The history of the Minnesota Vikings seems riddled with missed opportunities at the quarterback position. The one that sticks out to me most was when they successfully cashed in on Daunte Culpepper by shipping him to Miami, but then ignoring the fact that Drew Brees could actually be acquired without losing any draft picks at all. That one still stings, to me.
Due to an injury that season, however, Brees was anything but a “sure thing.” The Chargers offered their starter an incentivized contract which was a clear signal that they were not convinced he could return and continue to play at a high level. Brees ultimately signed with New Orleans, however, and he has amassed some the greatest passing totals the league has ever seen (and a Super Bowl ring).
These opportunities to sign a relatively young quarterback, who has shown some ability to win in the NFL, don’t come along very often. Usually they come with some extreme doubt (Peyton Manning’s neck) or some sort of baggage (Mike Vick’s… ummm… issues), and the risk is often too much for a conservative front office to stomach.
In the case of Josh Freeman, and his recent release from the Tampa Bay Bucs, Rick Spielman and the Vikings need to decide if the free agent quarterback is just another wasted talent that will soon be irrelevant, or a talented signal-caller capable of leading a team to greatness. Greg Schiano of the Bucs obviously thinks Freeman doesn’t have what it takes, but Schiano also isn’t currently in a position to be deemed sane, let alone a good judge of character.
Freeman’s standout season was 2010, when he started all 16 games and threw for 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He showed up in a couple of big games and appeared to be well on his way to stardom, with broadcasters raving about him at any given chance. 2011 was a disappointment, however, but he improved during the 2012 season. His improvement wasn’t enough to save his head coach’s job, though, and it is crystal clear that Schiano is ready to move on without him.
What teams like the Vikings need to determine is simple: Is Freeman capable of playing like he did in 2010 or was that just a mirage? Now that Freeman is able to be had at a relatively minimal investment, some team will endeavor to find out the answer to that question.
Acquiring a guy like Freeman would put the Vikings in an awkward position. “Starter” Christian Ponder would surely feel slighted by the move and Matt Cassel would clearly see the writing on the wall, too. Meanwhile, McLeod Bethel-Thompson is someone the Vikings have invested a lot of time into developing and they might not be too eager to send him packing.
What the front office has to realize, however, is that they are about five months away from having to invest heavily, once again, in the quarterback position. Cassel’s contract option puts him basically on a one-year deal, while Ponder has a long ways to go before he can prove he’s dependable, let alone capable. Today’s NFL, simply put, demands more out of the quarterback position than these two have to offer.
The presence of these three quarterbacks, and perhaps the desire to further evaluate them, might make Minnesota a good landing spot for Freeman. It is very difficult to join an NFL team and immediately become their mid-season starter, and no team should expect that upon signing Freeman. Instead, they should let him get acclimated, get to know him as a person and as a quarterback, and do their due diligence on him to see if he might be reliable for 2014 and beyond. After starting the season 1-3, and facing a very tough schedule down the stretch, I would see little downside in the Vikings taking such an approach.
The worst that could happen is the Vikings add another name to their growing list of failed quarterback experiments, and after so many years of being desensitized to that I would be willing to just say: Hey, at least this one didn’t cost us any picks.