The recent signing of Jay Cutler to a seven-year contract by the Chicago Bears has sent a message to the Vikings like few others could be delivered. Aaron Rodgers is in Green Bay to stay. Cutler won’t be leaving Chicago any time soon. Despite his failings, the Lions are locked and loaded with Matthew Stafford for the foreseeable future. The other three teams in the division are set at quarterback, which will be putting the pressure on the Vikings to try to, at the least, catch up a little bit.
Until the Vikings develop a quarterback that can compete with those quarterbacks, they will never have the “check mark” in their favor at the most critical position in the NFL. The Vikings have had a taste of QB greatness is the past. Fran Tarkenton passed the torch to Tommy Kramer in the late 1970s, but, for the most part, the most success the Vikings have had since then has been from veteran quarterbacks they didn’t develop. The only quarterback the team has developed since was Daunte Culpepper. Other than Pepp, the most success the Vikings have had at the QB position is players they brought in from the outside.
Jim McMahon led the Vikings to the playoffs. So did Warren Moon. So did Randall Cunningham. So did Brett Favre. It may be the last one that has made the current quarterback situation so disconcerting for Vikings fans. In short, Favre spoiled the fans and his teammates by showing them how the position should be played. Favre oozed leadership. He had the proverbial “It Factor” the separates good quarterbacks from great ones. He showed how quickly a talented quarterback can change a franchise.
As the Vikings prepare for the 2014 draft, quarterback has to be an option with the eighth pick in the draft. There are impressive quarterbacks that will be available. The Vikings have proved that they can be a playoff team without having an elite quarterback. Brad Johnson got the job done. So did Rich Gannon. Even Gus Frerotte was able to lead the team to the postseason, but, in the modern era of the NFL, you’re going to need a quarterback that can be a difference-maker.
You need to look no further than the playoff teams this season. There are the time-tested veterans (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith). Four of them were first-round draft picks and Brees was the first pick of the second round. But that only covers half the playoff field. The rest of them are young players who represent the next generation of quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles and Andy Dalton). Only two of them were first-round picks (Newton and Luck were No. 1 overall picks), but all of them got the starting job early in their careers and have exuded the confidence needed to be a successful quarterback.
Having an elite quarterback isn’t a requirement – Baltimore and Tampa Bay won Super Bowl titles with pedestrian quarterbacks, but that was a decade ago. In the new era of the NFL, teams need to have a solid quarterback in order to compete for a championship. The Vikings aren’t one of those teams. It seems clear they swung and missed on Christian Ponder, but, if the Vikings are to make a rise to respectability, they’re going to have to do it on the arm and legs of a young quarterback.
The other three teams in the NFC North appear set at quarterback for the rest of the decade. The Vikings stand alone … for now. Stay tuned until May and see if that changes.
There is no better reality show on TV than the NFL. As NBC bid its farewell to NFL coverage for the season, it was rewarded with a couple of instant classics. When the Chiefs got up 38-10 on the Colts, there were people heading toward the exits in disgust. That’s why you never leave a game in the third quarter. The Saints exorcized some demons with a two-point win in which, when the ball left kicker Shayne Graham’s foot, the clock had hit :00 and his team was behind. When the ball returned to earth, his team won. That’s how to start the playoffs.
Harrison Smith pointed out last week as the Vikings were clearing out of Winter Park how volatile the nature of the NFL can be. When the Vikings faced the Panthers, Carolina and the Vikings were both 1-3. A loss in that game was viewed as a realistic elimination game. Carolina throttled the Vikings 35-10. Over the last week, several Panthers have spoken out saying that game transformed their season. After being 1-3 coming in, starting with their road game against the Vikings, Carolina went 11-1, which is why they’re not playing this weekend, while the Vikings, who lost that semi-elimination game, isn’t playing either – but for very different reasons.
With two arrests in two months, Erin Henderson may also be facing a potential suspension from the league, given the quick nature of the incidents that marred the second half of the 2013 season.
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.