing him onto the field so quickly.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
AP Photo/Julio CortezIn his only start for the Vikings, Josh Freeman became the second QB since 1960 to attempt 50 passes and not reach 200 yards in a game.
Their standard of quarterbacking hasn't exactly been high, and yet Freeman has sat behind Cassel and Ponder every week since Oct. 21. Frazier has talked about the Vikings' work with Freeman on his mechanics, and it's possible that they wanted to take the rest of the season simply to rework the quarterback's game before trying to bring him back next season. But it seems more likely that Freeman hasn't done enough to pull the Vikings in his direction.

Asked if Freeman has struggled to pick up the Vikings' offense, Frazier said, "No, he did a good job picking up things. It’s one of the reasons we played him in that New York game. He picked up things well and worked hard in practice. He’s still doing those things, picking up the offense, working hard, spending time with coaches doing all the things he needs to do. But with one game left and having a chance to watch Matt play again, we made the decision and that’s probably the way we’ll go."

That doesn't exactly suggest that Freeman has wowed the Vikings with his execution on the practice field after overthrowing receivers during the Giants game. As much as the Vikings pushed to get Freeman ready to play, it's a little tough for them now to say the process was completely about getting a chance to work with Freeman in practice and make a decision about him for the future. If he'd been good enough to play, the Vikings would have used him. They've needed wins, and consistent quarterbacking, badly enough that they probably would have given Freeman another try if he'd shown enough to pique their interest.

It would seem unlikely that Freeman will be back next season; not playing with the Vikings likely depressed his value on the free agent market, but he doesn't seem to be in their plans, unless they've taken a rather unconventional approach to evaluating him. Whatever happens from here, the Freeman move will stand out as one of the more bizarre subplots of the Vikings' 2013 season.

Peterson, Gerhart active for Vikings

December, 22, 2013
CINCINNATI -- The Vikings won last week without Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but they won't have to play without either one in Cincinnati on Sunday.

Both Peterson and Gerhart are active for the Vikings, returning from a sprained right foot and strained hamstring, respectively. Peterson will start at running back, with Gerhart backing him up, as usual. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings divide the workload between the two players. Gerhart has played well in recent weeks, and the Vikings might look to take some stress off Peterson two weeks after he sprained his foot.

The Vikings will officially be without cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was listed as out with a sprained ankle. Shaun Prater will start in Rhodes' place at cornerback after recording his first career interception last week, but as well as Rhodes has played, the Vikings would undoubtedly like to have him to deal with A.J. Green on Sunday.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives: