Reasons (or Excuses) Christian Ponder Will Be the Starting Quarterback in 2014 for the Minnesota Vikings
The 2013 NFL season has yet to officially start, and speculation on how long Christian Ponder is at the helm of the Minnesota Vikings offense is already heavily suggesting he will be replaced mid-season by backup Matt Cassel. Odds are good that not only does this change not happen, but Ponder hangs around for another year, even with a sub-par 2013 season. Here’s why I think he hangs around (in no particular order).
1) We (Still) Don’t Have An Ample Sample Of What He Is Capable Of
Ponder’s career got a rocky start after being thrust mid-season into a starting role after the miserable Donovan McNabb experiment. The NFL lockout led to an abbreviated preseason that kept the rookie signal caller from working with the team and getting to know the offense. Fans and the team wrote off his rookie campaign to inexperience with a shortened preseason hindering his development.
Ponder started off strong early in the 2012 season, struggled down the stretch, and ended the season on a high note; and was ultimately kept from participating in the playoffs by an injury to his throwing arm. This is a very obvious mixed bag for those trying to judge his capabilities. Quarterbacks drafted to be starters are generally given a leash of 2-3 seasons before the plug is pulled, and it can be argued that last season was truly his “first” season to prove himself. Anticipate at least one to two more seasons before all hope is lost by the team
2) Front Office/Coaching Staff Pride
Selecting a player in the first round of the NFL Draft says a lot about what the team and their scouts believe a player can be. Ponder’s controversial two seasons with the Vikings started with the team drafting him at #12 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Critics immediately shouted that he was selected too high, and many of them continue to believe that is true.
The simple fact that the Vikings Front Office used a high first round pick means they will likely ride the Ponder train until it fully derails (or gets up to speed). For management and a coaching staff to back out this early on an investment that is supposed to last at least 5-7 years; they would be publicly admitting a level of incompetence in grading player potential. This leaves them with egg on their face, with no heir apparent for the position, and sets them up to the task of trying not to swing and miss again (an experience fans still lament with the Troy Williamson bust of 2005).
Pride and sticking to your guns are a big part of the NFL. You don’t have to go much further than Brad Childress to see an example of pride and stubbornness leading to the ship going down in flames. Childress’s “Kick Ass Offense” and belief that Tarvaris Jackson was NFL starting quarterback material led to his demise and a couple seasons of sub .500 play for the Vikings.
3) He’ll Do “Just Enough” This Season (And/Or Adrian Peterson Has Another Banner Year)
The phrase “flashes of brilliance” seems to be synonymous with the name Christian Ponder since his NFL debut. The question is, at what point are those “flashes” not enough? Last season, Ponder started out with some very impressive statistics that included a couple of exciting drives that set up late-game wins for his team. In following games, Ponder would completely lay an egg. He posted three games with less than 100 passing yards in the 2012 season, with his worst being a chucklesome 58-yard game against the Arizona Cardinals (that the Vikings still managed to win, somehow).
Critics and supporters of Christian Ponder alike will readily admit is that he is not a cannon-armed gunslinger. With someone like Adrian Peterson in the backfield, he doesn’t necessarily need to be. Even with an incredibly inconsistent 2012 season, the team made the playoffs. That matters more to fans than the stat line for their quarterback. If Ponder makes even a slight improvement in the passing game with continued “flashes” (which shouldn’t be hard with an improved receiving core), Adrian Peterson has another solid season, and the team is competitive in 2013, the starting quarterback job will remain in the hands of CP.
4) A Key Injury Derails The Season
This is the last thing I want to even think about as a Vikings fan, but it is a very real possibility in the NFL. If a key piece of the offense gets hurt for an extended period of the 2013 season, Christian Ponder likely gets an automatic pass on his performance for the year. This is a sad truth, but as the team still looks at the development process of a young quarterback, a lot of slack will likely be offered if a part of the offensive line or one of the starting wide receivers goes down with injury.
Similarly, if the running game suffers an injury, it will likely be suggested the offense wasn’t running as it was designed (giving Ponder a pass). This is completely counter-intuitive to how most NFL starting quarterbacks are looked at, but there seems to be a desire by the team to coddle Ponder as he continues to adjust to the NFL.
5) Ponder Gets Hurt
This one is pretty obvious. If Ponders sees a period of at least 2-3 games on the bench, or even plays injured for a handful of games, expectations will automatically be lowered for his 2013 performance. The lowered expectations will, in turn, keep him around for the starting role into 2014.
6) The New Stadium/New Era
This one is a little more “conspiracy theory” than the rest, but entirely possible. The Vikings will be spending two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium building excitement to open a brand new complex in 2016. In anticipation of making a big splash with their new building, the Vikings hold on to the status quo (“flashes of brilliance” guy) while they find and groom a new starter to take over in 2016.
The 2016 season will be near the end of Adrian Peterson’s current deal (and likely the beginning of his downward slide in performance as age begins to become a reality), and many of the team’s young players should be entering their prime. This sets up a situation for a well-groomed young quarterback to take the reigns and complete the puzzle.
For the true cynics in the audience, this same tactic also gives the team the opportunity to continue to grow and develop the remainder of the offense and defense and snag a veteran quarterback at his prime. This seems to be the recurring path the Vikings have taken (i.e. Brett Favre, Randall Cunningham, Brad Johnson, Warren Moon, etc.).
Ultimately, I hope the reason he is the starting quarterback going into the 2014 season is because he improved his game this season, and not one of the other reasons I listed. Let the season ahead offer that verdict. SKOL!