Josh Freeman (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)
Josh Freeman has a chance to turn the Vikings’ season around, but his effectiveness will determine the position for the future and the staying power of the decision-makers that wanted to sign and start him.
In what has become a poor man’s Watergate scandal, the Twin Cities media – from legitimate reporters to emboldened cameramen – are asking, “What did you know and when did you know it?”
It was a legitimate line of questioning, because the Vikings have changed starting quarterbacks three times in a month. That’s rare. Whether head coach Leslie Frazier is in “full disclosure” mode or not is up to debate. His Wednesday press conference from the point of view of those who genuinely like Frazier as a coach and human being had all the appearances of a police interrogation with the hot lights on Frazier.
The storyline has already been laid out. A coach is similar to a chef. Give him the ingredients and he will provide a meal. Give him venison and he will try to make it taste like filet mignon. You do with what you have.
As such, Frazier had the combo platter of Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. In quarterback terms, neither is a prime cut. But the Vikings are feeding a franchise on a budget, so prime cuts aren’t available. The signing of Josh Freeman didn’t come from Frazier. It came from above.
It seemed obvious that, if the Vikings were going to see how Freeman would fit their personnel – on the offensive side of the ball, pretty much everyone that is anyone is locked and loaded contractually for the next couple years at a minimum. They have 11 games to make that franchise-altering decision. For those looking for a smoking gun, it’s there in plain sight smoldering. Freeman wasn’t brought in to be a backup. He was brought in to see whether he is worthy of getting a fat-stack contract.
That decision was not made by Frazier. But, according to popular belief, the decision when to play Freeman was up to Frazier. But the unique game-changing nature of the starting quarterback isn’t a unilateral decision.
“When you’re talking about the quarterback position, which affects your entire franchise, this is not a decision you make alone,” Frazier said. “I informed them of what I was thinking and why I was thinking this and what I wanted to do it, and they signed off on it. But you don’t make these kinds of decisions on an island. I need their support and they need to understand why.”
The “they” portion of the equation is general manager Rick Spielman and Vikings ownership.
The “understand why” portion of that statement is critical to breaking down where the edict came from. The wolves were at the door with their noses open. They smelled something. The logical follow up was whether Frazier has the power to make the final call on a starting quarterback or not?
“What I did was talk with them on Monday when I had in my mind what direction I wanted to do,” Frazier said. “I explained it to them and explained to them why I wanted to do it. They asked me whatever questions they had and they signed off on it. They agreed.”
The nebulous “they” agreed to start the quarterback “they” signed. Frazier didn’t have to make a persuasive argument. “They” were on board the day pen went to paper on Freeman’s contract. Frazier was preaching to the choir.
Does Frazier have the option to make a change at quarterback autonomously? He got asked. Here’s what he said.
“Yeah, I think that’s always been the case,” Frazier said. “It would be hard to be the head coach if you can’t do that. Yes, that’s important. It’s a good question, but it’s very important.”
Freeman is now Frazier’s choice to be the starting quarterback Monday against the Giants. But for those conspiracy types, one can only imagine what Ponder and Cassel – both of whom have been endorsed by Frazier – think of his vote of confidence now.
Not to use the S-word (schism), but one has to wonder how significant (and confusing) the decision is to players immersed in a marathon season. Two generals have fallen, another is named. If it works, parades will follow. If it fails, heads could roll – from Freeman to Frazier to perhaps Spielman. After all, Spielman vouched for all of the quarterbacks that have gone through the rotation.
With great power comes great responsibility. Whoever the Wilfs hold responsible for the Freeman signing will either be the golden boy or the goat. Frazier is saying all the right things – loyal soldiers do that. But the success or failure of the 2013 Vikings will hinge on this decision.
We may not know in the short-term who decided to shuffle the deck and make the Vikings QB position a mercenary occupation. Soldiers of fortune may apply. If it works, everyone remotely involved in the decision to turn the offense over to an employee with eight days experience will take credit. If it fails, the body count will represent the level of complicity. If it works, it will be hailed as a franchise achievement. If not, what did you know, when did you know it and when did you sign off?
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.