Ever since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released him last week, Josh Freeman had been a hot commodity among teams seeking a reliable quarterback. Maybe “reliable” isn’t the word here, given how tumultuous Freeman’s last days in Tampa Bay ended. But several desperate NFL clubs were willing to take a chance on him if it means salvaging their season.
The Minnesota Vikings proved to be the most attractive destination since Freeman signed with them today. The deal is a one-year, $3 million contract, with the 25-year-old reportedly wanting to only sign for one season instead of two. He picked Minnesota over the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.
The obvious thought that comes to mind here is how the Vikings quarterback situation will play out. Coming off of a rib injury, Christian Ponder is the incumbent starter and the supposed QB of the future. But since being taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Florida State product has never been truly impressive. 2013 has been especially bad since he’s thrown for 691 yards, 2 TD’s, 5 INT”s, and fumbled twice in three starts.
Matt Cassel is the other option, and he led the Vikings to their first win of the year just before Minnesota’s bye week. He racked up 248 yards and 2 touchdowns after completing 16-of-25 passes. Most importantly, he didn’t have any turnovers, which is something that’s plagued Ponder.
Enter Freeman, who compiled very good numbers with the Buccaneers in the first four years of his career. He had 12,090 yards, 76 TD’s, 54 INT’s and a 59.1 completion percentage. But as mentioned before, things fell apart since he missed important team functions and didn’t get along with second-year head coach Greg Schiano. One week after losing his starting job to rookie Mike Glennon, Freeman was cut loose by the Bucs.
Now in Minnesota, Freeman doesn’t figure to start right away. Head coach Leslie Frazier has already said that either Ponder or Cassel will start against the Carolina Panthers. But the Vikings certainly aren’t paying Freeman $3 million for three-quarters of a season to be a bench warmer. He’s been brought in to compete for the starting job and take over if Ponder continues to falter.
Frazier even hinted at this by saying, “That’s part of the equation. That’s definitely on the table. We’ll see how well he progresses and how well he picks up our offense.”
However, he also alluded to the fact that Ponder still has an opportunity to retain the job. “I think Christian still has a bright future here with our football team,” he said. “It may not look like that on the surface, but Christian is a professional. He’s going to work as hard as he can every day to prepare and get back on the field and help our team win.”
As mentioned before, Ponder is/was supposed to be the future of this franchise. But with a talent like Adrian Peterson, Minnesota isn’t content to wait another year or two for him to catch on. The team is in a win-now mode since they arguably have the league’s most talented running back.
Seeing as how Peterson is 28 years old, he doesn’t have a lot of prime years left. So this essentially becomes a question of whether or not the Vikings are willing to risk Peterson’s golden years on a chance that Ponder might turn things around. With Freeman now in town, odds are that Minnesota is, instead, betting on the guy who rushed for over 2,000 yards last season.
So now we come to the question of what Freeman can do for the Vikings. With a 1-3 record, this team is already in the hole. And things won’t get any easier since they’re in an extremely tough division which includes Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago.
But Freeman at least provides a slightly better opportunity to win now than Ponder does. Sure the Vikings aren’t getting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees here; but they are getting a five-year veteran who has good arm strength and can put up decent numbers.
Now the big question will be if he can take advantage of having a threat like Peterson in the offense. Opponents constantly have to be aware of number 28 at all times. So this will take some of the pressure off Freeman, perhaps even more so than what Doug Martin did in Tampa Bay.
It’s still early enough in the year for Minnesota to make a turnaround. They are 1.5 games out of the NFC North lead and still have plenty of contests left against their division foes. But Freeman is going to have to play better than ever before to help the Vikings make a playoff run.