Christian Ponder has been many things. He was a first-round draft pick, a starter in his first season and a part-time starter. Now, many consider him a bust.
What he is right now is one big question mark for the Vikings, and a massive marked target for Vikings fans.
In many ways, Ponder has brought it on himself, but at the start of his rookie season he showed both initiative and leadership. The beginning of his NFL career was a challenge, to be sure. With the NFL lockout in full bloom, all he could do after being drafted 12th overall in the spring of 2011 was shake the hands of his new coaches, receive a 24-hour blitz of coaching and high-tail it out of town as the rules required during the lockout.
He tried to make the best of a generally wasted offseason by grabbing a playbook from then-coordinator Bill Musgrave and heading south for workouts at IMG Academy in Florida, inviting teammates he didn't really know to join him for instruction from former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke, just as Cam Newton did as the first overall pick.
But Ponder never had a great veteran mentor, as Donovan McNabb entered the 2011 season as the starter and requested his release once he was benched. There was little to no effort from McNabb to mentor and that couldn't have helped Ponder's progression.
The blame, however, also has to fall on Ponder. Given the chance to seize control of the starting job, he never took full advantage. Injuries and bad decisions (or indecision) have plagued him ever since. He could put together a string of decent games that occasionally had the coaching staff thinking there might be something there to develop. But those occasions were far too few and far too long in between. And when the team needed him most, for their only playoff game of his era to date, he was out with a deep contusion to his triceps.
But there is culpability on the part of the Vikings, too. Most draft analysts believed Ponder was a second-round pick. The desperation of the situation showed when the Vikings selected him after three other quarterbacks – Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert – were all gone.
The Jaguars already gave up on Gabbert and traded him to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick, and he isn't a shoo-in to even make the 49ers' roster.
Three years after his selection, it's clear the Vikings reached for Ponder in an attempt to solve a sore spot on the roster. But would Ponder have had the vitriol of fans if he were selected in the second round?
Maybe that's not the case with the way fans also gave up on Tarvaris Jackson, a late second-round pick, but at least the Vikings presumably would have had a better supporting cast if they had used that first-round pick on a player with better value and then taken a quarterback in the second round.
The mystery now is what the Vikings will do with Ponder this year. Will a new set of coaches – from position coach Scott Turner to coordinator Norv Turner – make a difference and be able to at least salvage him as a worthy backup quarterback? Would Ponder even want to stay in that role after this year or just move on following all the angst built up on both sides?
What is his trade value? If Gabbert was worth a sixth-round pick, that's worth serious consideration for the Vikings, too, with Matt Cassel signed through 2015 and taking up $10.5 million over the next two years, and Teddy Bridgewater looking like the heir apparent sometime in the next year.
Or, as some insiders believe, will the Vikings simply move on and cut Ponder before the season starts if they can't find a trade suitor? He will cost the Vikings $3.23 in cap space this year but would cost $1.47 million if they would trade or cut him.
The Vikings certainly have the room on the salary cap to absorb his salary. They have more than $7 million left under the cap, but a decision to cut Ponder would likely be made more to save a spot on the roster for another player that would contribute more often than a third quarterback likely to be deactivated on most game days.
Is Ponder a bust? Is he simply a backup for the life of his career? Could he still be developed with patient and detailed coaching? Or is he soon to be a former Viking before he reaches the end of his rookie contract?
Those answers all depend on who you ask, but the person being asked will likely have a range of passionate replies, just as Ponder has always elicited ever since the Vikings pulled trigger on his selection in 2011.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sunday slant: The perplexing Ponder path
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