Zulgad: Vikings GM would be wise to set Christian Ponder free ASAP
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Say it ain't so, Rick.
That was the immediate reaction of many on Friday when they read that Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman had told reporters that quarterback Christian Ponder "will be here" next season.
But before you lose any sleep about the Vikings retaining Ponder, who is under contract for 2014, keep two things in mind.
Spielman isn't paid to tell the truth, he's paid to make the Vikings a better team. A year ago, he attempted to dismiss the fact that disgruntled wide receiver Percy Harvin might be traded. Spielman then turned around in March and dealt Harvin to Seattle in a trade that benefitted both teams.
The other factor -- and much to Spielman's chagrin it might be the truth -- is that there is no one willing to take Ponder off his hands and thus there is no market for a guy whom the Vikings selected with the 12th-overall pick in 2011. The Vikings feel they are stuck with Ponder.
Even a team starved for a backup quarterback likely would not be willing to give up a seventh-round pick for Ponder because it knows the odds are the Vikings will release him at some point.
Spielman admits the Vikings are going to need to look for a quarterback who is the right fit for a franchise which has hired Mike Zimmer as its coach and Norv Turner as offensive coordinator.
That player isn't going to be Ponder, no matter how Spielman might be trying to spin things.
Spielman told the media on Friday that it will be interesting to see where Ponder is at after Turner and his son, Scott, the Vikings' new quarterbacks coach, work with Ponder.
"We're not closing the door on anything and any player here," Spielman said. "We've been through on personnel and our coaches and it's a lot different when they've looked at our players and how they can utilize them this way or that way.
"I'm anxious to see when they get out there and get on the field with these guys that they'll get a true sense of what they're strengths and weaknesses are and how they can utilize it within their systems."
This is the type of response NFL personnel and coaches provide when they are asked a question that they clearly have no interest in answering.
Spielman perfected this portion of his game long ago.
Far more important than Spielman's words, was the tone with which he delivered his message. Derek Wetmore, the senior editor of this website, watched and listened to Spielman and wrote that the GM's overall tone suggested the team has moved on in search of a better option at quarterback.
Actually, Spielman should take one additional step.
If Spielman can't find anyone to take Ponder for a sixth- or seventh-round pick when the NFL's new league year kicks off on March 11, he should quickly release the guy he once thought would develop into a franchise quarterback.
Spielman, and then-coach Leslie Frazier, made a mistake in selecting Ponder. There is no debating this point. We don't need to see Ponder get another chance to start for the Vikings to come to this conclusion. Heck, Ponder received far too many second chances last season.
Matt Cassel has opted-out of his contract and is set to become a free agent but there is a chance the veteran could return to Minnesota for a second season. Josh Freeman will walk away as a free agent after being signed last October for reasons that might never be answered.
Ponder is the only quarterback under contract at this point.
That is no reason to keep him around.
The Vikings remain in search of a franchise quarterback, and there is a chance that the next few years will be spent with a veteran short-timer running the show. It won't be Ponder. Finding quarterbacks isn't difficult. Finding the right quarterback, now that's the tough part.
Keeping Ponder around isn't fair to the Vikings, Zimmer or Ponder.
A poor decision on Ponder already helped cost Frazier his job. Spielman is getting another chance with Zimmer as his hand-picked choice as coach.
Zimmer shouldn't be forced to watch Ponder have a good day at a camp this spring and for Spielman to say, "Well, maybe we have something here."
The Vikings know exactly what they have with Ponder and his continued presence on the roster is only going to serve as a reminder of past failures. Having Ponder play one more regular-season game for the Vikings likely would end up doing far more harm to Spielman's chances of remaining employed than anything else.
Spielman needs to realize this and move on. ASAP.
Let's hope for his sake he already has come to this conclusion but, for right now, just doesn't want to share it.