Vikings Reportedly Comfortable with Unpopular Option

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The Minnesota Vikings were forced to overhaul their quarterback room in the offseason once Kirk Cousins departed after six seasons under center. In addition to the returning passers, Jaren Hall and Nick Mullens, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah acquired Sam Darnold in free agency and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy in the first round of the draft.

Vikings Reportedly Comfortable with Unpopular Option

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Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) warms up before Ohio State game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

In the upcoming four months, before the season begins, the organization must determine a starting quarterback. Will it be the veteran with a history of shaky play but solid performances in the last couple of seasons or the tenth overall pick who is supposed to be the franchise’s future but might need some time?

Darnold entered the league in the 2018 draft when the Jets selected him third overall. His arm talent was intriguing, but he never developed into the franchise QB New York hoped for. The awful surroundings, with subpar coaching and supporting cast, surely didn’t help him improve. That trend continued in Carolina. After showing some flashes in 2022, the 49ers signed him as Brock Purdy’s backup, where he also played well in limited action.

Vikings Reportedly Comfortable with Unpopular Option
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The 26-year-old drew some interest around the league in free agency before the Vikings snatched him for a one-year $10 million deal. Kevin O’Connell and the Vikings staff seem to like the veteran. Albert Breer from reported:

Not for nothing, I think the Vikings are pretty comfortable with Sam Darnold playing quarterback, which gives them flexibility with J.J. McCarthy. I’d also expect that Kevin O’Connell will have a detailed set of markers for McCarthy to hit as he tries to compete to become the starter. So if he does, that’s great news for the team. And if he hits the normal rookie speedbumps, that’s O.K. too, with Darnold in tow.

Albert Breer

The Vikings are Darnold’s best chance to succeed with a trio of exciting pass catchers (once T.J. Hockenson is healthy) and an offensive-minded head coach who helped Nick Mullens and Joshua Dobbs to some productive matchups last year.

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His major flaw has always been his tendency to turn the ball over. In 56 career starts, Darnold threw 56 interceptions. He only collected a respectable three picks in his six starts in the 2022 season with the Panthers, and the one interception in 46 pass attempts with the 49ers was also an improvement. He hopes to continue to mature and further limit those mistakes.

Rookie McCarthy had impressive success in college in the win column but wasn’t the driving force of his offense. His mobility, rhythm, and arm strength make it easy to see what the Vikings like about him other than his personality, which just showcases his leadership ability. He has also experienced the biggest stage in college football and has always excelled in the most significant moments.

new qb
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One day after McCarthy was added to the roster, ESPN’s Kevin Seifert reported: “The Vikings will follow an individualized development plan they created for each of the quarterbacks they considered drafting, one that requires McCarthy to hit specific benchmarks and gives coach Kevin O’Connell full authority to make the timing decision.”

Seifert called it benchmarks, and Breer used the word markers. They obviously both mean the same thing. He will start once the passer checks all the boxes (his head coach, Kevin O’Connell, will make that decision).

How soon that is the case, though, remains to be seen. In the franchise’s history, no QB has started in Week 1 of his debut season. Darnold should be considered the favorite to take the first snap, but a strong training camp from McCarthy can change that.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt