In a circuitous conversation with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner on Thursday, perhaps one line about the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback situation stood head and shoulders above his other answers on the quarterback topic.
Turner was asked a straightforward question with a telling answer: Can you win in the NFL without a franchise quarterback?
"The guys I've been around that are so-called franchise quarterbacks weren't considered franchise quarterbacks until they started winning, so you've got to get a guy in that everyone believes in and you start out and put good people around them and find out how far you can go," Turner said.
Last offseason, the Vikings unrelentingly pushed the idea that Christian Ponder was the undisputed starter, referencing a good final month of the 2012 season as proof why he should be. Vikings players backed the organizational decision with their words, but it never appeared to have rock solid backing. So when Turner says the Vikings have to "get a guy in that everyone believes in," it signals a trait of the new blood they seek at the position – strong, confident leadership that earns the starting role by performance.
The offensive coordinator has had plenty of winning quarterbacks – Troy Aikman, Philip Rivers and Brad Johnson among them – but it's a near certainty that the Vikings will be looking for their own version.
The Vikings have the eighth pick in the NFL draft and might have a chance at one of the three quarterbacks largely considered the cream of the quarterback crop. There is Johnny Manziel, the elusive scrambler who has found a way to win despite his less-than-ideal size. There is Blake Bortles, the far less mobile pocket passer with the ideal stature. And there is Teddy Bridgewater, the efficient, pro-style quarterback from Louisville.
All three of them might be gone by the time the Vikings select at No. 8, but there is little doubt they will be seeking a quarterback at some point in the early rounds of the draft.
"Quarterbacks come from a lot of different spots. A third-rounder went to the Super Bowl and there are some pretty good players that weren't drafted high," Turner said. "I think everyone is in agreement that we are trying to add a young quarterback to the organization. We just have to make sure it's a good one wherever we get him."
Just as the timing of when to pick a quarterback won't be limited to the first round for the Vikings, Turner realizes that successful quarterbacks these days can come in a variety of different sizes and skill sets.
"I think this league has gotten to a point where the mental part of it is really, really critical. Guys that can grasp concepts, who can make quick decisions, guys who understand how to play the game – that is easier said than done," he said. "After that, the physical skill set it takes to play, and to me accuracy is as important as any skill in terms being a passer.
"You look at all the great passers in there, the starting point is that they have great accuracy. People get caught up in arm strength, but I think when a guy is open, being able to hit him. And I think that guys are able to play under the culmination of physical pressure of playing the game and the mental pressure of playing the game."
The only Vikings quarterback currently under contract for 2014 is Ponder. When the Vikings selected him at No. 12 overall in 2011, they raved about his mental acuity, but he has struggled to translate book smarts into consistently smart decisions on the field.
Matt Cassel entered the 2013 season as the backup to Ponder, but when Ponder faltered the Vikings turned to Cassel a couple of times and he ended up starting six games. But even as a nine-year veteran, Cassel made some costly mistakes and is expected to opt out of the 2014 portion of his contract.
Despite the importance of the position, Turner realizes the team will have to support a developing quarterback with enough surrounding talent.
"First of all, it's a given that you have to get a guy that has the skill set that you need. And then to me, the guys that come on the fastest are the ones that come into a good situation, a situation with good people around him," Turner said. "And obviously we just talked about it, when you have the No. 1 defense in the league, it's easier to play the quarterback position [a reference to Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks]."
The Vikings have some young, emerging targets for whoever is their quarterback in 2014. There is speedy receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who came on strong in the offense at the end of the season with veterans Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson in the stable of receivers. Kyle Rudolph might also further his career under Turner, as the coordinator has thrived with players like Jay Novacek and Antonio Gates in his offenses.
But there are few things more comforting for a young quarterback than being able to have the running threat like Adrian Peterson.
"Having a runner like Adrian can and should be able to help a young quarterback," Turner said.
By now, it should be apparent that the Vikings will be acquiring a new quarterback. Now the only question is this: who?
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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