Vikings: Christian Ponder exits stage left

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There has been something of an odd fascination with Christian Ponder in recent weeks, as the quarterback prepares for his likely departure from the Minnesota Vikings. His bizarre turn as the team's quarterback heir presumptive ended last spring, when the team drafted Teddy Bridgewater and declined to pick up Ponder's fifth-year option, and his last snaps on the field came in an odious Oct. 2 performance in Green Bay, when Ponder threw two interceptions in a 42-10 loss.

Ponder has spent the past 12 weeks as the Vikings' backup quarterback, watching Bridgewater replace him as the Vikings' quarterback of the future. He hasn't ruled out a return to Minnesota, he said, but with Matt Cassel signed for next season and likely to return as Bridgewater's backup, the 26-year-old Ponder seemed to know his career prospects could lead him elsewhere.

"The emotional part is saying goodbye to a lot of people," Ponder said. "I feel like I’ve built some great relationships with people the past four years, and this has been my comfort and everything and a place I’ve called home. So it’s tough to leave, but I’m excited about new beginnings."

The oft-used refrain from those who were praising Ponder, whether it was general manager Rick Spielman, wide receiver Greg Jennings or offensive coordinator Norv Turner, was that he had "all the tools" to be successful in the NFL. That might be true -- Ponder is smart, mobile and has sufficient arm strength -- but it's the ability to turn those tools into legitimate production that has always eluded him. Ponder never seemed to have a sense of timing in the pocket, often fleeing at the first sign of pressure or waiting too long to throw, and he never grasped what Bridgewater seemed to be learning in the final weeks of the 2014 season, about throwing the ball to a spot and trusting his receivers to make a play.

He said he'll spend some time in the next few weeks looking at possible destinations that could offer him a chance to play, but Ponder will likely have to hope for work as a backup somewhere. He often talked this season about what he had learned from offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and seemed appreciative on Monday of the chance to spend this year working away from the spotlight.

"The stress level was completely different, and I kind of got to enjoy it and have a little more fun," Ponder said. "It was tough to not be out there -- as a competitor you want to be the guy playing -- but it was fun to watch Teddy grow up through this year, and it was fun playing with him and being his teammate."

Perhaps his experience this season will benefit Ponder in the long run, but until (or unless) he gets another chance to start, he will be known for his strange saga in Minnesota. He leaves as the second-highest drafted quarterback in team history, the last quarterback to lead the Vikings to a playoff spot, the player who lost, regained and lost his job on the team's silly 2013 quarterback carousel, and the backup who only saw the field in an emergency this season. On Monday, Ponder was thankful for all of the turns on the wild ride.

"It was an interesting one. It was up and down for sure," Ponder said. "It was a dream come true for me to be able to get drafted and play, and I want to thank (owner) Zygi (Wilf) and the whole Wilf family and Rick (Spielman) for giving me that chance. I enjoyed it. There were times that weren’t as enjoyable, but overall it was fun, and I’ll remember my times here."