Image courtesy of Vikings.com

From top to bottom, left to right, we will be surveying the NFL’s 2015 free agency class and attempting to predict what the Vikings will do to improve their depth chart.

For the first time in a long time, the Vikings have essentially no need at quarterback, with Teddy Bridgewater doing enough in his rookie season to have us all hopeful that he can become one of the greats.  As the Seattle Seahawks have proven, having a young and inexpensive starting quarterback can lead to an era filled with great things, and the Vikings are hoping to duplicate that success with Bridgewater at the helm.

Bridgewater should only count $1.6 million against the 2015 salary cap.  Christian Ponder, the third quarterback on the depth chart, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and it seems unlikely that the Vikings will try to stop him.

If any drama surrounds the Vikings quarterback position this offseason, it will likely involve veteran Matt Cassel.  He is scheduled to carry a cap hit of $4.75 million and is owed a half million dollar roster bonus on the seventh day of the new league year.  Conversely, the Vikings can opt out of the second half of this two-year deal and find a backup replacement, or even try to negotiate Cassel’s return on a lessened salary.

Matt Cassel was our starting quarterback to start 2014 and he is a highly regarded professional that certainly seems to fit the mold of “veteran mentor.”  Still, I can’t help but think the business sense will overrule the perceived upside Cassel brings to the table, and I expect he will be released with the possibility of a return under a new contract.

If Ponder leaves, the Vikings opt out of their Cassel contract, and they want to have four quarterbacks to kick off training camp then they will almost certainly be active in the second and third tiers of free agency.  That happens to work out fairly well, as a “first tier” free agent quarterback doesn’t seem to actually exist.

The list below, with credit to Spotrac, consists of all of the 2015 free agent quarterbacks from oldest to youngest.  The dollar amount shown is the 2014 cap hit that player carries for their current team.

Matt Hasselbeck QB 39 IND TBD $3,750,000 UFA
Shaun Hill QB 35 STL TBD $1,750,000 UFA
Michael Vick QB 34 NYJ TBD $4,000,000 UFA
Jason Campbell QB 33 CIN TBD $1,500,000 UFA
Luke McCown QB 33 NO TBD $635,000 UFA
Kyle Orton QB 32 BUF TBD $4,000,000 UFA
Tarvaris Jackson QB 31 SEA TBD $1,250,000 UFA
Dan Orlovsky QB 31 DET TBD $635,000 UFA
Matt Moore QB 30 MIA TBD $5,500,000 UFA
Jordan Palmer QB 30 TEN TBD $67,058 UFA
Tyler Thigpen QB 30 CLE TBD $33,529 UFA
Brian Hoyer QB 29 CLE TBD $1,250,000 UFA
Matt Flynn QB 29 GB TBD $1,078,750 UFA
Mark Sanchez QB 28 PHI TBD $2,250,000 UFA
Joe Webb QB 28 CAR TBD $635,000 UFA
Colt McCoy QB 28 WAS TBD $635,000 UFA
Josh Johnson QB 28 SF TBD $335,294 UFA
T.J. Yates QB 27 ATL TBD $645,000 UFA
Scott Tolzien QB 27 GB TBD $645,000 UFA
Jimmy Clausen QB 27 CHI TBD $645,000 UFA
Jake Locker QB 26 TEN TBD $4,004,637 UFA
Christian Ponder QB 26 MIN TBD $3,232,313 UFA
Ryan Mallett QB 26 HOU TBD $776,976 UFA
Matt Simms QB 26 NYJ TBD $262,058 RFA
Case Keenum QB 26 HOU TBD $58,235 UFA
Kyle Newhall-Caballero QB 26 OAK TBD RFA
Blaine Gabbert QB 25 SF TBD $2,011,587 UFA
Tyrod Taylor QB 25 BAL TBD $671,327 UFA
Kellen Moore QB 25 DET TBD $576,668 RFA
Austin Davis QB 25 STL TBD $570,000 RFA
Ryan Lindley QB 25 ARI TBD $234,706 UFA
Chester Stewart QB 25 BAL TBD RFA
Tyler Hansen QB 25 CIN TBD RFA
G.J. Kinnie QB NYJ TBD RFA

As I scan this list, I have a few observations to offer up:

JAKE LOCKER:  I would contend that Locker pretty clearly has more potential than any other quarterback on this list.  He was never able to stay healthy in Tennessee and, as a result, was never able to flourish.  I would be shocked if Locker didn’t end up with a starter-needy team looking to create some competition, but it is worth taking the time to cast my vote for “best available.”

BRIAN HOYER:  Here is a guy that has never exactly lit up the NFL in his six seasons of action, but the closest he came was when Norv Turner was overseeing the offense.  His three game stint in 2013 included a 31-27 victory over the Vikings.  He isn’t ever going to be a star quarterback, but his familiarity with Turner’s system could make him a valuable replacement option and a guy that can help our younger offensive talent pick up the playbook.

KYLE ORTON:  He’s on this list, but he has retired.  Just a heads up in case you missed it.

RYAN MALLETT:  Mallet showed some stuff in his first start with the Texans this year.  Then he was terrible against the Bengals and was placed on injured reserve with a chest injury.  I was a big fan of Mallett’s coming out of Arkansas, mainly due to his cannon of an arm, and I could see a team like the Vikings giving him a chance to play the role of primary backup.

JOE WEBB:  I give this a .001% chance of happening or anything, but I wanted to point out his UFA status because I know a great many of his supporters read this site.

MATT FLYNN:  Just imagine for a second what a guy like Mike Zimmer could do with the knowledge that a guy like Matt Flynn possesses.  Zimmer failed to beat the Packers in his first year as head coach of the Vikings and he should consider all options when it comes to taking them down, preferably twice, in 2015.

MATT MOORE:  The last time Matt Moore threw more than 20 passes in a season was 2011.  That season, in Miami, he posted an impressive enough passer rating of 87.1 and has been considered a high-grade backup ever since.  There are certainly guys out there that would make me feel less comfortable to have behind Bridgewater.

BLAINE GABBERT:  In 2011, the Vikings had a pre-Draft dinner with Gabbert, and some rumors circulated after the Draft that Rick Spielman really hoped to select him over Ponder.  Gabbert hasn’t put many positives on tape in the NFL, and it is easy to argue that Ponder was actually the better choice, but if Spielman really did see something he liked out the guy then maybe he ends up on the radar this offseason.

PREDICTION

Teddy Bridgewater is the starter.  There will be no competition.  Isn’t that nice?

After that, things get a little murky.  Despite all the nice things Minnesota’s coaches say about him, I also expect Christian Ponder will be headed elsewhere in search of a rejuvenated career.  With any luck, he’ll sign a solid contract and net the Vikings a compensatory pick.

The biggest question is what they will do with the very well paid Matt Cassel.  My guess, as stated earlier, is that they’ll end up opting out of the final year of his contract and add him to the pool of potential backups worth negotiating with.

The task of filling the depth chart will almost certainly involve Norv Turner’s input and, for that reason, I really like the odds of Brian Hoyer ending up in purple.  After that, I think Matt Flynn’s insight regarding Green Bay’s offensive makeup could make him a very attractive option to a sophomore head coach that went 1-5 within the NFC North in 2014.

I would expect one veteran signing, even it involves a guy with no foreseen dots to connect, in addition to a lower-level quarterback signing (or two if they spend no picks on the position in May) that provide depth and camp arms.