MINNEAPOLIS -- Welcome to another edition of "What If" Wednesdays, where we take a peek in the funhouse mirror to show how things might have changed if a key moment in Vikings history had gone differently.
(The keener observers among you will note that today is Thursday, not Wednesday. I'm not trying to deprive you of your progress toward the weekend; I just didn't get a chance to post this while we were wrapping up our ESPN NFL Nation summit in Bristol and traveling back to our respective locales. So call this a special Thursday edition of "What If" Wednesday.)
For today's edition, we've only got to go back to the spring of 2009, when the Vikings held the 22nd overall pick. They liked Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman, as general manager Rick Spielman confirmed when the Vikings signed Freeman to a one-year, $2 million deal last fall. They were in need of a quarterback, but so were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Freeman went there with the 17th overall pick, instead of lasting until the Vikings could have taken him.
Would all that have happened if the Vikings had drafted Freeman? It's hard to say, but tempting to think about. Favre seemed to have an itch to play for the Vikings and stick it to the Green Bay Packers ever since the team decided to trade him instead of giving him his old job back in the summer of 2008. As surreal as it would have been to see Favre giving another first-round pick a chance to develop behind him after he famously bristled at the idea of mentoring Aaron Rodgers, it might have been tough for the Vikings to draft Freeman and also bring in Favre. If Freeman had lasted until No. 22, it's possible the Vikings don't get Favre, and the wild ride of 2009 that went with him.
It's almost certain, however, they don't get Harvin under this scenario. Would Freeman have been able to develop without a dynamic young wideout? Would Sidney Rice have blossomed like he did in 2009 with Favre? If Freeman had eventually fizzled in Minnesota like he did in Tampa Bay, and the Vikings didn't have Harvin to juice their offense, their next few seasons might have looked very different, especially without the 2009 NFC title game run to prolong the tenures of coach Brad Childress and general manager (then VP of player personnel) Rick Spielman. It's possible Freeman would have put together some good years in Minnesota, especially with a team that had gone to the playoffs the year before with Tarvaris Jackson, but the experience of 2009 centered around one man, and it wouldn't have been nearly as rich without Favre.
We could follow this one down a number of different threads, and we won't venture too much further down the rabbit hole with it, but knowing what we know about Spielman's three-year plan for quarterback development, the Vikings likely wouldn't have drafted Christian Ponder in 2011 if they'd taken Freeman just two years earlier. When would they have come up in a search for another quarterback? Would Adrian Peterson have felt good enough about all of it to sign his seven-year, $100 million extension in 2011? Without the energy of Favre's run in 2009, the Vikings could have gone in any number of different directions.
As Freeman prepares to hit free agency after a disjointed 11-week stretch with the Vikings, we'll close with Spielman's logic about why it made sense for the Vikings to sign him at all last October: It gave them a chance to observe a quarterback they had liked in the 2009 draft, at little cost to them. While we can debate the soundness of that reasoning, it's no stretch at all to say that if Freeman was going to fizzle in Minnesota, it was certainly better to have that happen in 2013 than if it had precluded the Vikings for their unforgettable season with Favre.