Vikings' GM Rick Spielman on quarterbacks, Frazier and 1-6
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman wants you to put down the pitchforks, whether justified or not.
Despite being one of three NFL teams with one win or less, Spielman tried to use optimism on Friday to quell a room of local reporters inquiring about losses, job security and the trio of quarterbacks they've started this season.
"I don't think anyone anticipated we were going to be 1-6 at this point in the season, because we felt very strongly that with the youth we had on this football team, being a playoff team, that we were going to be able to build on that," Spielman said. "But everybody wants to put why we're 1-6 to blame on the quarterback, but it's not. It's across the board. Its offense, defense and special teams. So when you look at it as a whole, our whole team has to play better."
Quarterback Christian Ponder, Spielman's franchise quarterback taken 12th overall in 2011, has started his third season with seven turnovers and a 0-4 record. It was assumed the Vikings had moved away from Ponder when they started backup Matt Cassel in the Oct. 13 loss to the Carolina Panthers, after Ponder had been cleared to play post-rib injury.
Spielman poured gasoline on the speculation when he added quarterback Josh Freeman to the mix on Oct. 7 during the Vikings' bye week.
The Vikings' personnel boss confirmed the goal this season is to find a long-term answer at quarterback, which explains why coach Leslie Frazier ruled out the 31-year-old Cassel as a starter, at least for the time being.
"Everybody is looking for the franchise quarterback. If you're not out there always looking and trying to find until you actually find a Peyton Manning, then I feel you're not doing your job," Spielman said. "Our job is to be aggressive, to try and get that position solidified. Does that mean that Christian Ponder is not that? I'm not saying that whatsoever."
Frazier has the ultimate decision on the Vikings' starting quarterback from week-to-week, per Spielman.
The general manager isn't at fault for Freeman's 53 pass attempts on Oct. 21, but Spielman wasn't about to take any blame for Freeman starting less than two weeks after he signed to the team and was embarrassed on Monday Night Football.
"Now, I talk through with Leslie and the coaches on my opinion on some things," he said. "I will always do that, but that's the relationship you have to have."
Frazier and Spielman chose to extend Ponder's leash to this Sunday at the Dallas Cowboys even after his fourth poor start of 2013. That could mean one of two things: (1) Freeman isn't ready to start again, either physically or mentally; or (2) the Vikings really did see something in Ponder's performance on Sunday night that sparked optimism.
But almost a month after signing Freeman, Spielman stepped on his own toes.
He said on a conference call on Oct. 7 that the goal was to get Freeman "ready to play." Even Frazier said "that's part of the equation," when asked at his next availability. But on Friday, Spielman said it's a success even if Freeman never starts again.
"Now if [Ponder] ends up being our starting quarterback and playing the rest of the games and you see him come on and see that he is playing consistently, then maybe he is the guy we're going to go into the future with," he said. "But everybody tried to speculate that by bringing in Josh, this means Christian is done or this or that. That has nothing to do with anything."
He went as far to say that he can get an adequate grip on Freeman from one start and some practices.
"This was just a great chance, whether [Freeman] played or not, that you would have a much better idea of what a Josh Freeman was or whoever that is by the end of the season just by him being in your building and being around that player for 12 weeks," Spielman said.
Speaking publicly for the first time since Freeman's tumultuous start, Spielman continued to beat the drum that Freeman's signing was not an indictment on Ponder's play.
He also continued to preach patience.
"When you look through the league, you're looking for those guys, especially at the quarterback position, which does take some time," Spielman said. "I understand outside the building there's not as much patience as there is inside the building, because we know the development. But the biggest thing we talked about was where Christian was more consistent toward the end of the season. We probably haven't seen that same consistency through the first part of this season."
Even at 1-6, Spielman said the ownership's commitment, as well as his own, is not waning on Frazier, who is now coaching for a new contract after the Wilfs opted not to extend him after 2012's playoff appearance.
But when asked what would constitute a successful season, Spielman boiled it down.
"Wins," he said.
Pressed about the topic, Spielman would not commit to a timeframe if Frazier and his coaching staff were safe for the rest of this season.
"Leslie Frazier is not going anywhere," he said. "We are behind this coaching staff 100 percent."
Next to the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the overall standings, Spielman wanted to ensure the media and fans that there's no Greg Schiano-style meltdown happening at Winter Park. Akin to how Schiano has reportedly lost the command and respect of his 0-7 locker room.
"But I can tell you this: There is no divide. Everybody is working as hard as they can together. Everybody is very supportive of each other," Spielman said. "Everybody is pushing to the limits to try to get this turned around. But I'm also very, very optimistic that this thing can turn around and turn around quickly, just because I see behind the scenes how hard everybody's working, from the players, from the coaches, from myself."