<
>

Recalling the Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman QB carousel

Matt Cassel was one of several former Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks that were in the news this week, as he was traded the Cowboys. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- For the second time in a month, the Minnesota Vikings' entire quarterback depth chart of 2013 was in the news on Tuesday, as all four passers either found new homes or were looking for work.

Matt Cassel, who finished with the baton in the Vikings' bizarre quarterback relay that season, was traded from the Buffalo Bills to the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, joining a new team for the fourth time in just over 30 months. Christian Ponder -- whose time as the Vikings' presumptive franchise quarterback ended that season -- and former practice squad holdover McLeod Bethel-Thompson reportedly tried out with the Cowboys. And the most enigmatic member of that group, Josh Freeman, signed with the Brooklyn Bolts of the Fall Experimental Football League.

It was two years ago this week that the Vikings began juggling their quarterbacks in London after trainers found a broken rib so close to Ponder's heart that they almost didn't let him make the trip overseas. The Vikings made three quarterback changes in the next month, giving Freeman the money they nearly used to bring Antoine Winfield out of retirement and back to his role as the slot cornerback. By the end of October, the Vikings were 1-6. And while Cassel could wind up playing for the Cowboys in Tony Romo's absence, it's equally possible that no member of the Vikings' 2013 QB depth chart will throw a pass in a regular-season NFL game this season.

It's another reminder that, no matter how overmatched his coordinators might have been or how outdated his defensive scheme was, former coach Leslie Frazier didn't have much of a chance to win in his make-or-break season with no stability at quarterback. The teams that win consistently in the NFL typically have a franchise player who's good enough to cover up mistakes every now and then. The 2012 Vikings had it with Adrian Peterson's MVP season, but short of historic production from a non-quarterback, it's tough to find consistent success without a top-flight quarterback. The 2013 Vikings didn't have one, or even a player competent enough to start 16 games. They had what amounted to a roulette wheel at the game's most important position, and on cutdown day earlier this month, all four of the Vikings' 2013 QBs were released by their current teams.

Things seem to have worked out for the best. General manager Rick Spielman led a search that brought the Vikings to Mike Zimmer, and the first-time head coach was secure enough to bring in an offensive coordinator with more experience than he had (Norv Turner). The group followed a quarterback vetting process that new QB coach Scott Turner had learned in Carolina, and Spielman swung a trade to get Teddy Bridgewater with the final pick of the 2014 first round.

Bridgewater is still learning at 22, but the Vikings believe they've got their man, as well as the leadership structure to help him develop. If that turns out to be true, the Vikings have the foundation that every NFL team is trying to find. The events that put Bridgewater's predecessors in the news on Tuesday served as a reminder of how elusive that foundation is, and how fleeting success can be without it.