I posed the question before FavreWatch II started. We started discussing it prior to the Donovan McNabb trade saga, one that Minnesota ultimately sat out. And now we're approaching, one way or another, the exciting conclusion.
The Vikings have staked their 2010 season on the hope that a 40-year-old quarterback (and new grandfather) will give them one more year at the position. But no matter what Brett Favre decides, the Vikings will still have the same long-term hole at the most important position in sports. Now seems a perfect time to identify their quarterback of the future, give him at least one year's cushion on the bench, and close a 20-year gap in their team-building process.
But when you cross-reference the Vikings' draft position with the list of elite prospects, you have to wonder if a realistic pairing exists. Only two quarterbacks are considered sure-fire first-round material, and both Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) should be off the board by the time Minnesota picks at No. 30 overall. That leaves the Vikings to determine whether they should trade up for Clausen or if Colt McCoy (Texas) is worthy of their top pick.
Among media analysts, at least, there is significant debate on the latter issue. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks McCoy as the No. 21 overall prospect in the draft, while Scouts Inc. gave him a third-round grade. Vikings vice president Rick Spielman attended Texas' pro day, but to my knowledge coach Brad Childress did not. If there were substantive interest there, you would think an offensive-minded head coach who prefers the West Coast scheme would be heavily involved.
To me, it appears the Vikings are caught in no-man's land for this year's quarterback class. They would have to expend dramatic firepower to grab Clausen and McCoy might not be worthy of a No. 1 pick. Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench said McCoy could make sense with the Vikings' second-round pick, the No. 62 overall. But in today's quarterback-obsessed climate, a late-second round pick is hardly considered a likely long-term starter.
"It's a bad quarterback class this year as far as the top guys go," Muench said. "Keeping that in mind, they might be better served waiting. ... We think McCoy is great in terms of leadership and presence, but I have my concerns about him ever developing into a starting quarterback on an NFL level. He does not have a very strong arm and he's 6-foot-1. That's an issue when you're talking about pro-style offenses."
Speaking earlier this offseason, Childress said he would prefer long-term certainty at the position. "No question," he said. But Childress also made clear he didn't want to force a decision based on potential future need.
"You don't want a round peg in a square hole," he said, noting the unpredictability of availability at the No. 30 spot.
Spielman didn't sound much more optimistic while speaking to reporters at the scouting combine. Referring to the quarterback class in general, he said: "I don't know if it's as heavy at the top as it has been, but there may be some value as you go down through the rounds."
The hope of finding a late-round gem has tripped up the Vikings frequently over the past two decades, spanning three ownership groups and dozens of talent evaluators. There are plenty of ways to find a starting quarterback, but historically, the top of the draft is usually the most successful route.
Half of the NFL's 32 teams will start a former first-round draft pick at quarterback this season, and that list doesn't include Oakland (JaMarcus Russell) or St. Louis (likely to be Bradford). The Vikings, however, have drafted a first-round quarterback only twice in their history: Tommy Kramer (1977) and Daunte Culpepper (1999). Looking deeper, using ESPN's handy draft history sorter, we can see the Vikings have only taken four quarterbacks in the draft's first three rounds. Ever.
Especially notable has been the way they have populated the position since Kramer's final season in 1989. Check out the chart below:
Over that 20-season period, the Vikings have used 10 different primary starters. Seven were acquired after spending time with another team, and that total doesn't include Brad Johnson's second stint in purple.
We discussed the "Band-Aid" solution at quarterback last spring, and there's no doubt it works in isolated situations. But with the exception of Culpepper's five-year stretch, the Vikings have spent the past two decades patchworking their quarterback position.
Why? The short version of the explanation, in my mind, is they've demonstrated limited ambition. They simply haven't taken many swings.
The chart to your right shows the quarterbacks the Vikings have drafted over the patchwork stretch. Five of the seven were taken in the fourth round or lower. They hit once with Johnson, but these days the odds are much more in your favor if you can find a way to draft a first-round talent.
So with Favre literally tending to his grandson, the Vikings have arrived at a difficult crossroads. Childress recently noted he believes Tarvaris Jackson made some strides while playing behind Favre last season, an indication he has not given up on Jackson's future. But realistically, it seems like it's McCoy or bust for the Vikings if they want to find a relatively surefire long-term starter this year.
My high school principal used to say this all the time: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten." Modern-day interpretation: If the Vikings follow their organizational history and draft a third- or fourth-tier talent, odds are they'll get what they've historically had: More seasons of patchwork starters. Whether it's this year or next, at some point they'll have to take a swing.