Josh Freeman (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)
In the here and now, the Vikings have nothing to lose by giving Josh Freeman an on-field tryout. But for the long-term success of the position, the Vikings are taking a big gamble on psyches and contracts.
When word first started filtering out through the information grapevine that the Vikings were a potential landing spot for recently released quarterback Josh Freeman, it harkened back to 2010.
The Vikings were 1-2 and coming out of their bye week the year after they had gone 12-4 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game. It was Favre Season 2.0 and the Vikings were returning every starter from the previous year with the exception of Sidney Rice.
When the Vikings got off to their 1-2 start, it wasn’t simply because of the absence of Rice or the lackluster play of wide receivers that were to blame for the Vikings’ surprisingly bad start. It was a combination of things. By the time that season ended, it was clear that wide receiver wasn’t the only problem. The Vikings lost eight more of their final 13 games. Blame could be shared. But the Vikings made a desperate move to save what they thought was a fading season. Some franchises just take on water and sink. The Vikings were going to set fire to the back of the boat and paddle fast.
Their kneejerk reaction to the unexpectedly bad start was to trade a second-round draft pick for Randy Moss. It was an aggressive move that went over like someone lobbing a live grenade into the locker room. In less than two months, Moss was gone, Brad Childress was gone, Favre’s ironman streak was over, the Metrodome roof collapsed, the Vikings played a home game at Ford Field, played Tuesday night football and had their hopes of getting to the Super Bowl dashed by midseason.
By any account, the move to trade for Moss was an unqualified disaster. Four out of five general managers said they wouldn’t do it. Five out of five caterers said they wouldn’t. Jobs were lost. Schisms were created. At the time, it was viewed as a bold move to salvage a season on the brink of capsizing. When the Vikings’ ship hit the iceberg, the survivors envied the dead.
One would think that the blisters that took so long to heal from that experience – what followed in 2011 was a gutting and renovation of the franchise – would have made the Vikings a little less aggressive during the 2013 bye week. This time it was on a post-playoff team that was 1-3, not 1-2.
Knowing Rick Spielman’s attention to detail, before any move was made, the general manager likely had a scenario flow chart and personality profiles of key players on the roster attempting to determine how they would react to such a move. When it came to pass, the players were still scattered throughout the country on their bye week. It could have gone one of many ways. How it is being handled internally is up to debate.
Football players are like soldiers. They are conditioned to take orders from above and the real truth of a story typically isn’t told until months or years after the fact. But the signing of Freeman makes the Moss signing pale in comparison. Randy was asked to be a component piece – a member of Brett’s backup band. Freeman is expected to be the lead singer.
It’s not like he’s taking over as the lead singer of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen or Nirvana. It’s more like he’s taking over as the new lead singer for Winger. The bar hasn’t been set very high by Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel. At 1-4 in the NFC North, the Vikings need to start throwing sevens and elevens a lot in their professional dice game. Why not bring a new shooter up to the table? Snake Eyes and Box Cars haven’t done the job.
At the time Moss jerseys were getting pulled out of closets and having the accumulated dust cloud blown off, the Vikings were stunned but not down. It wasn’t a move that made logistical sense at its face, but it was a desperate organizational back-sliding to one of their best in hopes of rekindling what was long since past. It didn’t work. Few back-slides do.
In many ways, the signing of Freeman and unleashing the credit-card sized Vikings play chart on him is similar to the Moss signing. It was a bold move. But where the difference lies is that the Vikings have two more nails in their 2013 playoff coffin than the 2010 Favre 2.0 team did when Moss first got on the field. Things are much more dire.
If Freeman lights things up – which, by Viking QB standards, has been a somewhat impressive Roman candle display, not the “ooh…ahh” type of fireworks show – the move will be seen as decisive and, dare we say, erudite. If it fails, duck and cover. It won’t be one live grenade being a locker room fire in the hole. It will be multiplied.
One thing is certain. The Vikings have 53 players on their active roster. 50 of them aren’t quarterbacks. Their jobs aren’t innately impacted by the Vikings’ decision to make an historic move at quarterback – benching two starters at the same time. But considering the importance of the quarterback position to the health of a franchise, the Vikings are playing a risky game of Russian Roulette. Cassel has a bullet in the chamber already before he picks up the gun. He won’t be back next year after going from starter to healthy game-day scratch in the span of one game. Ponder doesn’t have a choice. He’s under contract at a team-friendly price. But it seems clear his take on the change in direction has him wondering if he even wants to be here in 2013 … or 2014.
To say the least, it’s an interesting time to be a Vikings quarterback. The most experienced guy is heading out the door. The lame-duck incumbent has been voted out of office. The new kid in town, if he tears it up, will likely be able to command big bucks on the free agent market – potentially leaving the Vikings to a higher bidder with more money to throw at him. The potential could be that the Vikings are without a quarterback heading into 2014, or at least not a QB that wants to be there. Except for Joe Webb, who was asked to relocate to the receivers room and bring a pillow and blanket with him.
In the short-term, the view of the Freeman signing has to be 100 percent positive. What do they have to lose? Nothing.
In the long-term, what do they have to lose? Potentially, three quarterbacks.
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.