EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The question of who told whom about which quarterback was playing in which game will be debated as long as the 2013 Minnesota Vikings are interesting to people. Before he was fired, Leslie Frazier said he consulted general manager Rick Spielman and ownership before every quarterback change he made. Spielman corroborated that on Monday, but stressed the point that the final call was Frazier's, and that the coach needed to trust the front office would back any decision he made.
Whether Frazier was acting on his own when he gave so many games to Christian Ponder or acting under subtle pressure from Spielman to play the quarterback taken with the 12th pick in the 2011 draft, we'll probably never know. Frazier said earlier this month the Vikings needed to go through "the process" with Ponder, to see if he could iron out his inconsistencies, and Spielman said Ponder "actually played pretty well" when he got the starting job back in early November. Candor is at a premium in press conference settings, and now that Frazier has no more of those to conduct as the Vikings coach, it's tough to discern whether he made the decision on his own to stick with Ponder, or if he toed the company line despite needing wins to save his job.
What is clear at this point, though, is that Spielman is solely, completely, irrevocably responsible for the quarterback situation. He took the heat for personnel decisions at the position when he talked in November, and after Frazier was fired on Monday, Spielman was as frank as he was at any point in the press conference when talking about the quarterbacks.
"I haven't got it right yet. We've worked as hard as we could to try to get that right," Spielman said. "I tried to use as many outside sources as I can. I'm not afraid to look at experts in that particular area. I'm going to rely heavily on our head coach and whoever our offensive coordinator is and whoever our quarterbacks [coach] is and they're going to be heavily involved in this process. A lot of it has to do with, too, making sure that that quarterback fits in the system that you're trying to run. I wish that you could get a quarterback as easy as it is (sic) and it's not, it's maybe the most difficult position to fill, but we're going to do everything and use every resource we can to try to get that corrected."
Spielman can talk about, and should employ, a partnership with his next head coach in resolving the Vikings' quarterback mess. But in the end, he'll be talking with a head coach he's vetted about a quarterback he's acquired. There's no way around that, and he seems to know it.
His admission the Vikings haven't gotten the quarterback position right would also seem to be an admission, at last, that Ponder isn't the solution. Ponder said he hoped to talk to Spielman about his future with the team before departing for the offseason on Monday, but he added he wanted to compete for a starting job, whether that was in Minnesota or somewhere else. Ponder is signed for the 2014 season, but his chance to start in Minnesota would appear slim.
"I didn't play well enough to keep the job and for us to win as many games as we should have. So it stinks knowing that was a contribution to what happened," Ponder said. "This is what I'm familiar with. These guys my teammates, the ones I have a relationship and this is where I'd like to continue to be. But ultimately I want a shot to be a starter. So if that's not here then I'll have to find somewhere else."
Ponder said it wouldn't surprise him to see the Vikings draft a quarterback in the first round, and if the team did that, it would be even tougher to envision Ponder returning in 2014. Matt Cassel could be back as a bridge to a new quarterback, and it might not fit to have Cassel, Ponder and a rookie on the same roster.
Whatever happens going forward at the quarterback position, there will be no doubt about who bears responsibility for it. Spielman's spotty track record in picking quarterbacks is the biggest blemish on his résumé. If it's a mild surprise that he's still here to correct the Ponder decision, he'll have to be much better with his next quarterback call to ensure he sticks around.