MINNEAPOLIS -- Welcome to the offseason.
Well, officially the Minnesota Vikings have been there since Dec. 30. But now that they've got a coach in place and they're beginning to fill out their staff, the daily news cycle for the team should slow down a bit. We'll keep you informed on all the latest goings-on with the team, but we'll also have some room to stretch out a little bit and break down some issues and trends that could affect the team heading into the 2014 season.
We'll begin that effort today with the start of our positional review series, which will run through the next two weeks and give you a brief outlook at where the Vikings stand at each position group on the roster. We'll begin today with the quarterback position, where the Vikings have a few things to talk about.
The good: The Vikings can't claim too many successes at a position that probably contributed to Leslie Frazier's firing and still looks unsettled heading into 2014, but Cassel did emerge toward the end of the season to give the team some sense of stability at quarterback. He played in nine games, completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,807 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Those numbers aren't terribly impressive by today's standards at quarterback, but they were better than the Vikings could get from anyone else on the roster. It's probably also a good thing, in a manner of speaking, that the Vikings saw enough of Christian Ponder to make a decision on his future.
The bad: The Vikings can make a decision on Ponder's future in large part because he showed he couldn't keep the starting job when he was pushed in 2013. He lost it after three games, when a rib injury coincided with three turnover-prone games, and though he offered glimpses of effectiveness when he got the job back in late October, he threw two ugly interceptions in a loss to Seattle and didn't play again after Dec. 1. The Vikings' experiment with Freeman was also a disaster; Freeman was signed Oct. 7, for the $2 million the Vikings had nearly used to bring cornerback Antoine Winfield out of retirement, and after he was rushed into the lineup for a "Monday Night Football" pratfall on Oct. 21, he didn't see the field again. If Ponder's inability to play like a first-round pick showed why the Vikings had a problem at quarterback, the Freeman move captured them at the height of their quarterback confusion.
The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Ponder ($3.2 million) and Cassel ($3.7 million). The Vikings and Cassel will both have decisions to make on the quarterback's future, thanks to a mutual option on the second year of his contract. Cassel can void his deal up to five days after the Super Bowl, while the Vikings have until the seventh day of the new league year in March to make a decision on Cassel's option. If Cassel thinks he can earn more money and playing time as a starter somewhere else, he could opt out of his deal, but it's tough to see the Vikings letting him go when he might be the best bridge they have to a young quarterback.
Draft priority: Very high. Once again, the Vikings find themselves in the hunt for a player who could be a franchise quarterback, and if there's one available with the No. 8 overall pick, they'll likely take one. At the very least, it's tough to see them not drafting a quarterback in the first two or three rounds of the draft.