Is the NFL treating Christian Ponder fairly?
Unfortunately, that is a question whose answer depends on who you ask. It can be argued that Rick Spielman is now the general manager because he backed Ponder while head coach Leslie Frazier, one of the legs of the Tripod of Authority, backed a beyond-his-prime, mailing-it-in Donovan McNabb. By any measure, McNabb was a failed attempt to try to recreate the Brett Favre career Renaissance.
After that, it was clear Ponder was the Vikings’ man and they so wanted to make sure their was no competition for Ponder’s starting job that they made Joe Webb his backup and the law firm of McLeod Bethel-Thompson as the No. 3 guy, releasing veteran Sage Rosenfels. Webb’s playoff performance in Ponder’s absence is the reason Webb is no longer on the QB depth chart.
While Ponder is still making his way through the NFL QB minefield, he is already being written off by most national analysts. With the proliferation of NFL preseason magazines (people still buy magazines by all accounts from grocery check-out clerks) jumping on the angle of young quarterbacks and their quick rise to elite status, you won’t see Ponder’s name among them. Cam Newton is on the verge of stardom if Carolina opts to give him a legitimate supporting cast of wide receivers. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are the media darlings coming off of playoff runs in their first seasons as a starter – Ponder did the same, but doesn’t earn the same amount of respect. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have made both the 49ers and Seahawks Super Bowl favorites. Andy Dalton has led Cincinnati to the playoffs in both of his seasons as a starter. Sam Bradford is expected to break out soon. Ryan Tannehill has been given every chance to succeed. Jake Locker has the Tennessee job by default. And that doesn’t even include still-young QBs like Matthew Stafford, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, who may have their best years in front of them.
Not to sound like a Ponder apologist, but none of those quarterbacks have had the luxury of having a significant number of his biggest plays starting by him turning around and handing the ball to Adrian Peterson. That’s a game-changer. If Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees had stud running backs behind them, their numbers wouldn’t be so gaudy. But it would appear that the infusion of young elite quarterbacks has yet to include Ponder.
The NFL is an unforgiving business. You either produce or you’re gone. Guys like Jeff George, Akili Smith, Andre Ware, Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell (taken the same year with the first pick of the draft that the Vikings got Peterson at No. 7) are testament that if you get “the stink” on you, it’s hard to shake.
There may be no bigger test of what Ponder is facing this year than what he will face in 2013. With only seven home games and three of the first four on the road – at Detroit, at Chicago and at London against the Steelers – the Vikings will have an early tough run. Once they return stateside, it won’t get any easier. In a span between Oct. 21 and Dec. 22, Ponder will face four Super Bowl champions of recent vintage (the Giants, Baltimore and Green Bay twice) and three playoff teams from 2012 (Washington, Seattle and Cincinnati). If you thought the stretch run in 2012 was epic, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Is Ponder up to the task? We’ll know a lot more in December than we do now. But, as casual football fans grab the preseason projection magazines – whether in print or digital form – they will do so reading lauding reviews of the bright futures in front of Luck, RG3, Newton, Wilson, Kaepernick and Tannehill. You won’t read nearly as much about Ponder.
If the Vikings are to send out the Metrodome properly, Ponder will have to get his name in that conversation. It isn’t there yet. By all internal accounts, the third year is going to be the charm. Somewhere a countdown clock has begun.
GRANT LEFT OUT IN THE COLD
The website ProFootballTalk.com is counting down the days when NFL news will be news by compiling a list of Mount Rushmores of NFL teams. The Vikings came up Monday and, as expected, botched it hard-core. The PFT Mount Rushmore includes Alan Page, Adrian Peterson, Cris Carter and Fran Tarkenton. Admittedly, the Vikings Mount Rushmore is a tough call. But Carter doesn’t belong. No Vikings Mount Rushmore can be created without Bud Grant.
PFT should take a cue from ESPN, which conducted an equally predictable slow-news time feature and named the 20 greatest coaches of all-time. What was hilarious was that some sports talking heads questioned who would be No. 1? Seeing as it ended on June 11, 2013 – the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi’s birth, who did you think would be No. 1? Really? Like the ghost of Bill Walsh was going to sneak in and blow out Lombardi’s 100 candles? That list was done before it started.
PFT’s list is horribly inaccurate because, not only would Grant be on the Mount Rushmore (or Mt. Rushmore by those not willing to hit three extra key strokes), he would be in George Washington’s spot. It’s hard to argue Page. Tark has talked his way off the sculpture in recent years, but deserves to be there – especially since he was on PFT Live when the announcement was made. ESPN/Lombardi. Do the math.
As for Carter? God love him, but if any wide receiver needs to be on the mountain carving, it’s Randy Moss – hopefully in complete 2004 free-flow-fro of “That is a disgusting act!” vintage that led to a win over Green Bay in the playoffs at Lambeau Field. Local Minnesota sleeper cells are ready to strike on the PFT Vikings Mount Rushmore if it is ever erected. No jury of Minnesotans would convict them of blasting it to bits. No Bud? No Way.
Tarvaris Jackson has found himself in déjà vu all over again. The starter in Seattle in 2011, the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn in free agency and drafted Russell Wilson, resulting in T-Jack being traded to Buffalo. Before starter Ryan Fitzpatrick got cut, the Bills decided to re-sign T-Jack with few to no contract incentives – a QB signing a new deal with $500,000 in NFL terms is a drop in the league bucket. When the team acquired Kevin Kolb and drafted E.J. Manuel, T-Jack’s days were numbered. Don’t bet good money it’s his last NFL stop, but few QBs have gone from top of the depth chart to gone as often as Jackson – three times in four years.
Devin Aromoshodu, who was signed by the Vikings from the Chicago Bears, signed a deal to return to Chicago Monday. With the new Bears offensive scheme, which has a pair of excellent short-to-mid range catch-and-run receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, Aromashodu may actually find his niche as a bomb threat from Jay Cutler if he sticks on the roster.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.