NFL.com’s Jason LaCanfora, citing team sources, reported that the Minnesota Vikings would name rookie first round 2011 NFL Draft pick Christian Ponder as starting quarterback. The move was expected of the 1-5 Vikings after their slow start.
Head coach Leslie Frazier welcomed veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb to the team in an effort to squeeze one more playoff run, or at least respectability, from the current Vikings roster. That strategy has not paid off.
Denial is the last deception. The last shred of Donovan McNabb’s self-deception that he was a football rainmaker fell at Soldier Field Sunday night. While McNabb’s performance was not quite bad, it was not good enough to lift a team with flaws. The Chicago Bears crushed the Vikings 39-10 and crushed McNabb’s relevance to his team.
The Vikings selected Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the last draft. They inserted him late in the Bears game as an audition for the starting role. Ponder looked good on HDTV. His stats were less than McNabb’s performance for the evening, however.
The Vikings gave Ponder light work in preseason. He completed 27 of 49 passes for one touchdown. Expect him to struggle under live fire initially. Ponder becomes the fourth QB drafted this year to be named the starter for his team. While Cam Newton has exploded out of the gate, fellow rookie Andy Dalton is the 18th-ranked quarterback for the surprising Cincinnati Bengals. Rookie Blaine Gabbert is the 32nd-ranked quarterback for the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Vikings face Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in their next outing.
Frazier was careful not to point fingers at McNabb for the blowout loss to Chicago. The Vikings defense, for example, could not get past Chicago’s maligned offensive line to pressure QB Jay Cutler. But, Minnesota lost even when McNabb played well, when he attempted 30 or more passes. Off-field factors played into the decision as well.
The Vikings are campaigning for public funds for a new football stadium in a State that shut down government offices over its budget. The Vikings need Minnesota voters who are Vikings fans to care enough about the players and the team’s prospects to push approval by the Legislature. Without a fresh Super Bowl run, the Vikings’ next best option is to push players who will be around to star in that new stadium. Ponder fits that profile.
News of the switch breaks on the same day that the Oakland Raiders announced a blockbuster trade for QB Carson Palmer, closing out the remote chance for McNabb to join a team with immediate need for a starting quarterback.
It is surely a hard day for the McNabb household to see the family breadwinner benched for Kevin Kolb, Rex Grossman, and now a rookie. There is a fair chance the McNabb could start again with the Vikings, but that is out of his control. Ponder has to flame out or be injured first. McNabb restructured his Redskins contract when he signed with Minnesota. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Releasing him early would be painless to the team.
Donovan McNabb is a proud man who might prefer not to be a clipboard holder for the rest of the season. The Vikings may quietly release him as a classy thing to do. That play could be McNabb’s last call.