Vikings decline Christian Ponder's option

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings did not pick up quarterback Christian Ponder's fifth-year option before Saturday's midnight deadline, meaning their 2011 first-round pick will be a free agent after this season.

Ponder's option would have been guaranteed only against injury until the start of the 2015 league year, but the quarterback said on Wednesday that the team hadn't talked to him about picking up the option, which would have paid him $9.686 million in 2015. After three disappointing seasons in Minnesota, Ponder officially is in a situation where he'll have to earn a new contract -- and barring a situation where he winds up playing this season and performing well, he'll get paid like a backup in his next deal.

The quarterback said this week he's still looking at the Vikings' quarterback situation as an open competition, even though Matt Cassel is expected to be the starter this season, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn't close the door on Ponder's future when talking about the quarterback situation on Thursday.

"Christian is still a very young player who has done a lot of really good things and been put in a tough situation," Turner said. "We’re just going to work with both of them and get the best out of them we can.”

From this point, though, anything the Vikings say about Ponder's future still being bright has to be checked against the reality that they didn't see a scenario where the 26-year-old will be worth his option next season. It's always possible Turner can coax something out of Ponder that the Vikings' previous regime couldn't, but if the Vikings really felt that was a likely possibility, they wouldn't have given Cassel a two-year deal, and they wouldn't be scouring the draft class for a young QB like they've been doing. Their latest move only cements what has seemed clear for a while: that the days of Ponder having anything promised to him in Minnesota are over.