Whether with dinner, golfing or joyriding on teammate Kyle Rudolph's boat, Ponder has pounced on the opportunity to welcome Kalil to the Vikings, fully realizing how much he needs his rookie left tackle to protect him this season and beyond. So, naturally, Ponder was the one who picked up Kalil at the airport Thursday on his way to sign his first NFL contract.
"I should take at least half of a percent," Ponder said.
The day before the first practice of training camp, Kalil signed a four-year contract worth almost $20 million with more than $12 million guaranteed, the last and most important member of the team's draft class to finalize a deal. Kalil, the fourth overall selection from USC, had no interest in holding out.
"You want to get in sync with the offensive players and learn everything you can," Kalil said. "Any day missed could have hurt me."
That's exactly what head coach Leslie Frazier wanted to hear.
"He's a key part of what we're trying to do in 2012, and I don't know who his happier, him or Christian Ponder," Frazier said.
Since Ponder introduced himself on Kalil's first day at Winter Park after the draft, they've become fast friends.
"We've been hanging out every day since. It was an immediate connection," Kalil said.
Ponder is quite the socialite among his teammates, a sign of not only an outgoing guy but a player with understanding of his leadership responsibility at the most critical position on the team.
"It's important for us to build those relationships off the field and get to know each other on a personal level, and it makes things so much easier when something is going wrong or something is going right to talk about different things," Ponder said.
Kalil has been at the top of his list.
"He's a great guy. He's a fun guy to be around, and hopefully we'll be together in a Vikings uniform for a long time," Ponder said. "That's what's exciting about this team. We're so young, and a lot of us can be together for a long time."
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