Christian Ponder had an up-and-down second NFL season, as he lead the Minnesota Vikings to a 4-1 start, then had a lackluster middle part of the season before turning things around late in the regular season to help the team earn a playoff berth.
The arm injury that prevented Ponder from playing in Minnesota’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers exposed one of the main weaknesses on the roster. Backup quarterback Joe Webb proved he is not a NFL-caliber signal caller throughout that game, and an argument can be made he has regressed since entering the league in 2010. Adding someone who can more capably fill in, if not legitimately compete with Ponder for the starting job, has to be among general manager Rick Spielman‘s priorities this offseason. Current third-string quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson could theoretically swap spots with Webb on the depth chart, but looking outside the organization for a more proven option looks like the best course of action.
The Vikings have publicly committed to Ponder as their starting quarterback heading into the 2013 season, and given the success of this past season, it would be hard to justify another way of thinking. It will be a pivotal third season in the league for him next season, and if a needed overhaul of the team’s wide receiver group occurs, his chances for success go way up.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune has suggested the Vikings will not look for a quarterback to compete with Ponder for the starting job, but an upgrade over Webb as his backup will be sought. Among the free agent options mentioned are Rex Grossman, Jason Campbell, Byron Leftwich, Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart and Matt Moore. All have starting experience in the NFL, but none are particularly exciting options.
If the Vikings want to see an example of how a young quarterback’s progress can be stunted by failing to adequately address a backup quarterback situation, they can look no further than the New York Jets. Mark Sanchez started his career by leading the Jets to two straight AFC Championship Games, but has clearly regressed over the last two years. Sanchez definitely deserves blame for his poor play, but with a past-his-prime Mark Brunell as his backup from 2009-2011, and then the Tim Tebow circus coming to town this past season, the Jets’ front office didn’t do him any favors.
Adding Tebow obviously brought a distraction to the Jets that is not a factor in Minnesota, but how the Jets failed to push their young quarterback should be something Spielman and Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier keep in mind going forward. I don’t think adding someone to potentially compete with Ponder for the starting job would be a reflection of a lack of faith in him within the organization, and simply adding a token backup with a recognizable name is not enough.