Josh Freeman (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)
After a two-interception performance from Matt Cassel, the quarterback clutter is clearing for Josh Freeman’s first start in purple. It’s coming; it’s just a matter of when.
It’s the morning after … again.
The Vikings have yet to win a game in North America this season and it can be argued that the quarterback who was at the center of the franchise’s pinned hopes for 2013 (Christian Ponder) is now being viewed as a lame duck quarterback whose career in Minnesota may well be over.
You can’t completely blame Ponder. When your defense is allowing more than 30 points a game every game and opposing quarterbacks – whether they be No. 1 overall picks like Cam Newton or heap recyclables like Brian Hoyer – can throw at will, you can’t put the weight of the Vikings’ failures on the shoulders of No. 7 by himself.
The offensive line has been inconsistent and non-dominant. The pass rush was always seemingly within a foot or two of taking down Newton numerous times Sunday, yet all they seemingly accomplished was to open up running lanes or a chance to step up in the pocket for clear passing lanes. The secondary is a mess. Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan. The Vikings have the start to a pretty substantial orphanage going. All the blame can’t be placed solely on the quarterback.
When a team is 1-4, it starts looking for the magic cure that will turn the season around. In 2010, when the Vikings felt their season that started with Super Bowl expectations (Brett 2.0) turning on them, they went David Blaine and tried to create the illusion of success by trading for Randy Moss.
That roll of the dice didn’t work. But the Vikings aren’t done pulling rabbits out of hats or having a card up their sleeve.
The signing of Josh Freeman didn’t make a lot of sense from the “we can make the playoffs” perspective. The team already had a QB controversy when Matt Cassel put in the first strong performance by a Vikings quarterback all season. That was the beginning of the end of the Ponder Era. The signing of Freeman was the middle of the end of the Ponder Era.
The Vikings wanted to sign Freeman to a two-year deal after Hurricane Schiano hit west central Florida and made Freeman a free man from the wrath of the downwardly spiraling winds of that particular super cell. That didn’t happen. The Vikings got an 11-week window of opportunity to see what he brings to the table and whether they want to commit to him with a long-term contract.
The question fans should be asking themselves right now is “why not?” What do the Vikings have to lose? More games?
When the signing was announced, the consensus among the local media types who cover the Vikings on a regular basis began with that cartoon head-shaking noise (third in this series).
Thanks to the new CBA, Ponder is the lowest-paid of the three current Vikings QBs. As such, he has value as a backup, but given the reaction of Vikings fans the last time he played, he’s not the golden boy of the paying customers anymore.
Given that dynamic, what can the Vikings lose by throwing Freeman into the fray sooner than later? As in next Monday night against the Giants.
Ponder was handed the starting job and did nothing to stake a long-term claim to it. Cassel was brought in as an insurance policy. Freeman was thrown into the malaise as a potential long-term solution.
Leslie Frazier has been unnecessarily vague about any plans for the future of the quarterback position – at last we checked, Ponder was still the starter when he’s healthy, but he was on the game day roster Sunday and never saw the field. If you’re active, doesn’t that imply the required health to play?
Cassel is in a no-win situation. Against the Steelers, he played like a man with nothing to lose and ended up winning. He was slinging. Sunday, he played like a man with a starting job to lose. He was King of the check-downs. He played it safe. When he took chances, the same sickening collective groan came from the Metrodome crowd that came two or three times a game when Tarvaris Jackson would throw a wounded duck of a pass. It’s one thing to throw a contested interception. It’s another for two passes to land with a soft thud in between the 2 and the 1 of safety Mike Mitchell’s jersey. Any London cred Cassel gained was lost Sunday.
The Vikings have made a franchise commitment to Freeman. If he fails miserably, at least the Vikings didn’t give up a premium draft pick for the privilege. It’s just lighting 20,000 cigars with $100 bills. In the big picture of things, in a worst-case scenario, it will be a brief chapter in Vikings history. Archie Manning and Donovan McNabb will have company.
If, however, Freeman finds a second life outside of the Walking Dead coaching staff in Tampa Bay, the Vikings’ investment will be increased four- or five-fold by next February (if not sooner). In that case, it would be an ideal “buy low” business decision that could solve the post-Favre mediocrity that began with the man himself in 2010. NFL teams refer to their teams as family. This is the Soprano family. It’s not personal. It’s just business. If the Vikings commit to Freeman, either Ponder or Cassel likely will be gone in 2014.
The only way to settle the issue is to let Freeman get his shot. The Vikings didn’t pay him to wear jaunty sideline apparel. It’s not a matter of if Freeman is going to start for the Vikings. It’s a matter of when.
At a time when the fan base needs a little old-fashioned cock-eyed optimism, the timing is right. They’ve seen ugliness and what is coming over the schedule’s horizon is a pestilence.
The Vikings may need to score 35 points a game to win. Can Ponder get that done? Can Cassel? What both have “put on tape” would indicate a “no” answer.
The Freeman Era is getting ready to make its first performance. It’s still in rehearsal mode, but the curtain is ready to open.
Will it come in the shadow of the bright lights of Broadway a week from tonight?
The plot is predictable. We all know it’s coming. The only debate is when it will happen. When you have nothing to lose, even against a 0-6 team, you have everything to gain.
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.