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Updated: October 7th, 2013 9:32pm
Spielman: Signing Josh Freeman 'by no means' reflects Ponder failure

Spielman: Signing Josh Freeman 'by no means' reflects Ponder failure

by Andrew Krammer
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Since being released by Tampa Bay before the weekend, quarterback Josh Freeman has likely reminisced on his five-year stint with the Buccaneers. During that time, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman embraced nostalgia differently, studying hours of film on his new quarterback.

Now that Freeman is officially a member of the Vikings on a one-year deal, both Freeman and Spielman will look forward to what's left of 2013. What that means for starter-now-injured quarterback Christian Ponder remains to be seen.

"[Freeman] is very talented as a passer, watched all his college tape, probably watched 40 games this weekend on him, watched live twice what he did to us in the Metrodome," Spielman said. "I know he's a big quarterback with a strong arm that can do a lot of good things at all levels of the field."

Freeman was released by the Buccaneers on Thursday afternoon in the midst of his fifth season after he was taken 17th overall. Spielman and the Vikings did extensive homework on Freeman before the 2009 draft when he opted out of his senior year at Kansas State for the NFL.

More than four years later, Spielman landed his man, but not without making the quarterback situation that much more complicated for coach Leslie Frazier and the 1-3 Vikings.

"At the end of the day, you've got to follow your heart. No matter what the situation is, I was promised an opportunity to be apart of the first-class organization and that was the selling point," Freeman said. "Something about it felt right in my heart, great gut feeling. I'm definitely fired up."

Freeman's addition certainly serves as a ticking clock to Ponder, who was anointed the team's franchise quarterback after Spielman led the effort to draft him 12th overall in 2011.

A series of underwhelming performances, convoluted by brief moments of competency, has the Vikings seemingly teetering on Ponder's future with the team -- which was already brought into question before Freeman's signing.

Many waited to see what Ponder could do to follow up his career highlight win in the season finale last year against the Green Bay Packers, which set up the team's first playoff appearance since 2009.

But Ponder's seven turnovers (five interceptions, two fumbles) helped mold the Vikings' 0-3 start. Juxtaposed to backup Matt Cassel's victory in London, the Vikings would have a tough decision to make even if Ponder wasn't still hampered by a rib injury.

"I've spoken with Christian, spoken with Matt, spoken with [McLeod] Bethel[-Thompson] as well. Josh knows the situation. This is no determination on where Christian Ponder is. We think Christian Ponder has a bright future," Spielman said. "My job is to make sure I get the best players on the 53-man roster and we'll make an evaluation like we always do at the end of the season and determine that going forward."

"By no means is this a reflection of we're disappointed in Christian Ponder or we're disappointed in Matt Cassel or disappointed in Bethel[-Thompson]."

However, Spielman said Freeman was brought in to compete for a starting job, not just motivate their guy.

"Coach Frazier talked about it today, that we are going to get Josh Freeman ready to play," Spielman said. "But again all that stuff will take care of itself in due time. He'll start tonight with the playbook."

Frazier said Freeman won't play on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and neither Spielman nor Freeman would offer a timetable for when he'd be ready. But it's clear he's here to be under center on Sundays. The Vikings used up most, if not all, of their $2.692 million cap room when adding Freeman.

Spielman continued to beat the drum that signing Freeman was about adding another quality football player, regardless of the position. But you can only play one quarterback, unlike other positions, and the only way Freeman plays is if Ponder sits.

Freeman said he initially felt the itch to jump back into a starting role once was benched by the Buccaneers, but he claims that feeling has changed.

"From the standpoint of a career move, thing I like about the Vikings is, they've got a guy," Freeman said. "It's an opportunity to pump the brakes."

A reported schism between he and former coach Greg Schiano led to Freeman's in-season release from the Buccaneers, but Spielman said it's no concern to him. Freeman didn't go into specifics, but was clearly bothered by how the situation was left.

"Obviously [Schiano] didn't feel I was the guy he wanted leading his team, the caliber quarterback he wanted," Freeman said. "I had a lot of great memories here, a lot of good times with those guys."

The Vikings will need to make a roster move by tomorrow in order for Freeman to join the 53. Spielman said he had 'no intent' on making anymore changes to the quarterbacks and that Freeman's presence shouldn't impede on what he calls a continuing evaluation of Ponder.

"We have 12, hopefully more, weeks in the season, still early in the season yet, that evaluation process [on Ponder] will continue," Spielman said.

Andrew Krammer covers the Minnesota Vikings for 1500ESPN.com. He previously covered the Gophers men's basketball team for the Minnesota Daily.
Email Andrew | @andrew_krammer
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