Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is only hours from officially announcing his decision to start Christian Ponder, but Frazier could have made an argument for either decision. The choice for Ponder begins his progression as a starter immediately and calms an increasingly agitated fan base.
The quarterback decision has been made and the factors weighed. Christian Ponder
moves from quarterback of the future to quarterback now.
Even before Sunday night's humbling defeat at the hands of the Bears, the Vikings were in a position to make a switch. They could cling briefly to the hope that they could replicate the 1992 Chargers, who got off to a 1-4 start and made the playoffs (even winning a game once they got there), but no team has ever made the playoffs after getting off to a 1-5 start and the future would be closer to the present than anyone could have imagined when Rick Spielman ran onto the practice field at Mankato waving his finger in the air to signal that Donovan McNabb could officially start practicing.
There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. While head coach Leslie Frazier keeps his opinions close to the vest, there were reasons to keep McNabb in the starting lineup (for now) and reasons to bench him. The decision has been made, but these are the factors that came into play.
WHY KEEP MCNABB AS THE STARTER?
This week's opponent. The Packers are the best team in the league and the last thing a head coach with a rookie quarterback wants is to throw him to a hungry, aggressive defense that will do whatever is needed to pressure and confuse Ponder. McNabb is a wily veteran who has seen just about everything there is to see from opposing defenses. If anyone is going to take a pounding, it should be the guy who knows what the defense is going bring.
Making the switch now could be interpreted as a sign of surrender. While the fans have all but written off the McNabb experiment as an abject failure, Frazier and the coaching staff got the players to buy into it. McNabb did nothing to stop the bleeding Sunday night, but he completed just about every pass he threw and didn't allow the Bears offense to gash the Vikings or allow Devin Hester to run wild.
The more logical time to make a switch at QB would have been when the Vikings head into their bye in two weeks. It would give Ponder more of a chance for preparation before heading into Lambeau Field and give him time taking first-team reps with his receivers. It would be a cleaner transition than to make the switch now on what is a slightly shorter week given the team's Sunday night game.
Loyalty. The Vikings traded for McNabb and essentially told him that he was coming in for a one-year deal and that he wouldn't have to look over his shoulder. While McNabb has done nothing to keep the job, Frazier gave him his word.
WHY INSERT PONDER AS STARTER?
In many instances, bringing in a new quarterback can provide a spark to a team – giving them the feeling of a fresh start. If the Vikings ever needed a boost emotionally, it will be playing against the Packers.
It will stop the booing. The fans have made their feelings abundantly clear. They have seen enough of Donny. Even as the Vikings were pounding Arizona in the last home game, McNabb was routinely booed. If the Vikings introduce the offense prior to Sunday's game and Ponder runs out of the inflatable Vikings ship, the fans will go berserk. If McNabb would have remained the starter, the Vikings likely would have introduced the defense so as to avoid the booing.
The dream of making the playoffs is all but over. If the Vikings lose to the Packers Sunday, it would drop Green Bay's magic number to two to eliminate the Vikings from division title contention, although that has seemingly been a foregone conclusion for the past couple of weeks or more. The goal of the second half of the season should be geared toward building to the future and assessing the young players on the roster to make informed decisions moving forward.
The investment. There were a lot of draft analysts that thought the Vikings reached to take Ponder as high as they did on draft day. You don't take a quarterback with a premium pick to sit him unless you have an established veteran that is playing at a high level. Clearly McNabb isn't. The QB of the future tag comes off and he becomes the QB of the present.
Frazier has made his decision already, but despite all the evidence he won't go public until 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. He could have made a case for both sides of the argument. His decision to sit No. 5 and start No. 7 is a hat tip to the fans' wishes and allows Ponder to immediately begin carving out his own legacy – for better or worse.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.