Monday, October 07, 2013

Vikings' Signing of Freeman a Lesson for Fans

When the Minnesota Vikings drafted Christian Ponder with the number twelve pick in the 2011 NFL draft, most pundits wondered why the team would pass on more certain prospects in favor of a quarterback who, most also believed, might not be the best quarterback left on the board and who was likely to be on the board as late as the fourth round.

Rick Spielman answered his critics by pointing to Ponder as the "most NFL-ready quarterback" in the entire draft.  Nothing about that comment made sense at the time and nothing about it makes sense now.  But, until now, Spielman was wedded to his pick.

Through thin and thinner, with one or two games of slightly above thin tossed in, many Vikings' fans supported Spielman's commitment to Ponder, relying, themselves, on the proven loser of an argument that "Spielman is the GM and knows better."  The crux of the logic was that, despite what everyone saw in Ponder's weekly performances, despite what Ponder's statistics suggested, Spielman had some mystical power to read in Ponder something that nobody else could read.

Late Sunday, the Vikings agreed to terms with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.  The move signaled the end to Spielman's absolute commitment to Ponder and demonstrated that relying on a G.M.'s commitment to a player--despite clear and convincing evidence to the contrary--is foolish and counter-productive.

If a player is modest, at best, and demonstrates a flat line in progression early on while struggling with rudimentary tasks, there is no need to wait for a full season to pass to assess the quarterback's ability and certainly no need to wait for 18, 24, or 30 games to make such an assessment.  These were Spielman's artifices.  Now, they have been debunked.  Fans should take note going forward, not just regarding Spielman's statement, but any statements coming from people with vested interests.

In Freeman, the Vikings will have a young quarterback who has been routinely mishandled by successive coaching staffs.  Over his career, Freeman is a 60% passer--similar to Ponder.  Unlike Ponder, however, Freeman has attained his completion percentage throwing mostly downfield.  That makes that 60% look like 80% in Ponder percentages, with Ponder completing roughly 40% of his passes beyond ten yards.

At $3 million for one season, signing Freeman is a relatively low-risk move that will cause consternation to Buffalo, Oakland, Houston, and Jets' fans, to name a few.  Adding Freeman means that the Vikings will have an experienced downfield passer to either back up Cassel or start sometime in the very near future.  It also means that, after one or two more games as a back up, Ponder is likely to be relegated to third-string, with his future in Minnesota clearly in question.

Adding Freeman will also require dropping a player.  The two most likely candidates for release are both quarterbacks--McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Joe Webb.  Bethel-Thompson is the most likely candidate, given that the team would be wasting a roster spot carrying four quarterbacks.  Given his dual role as both back-up quarterback and wide-receiver, Webb, therefore, might be safe.  With the emergence of Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, and Kyle Rudolph, however, Webb is unlikely to see the field on many snaps, absent a change in offensive philosophy.  That might make him expendable.

No matter who the Vikings cut to sign Freeman, the team certainly is in better overall position at quarterback than it was in week one of the season.  In Cassel, the Vikings have a capable upgrade to Ponder.  In Ponder, the Vikings have a backup that will not permit the wheels to fall off if called on in a pinch.  In Freeman, the team has a good prospect, who, depending on Cassel's performance, might get the call this year.  In the entire quarterbacking system, the Vikings now have competition, with the links increasingly more properly ordered from strongest to weakest.  And overall, the Vikings have afforded themselves an opportunity to more properly assess other areas of the team.

Up Next: Dayton's Increasingly Publicly Funded Peoples' Stadium Not a Venue for the Unwashed Masses.

1 comment:

MN said...

Was he mishandled.... or was he just juicing until then? I guess we'll see.