QB Or Not QB

Ever since the day the Vikings drafted Tarvaris Jackson, the team has done nothing to supplement with legitimate challenges to his starting job. He was handed the starting job last season and the team hasn't done anything to take that away in the two free-agent periods since. It would seem Brad Childress has tied his coaching future to Jackson. Is that a wise decision?

With all the changes that have happened to the Vikings' roster since the end of the 2006 season, one that has surprisingly gone untouched is that of quarterback.

Following the 2006 season, it was clear Brad Johnson was going to be sent packing. The veteran wanted out and the Vikings were more than willing to accommodate him. At the time, it was felt the Vikings would have a backup plan, such as signing free agent Jeff Garcia. The rationale made sense, since Garcia was familiar with the Eagles offense that Brad Childress ran and brought to the Vikings when hired as head coach in January 2006. But the Vikings expressed little to no interest in Garcia, as well as released QB David Carr or trade-available QB Matt Schaub.

The Vikings didn't want Tarvaris Jackson looking over his shoulder and feared that if he was handed the starting job and was replaced, it could shatter his confidence. The only move the Vikings made at QB heading into last year was trading for veteran Kelly Holcomb on the eve of the final roster cuts. They were going to sink or swim with Jackson.

It can be argued the level to which the Vikings succeeded with that decision. Jackson was 8-4 as a starter, but rarely did enough to put the offense on his shoulders or impose his will on a game. Jackson supporters point to the record as a starter, but on the flip side, it can be contended that Kyle Orton went 10-5 as a starter with the Bears in 2005 and nobody believes he is a bona fide NFL starter. Like Orton, skeptics believe the Vikings won despite T-Jack, not because of him.

As the offseason neared, the talk about the Vikings and the quarterback position centered on the potential that they could swing a blockbuster deal to get Donovan McNabb out of the Eagles, but for now anyway it would appear as though McNabb and Philly have made their peace for the short-term and that he isn't going anywhere this offseason.

Whether the Vikings believed a deal could be done or not, the organization did nothing to go after the anemic crop of free-agent quarterbacks available. A weak crop got weaker when the Browns re-signed Derek Anderson and most of the backup QBs available were quickly snapped up. By this time, the only QB with any tangible starting experience still on the market is Daunte Culpepper and it's unlikely that the Vikings and Pepp will make a truce and get back together.

No position on the field is more important than quarterback. Just ask Packers fans. They went from being one of the favorites to return to the NFC Championship Game to a question mark to simply repeat as NFC North champs with the retirement of Brett Favre. Teams like the Dolphins, Broncos and Cowboys haven't made a deep playoff run since the retirements of Dan Marino, John Elway and Troy Aikman, respectively. The teams that have made deep runs into the playoffs have, by and large, had top-end quarterbacks running the show, including former first-rounders Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and even Rex Grossman. Those teams identified the need for a top-rated quarterback and had their investment matched by on-field success.

Owner Zygi Wilf has shown patience with Childress and is committed to backing his head coach. However, he is also committed to winning and, if the Vikings take a step backward this season, Childress' job will be far from safe. He has staked his head coaching reputation and legacy on the arms and legs of T-Jack – almost stubbornly insisting that Jackson can be everything he envisioned he would be when the Vikings traded a pair of third-round draft picks to move up into the end of the second round to take him in the 2006 draft.

As we head into the next phase of free agency and the preparation phase of the draft, the Vikings again find themselves with just two quarterbacks on their roster – Jackson and Brooks Bollinger – the same two they had at the end of the 2006 season when they cut Johnson. Are they better off for that decision? Only time will tell, but it looks like Childress has hitched his wagon to Jackson – for better or worse – and his coaching career may well rise and fall on what No. 7 does on the field this season.

It's one thing for a coach to hook his legacy to one of the Mannings or a Matt Leinart or Roethlisberger. But seeing as the coaches who drafted Leinart and Big Ben are both out of the league, it begs the question – is Childress' head coaching career worth placing in the hands of Jackson? He seems to think so.

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