The Top-5 quarterbacks the Vikings should pursue in free agency
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Welcome to 'Countdown to Free Agency,' a four-day installment before NFL teams can begin negotiating with other teams' unrestricted free agents on Saturday, March 8. Each installment will look at a key position of need for the Minnesota Vikings and the top prospects that will likely be available when free agency opens on March 11.
Players under contract in 2014: Christian Ponder. Ponder, 26, started nine games in 2013 and finished 2-6-1 in his third season. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has reportedly told Ponder the team is looking to add a quarterback in May's NFL Draft, which comes as no surprise as the former first-round pick has underwhelmed in 35 starts. The ideal situation would be to draft the next franchise quarterback and resign a veteran like Matt Cassel, who opted out of $3.7 million to test his value in a relatively weak free agent quarterback class.
Pending free agents: Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman. Cassel, 32 in May, appeared in nine games last season even though he was granted six starts. He finished with a team-high 11 touchdowns and a 81.6 passer rating. Freeman, 26, would likely be worth a look if he hadn't cost the Vikings around $2 million for one start that produced 33 incompletions and an embarrassment on Monday Night Football to the previously winless New York Giants. It's unknown what Freeman would've done with another opportunity, but the fact the Vikings weren't willing to give him one in a tumultuous season says enough.
Trade options: Kirk Cousins (Washington), Matt Schaub (Houston)
Top 5 on the market:
1. Matt Cassel, Minnesota
Why: Out of the thin free agent market, Cassel is the best veteran option for the Vikings. He knows the personnel and should be able to adapt quicker to a new system under Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. However, he should command a higher price tag than the $3.7 million he walked away from as the other quarterback-needy teams are likely willing to crack open the wallet more so than previous years. Many claim Cassel's immobility is his most looming vice, but on 281 dropbacks, Cassel took 16 sacks [6%] - compared to Ponder, who took 27 sacks on 291 dropbacks [9%], per ProFootballFocus.com. Cassel's knack to get rid of the ball trumps whatever ground Ponder gains with his legs.
2. Josh McCown, Chicago
Why: McCown, 35 in July, finished as a higher-rated quarterback than Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and his own teammate Jay Cutler by PFF. McCown appeared in eight games for the Bears last season and finished 3-5, with three of his five losses coming by three points or less. The veteran finished with 13 touchdowns to one interception with one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league and compiled a 109 passer rating. If Cassel is off the table, McCown is the next best option in free agency because of his relatively low mileage. McCown didn't play in 2012 and before last season he had appeared in just six games since 2007.
3. Michael Vick, Philadelphia
Why: Vick, 34 in June, is far from ideal as the scrambling quarterback hasn't played more than 13 games in a season since 2006. His style of play is a major factor because he's consistently injured and requires a backup to come in and save the day (See: Nick Foles). The Vikings need a veteran to come in to physically compete with and mentally push the rookie they draft in May to lead the franchise. Vick may look serviceable in training camps with a red jersey on, but once the safety is off - teams know he's damaged goods.
4. Chad Henne, Jacksonville
Why: Henne, 29 in July, beat out Blaine Gabbert for the starting job in Jacksonville last season. That doesn't say too much, especially since PFF has Gabbert as the 42nd rated quarterback (last) in the NFL based on his 2013 numbers. If the Vikings are in a bind and need another body at quarterback, Henne is a better option than the Tim Tebows of free agency, since he at least played last season.
5. Shaun Hill, Detroit
Why: Hill, 34, has proven to be a serviceable backup in the NFL. However, playing behind Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Hill hasn't seen any substantial playing time since 2010 - when he threw for 16 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and an 81.3 passer rating. If the Vikings run out of options to sign a veteran, Hill is the best of the worst.
Mark Sanchez (if/when he's cut)