The trade of Matt Cassel, which will be official on Tuesday, took one of their veterans away. The rumor mill has been running rampant as to who might be the veteran replacement in the free agent crop.
Shaun Hill’s name has been mentioned. So has Tarvaris Jackson’s. Given the brief history he had with Norv Turner, if the price isn’t too steep, Brian Hoyer could be a possibility, but he is getting interest elsewhere and that is sure to drive up the price, even for a backup. Austin Davis might get a sniff.
But one name that isn’t being mentioned – and likely won’t – is that of Christian Ponder. At season’s end, players were cleaning out their lockers. Many of them were leaving a lot of photos, equipment and personal items behind because they knew that, once OTAs begin, they’ll be back in those same lockers.
Ponder was basically cleaning everything out of his because, without it being stated by the Vikings, the intention was clear that he likely isn’t coming back. By all accounts, to date, the Vikings have made no effort to contact either Ponder or his agent about potentially coming back as a veteran backup to Bridgewater.
In his own way, Ponder seemed resigned to the fact that it’s all over for him in Minnesota.
“At this point, it may be best for both the Vikings and myself to make a clean break,” Ponder said. “Both of us are probably looking for a fresh start. They see Teddy as the future of the franchise at quarterback and I’m looking to get a new start. You never say never in this business, but I’d have to say things pretty much look like they’re over.”
Ponder’s Vikings career was never at the elite level general manager Rick Spielman believed it would be when he drafted Ponder with the 12th pick in the 2011 draft. At the time, he was the fourth quarterback to come off the board and there wouldn’t be another until Andy Dalton went early in the second round.
Compounding Ponder’s problems was that the year he was drafted, the NFL and the players association were locked in a work squabble that precluded rookies from working out with their new teams during the offseason. Typically, by the time training camp begins, coaches have spent hundreds of hours with their first-round rookie quarterbacks – inundating them with information, schooling them on their offense and breaking down game tape on defensive tendencies.
Ponder had none of that. Workouts were done on their own by players without any team representatives being involved. The first serious work he got with the coaching staff came after the lockout ended on the eve of training camps opening.
When Donovan McNabb proved to be a mediocre veteran option at best, the torch was passed to Ponder. He would lead the Vikings to the playoffs in his only full season as a starter, but his many critics will be quick to point out that the best thing he did was turn around and hand the ball to Adrian Peterson, who ran for 2,097 yards in 2012.
While the focus of the Vikings fan base will be on the NFL maturation of Bridgewater and the high hopes that he brings for the future, as of Tuesday, when the new league year begins, Ponder will officially no longer be a Viking. While many fans will be pleased with that, Ponder can only ponder what could have been.
“You always wish things were different if they don’t go as you had planned,” Ponder said. “I wanted things to go better than they did and I’m sure the organization wanted to see more out of me. You can’t let it eat at you, because I did the best I could, but it just didn’t work out anywhere close to what I had hoped for. And probably what the organization hoped for, too. Maybe it will be better for all of us just to go our separate ways and each get a fresh start.”
The Ponder era will likely be remembered more from the booing of fans than the cheers he provided. In the short memory of the NFL, the Vikings are looking forward with Teddy Football and not backward to the Ponder experiment.
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