Christian Ponder (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
Publicly, the Vikings gave continued support to Christian Ponder, claiming his future is still bright. And yet they acknowledged that Josh Freeman is here to start in the near future to make an evaluation before his contract expires at the end of this season.
It seems like at some point in a Vikings season of recent vintage, the circus always comes to town.
In 2009, it was Brett Favre. In 2010, it was Randy Moss. In 2011, it was Donovan McNabb. In 2012, the closest the circus came to Minnesota was when Chris Kluwe helped talk his way out of town. In 2013, the three-ring circus has three QBs now that Josh Freeman has arrived.
The Vikings don’t have to announce their corresponding roster move to make room for Freeman until today, but, given the tone of the discussion, it’s likely going to be McLeod Bethel-Thompson who gets the hook. Having never played in a regular-season game, despite being on the 53-man roster the last 20 games, he could be eligible to return to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
But, there may be the potential for the Vikings to ruffle the feathers and make a trade to get rid of one of the veterans – either this morning or in the near future. Right now, it looks like MBT is out of a job, but nothing is certain just yet – as general manager Rick Spielman was quick to point out Monday.
“I’m not going to announce any roster moves that we’re doing until (Tuesday),” Spielman said Monday night. “We’re going to discuss all our options. I know we’ll make a decision.”
While Spielman wouldn’t acknowledge that Bethel-Thompson will be the casualty of Freeman’s arrival, Spielman did point out that the signing of Freeman was to make an assessment of the talents of all three quarterbacks.
“It gives us an opportunity to see where we’ll be at the end of the season and how we’ll move forward,” Spielman said. “Our main focus right now is that we added a very good football player to this roster.”
The reality of that statement is simple. Nobody is safe. Typically quarterback competitions are waged at training camp, when both (or all three) of them get a chance to work with the first-team offense. In the regular season, a starter typically takes all the snaps. Splitting time gives the eventual starter less time with those who will be playing with him on Sunday. How are the Vikings going to get an honest appraisal of Freeman until he works with the first-team offense?
Therein lies the problem. Spielman said he has spoken with all three of his quarterbacks and has let them all know it’s not personal, it’s only business.
“I’ve spoken with Christian, I’ve spoken with Matt and I’ve spoken with Bethel as well,” Spielman said. “Josh knows the situation as well. This has no determination where Christian Ponder is and we think Christian Ponder has a bright future. Matt Cassel came in and did a great job for us when he filled in at London, so right now my main focus and part of my main job is to make sure I’m trying to get the best 53 players on this roster. Then at the end of the season, we’ll make an evaluation like we always do and determine that going forward. By no means is this a reflection (that) we’re disappointed in Christian Ponder, we’re disappointed in Matt Cassel or we’re disappointed in Bethel. It was just another opportunity to go out and add another football player that we have a high regard for.”
So, where does that leave the pre-existing three quarterbacks? It would seem Cassel is in the role of Sage Rosenfels after this season. Thanks for the memories. We’ll keep you until you’re expendable. For MBT, it likely means being released and re-signed if he’s still available. But what about Ponder? He was touted as the franchise golden boy, but even he isn’t sure what the signing of Freeman means for him – short-term or long-term.
“I don’t know,” Ponder said. “I’m not management. My focus right now is back to control getting healthy and preparation. We’ll see what happens. It’s their decision, not my decision. Obviously, I can control how I play.”
Spielman refused to say the Vikings have given up on Ponder in a similar fashion to how Brad Childress cut the cord with Tarvaris Jackson. While not providing a ringing endorsement, he did acknowledge expectations were high. Results? Stay tuned.
“We felt very strongly when we drafted Christian and he has shown the signs of that,” Spielman said. “We’ll see how all this unfolds as we go forward.”
When head coach Leslie Frazier explained the rationale for the move. Ponder said he took Frazier, a fellow man of faith, at his word that his role in the offense isn’t in immediate jeopardy.
“We’ll keep what we talked about in private, but he said he has full confidence in me,” Ponder said. “I understand his explanation of things. He told me just to continue to focus on getting healthy.”
In the end, the tent has been re-inflated and is standing tall outside Winter Park. That can mean only one thing – the circus is back in town. To his credit, Ponder said the second shoulder he now has to look over will only make him more steadfast in beating back the challengers to “his spot.”
“It’s just competition,” Ponder said. “It’s more competition, which ultimately makes everyone better. It makes me better. It’s going to make Matt better.”
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.