Ponder 'didn't expect' Vikings to pick up his option

Christian Ponder says he's simply trying to improve these days and isn't overly concerned about his NFL future.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder throws during drills at an organized team activity in Eden Prairie on Thursday.

Andy Clayton-King / Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Christian Ponder has been realistic about his situation with the Minnesota Vikings, the team which once believed he would be its longtime starting quarterback.

Ponder saw the team re-sign Matt Cassel, essentially to be the starter. The team declined the fifth-year option on Ponder's contract, despite little obligation in doing so. He expected Minnesota to draft a quarterback and wasn't surprised when the Vikings traded into the first round to select Teddy Bridgewater.

Through it all, Ponder stayed true to one mantra: "We'll see what happens."

"I'm just trying to learn as much as possible, especially from Matt and Scott Turner and Norv (Turner)," Ponder said Wednesday at Minnesota's annual charity playground build. "I'm trying to compete and trying to do my best when I'm getting the reps that I'm getting. And we'll see what happens. There's always room for improvement from me and there's always things I can learn.

"If I play this year, have the chance to play this year, or if I'm somewhere next year, we'll see. There's always improvement that I can make and that's what I'm trying to do right now."

Ponder, 26, entered the offseason unsure if he would even return to Minnesota. His present and future are clouded by the presence of Cassel and Bridgewater.

As part of the 2011 NFL Draft class, the first under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Ponder could have been extended for a fifth year by the Vikings. The only obligation the team would have had to Ponder under such a circumstance would have been through injury.

The team still declined to exercise the option.

"I didn't expect them too, honestly," Ponder said. "How things went down, the offseason, last year, I expected that it wasn't going to happen. It was for my benefit. I would like to have that guarantee, but it's not even a guarantee to stick around, unless I'm injured or whatever. It has my options open after the season. I have leverage to stay here or go somewhere else where there's a better place for me to play. We'll see."

Ponder is simply in wait-and-see mode after his pivotal third year for the Vikings turned disastrous and he was eventually displaced as the team's starting quarterback and future at the position.

In nine games, he had a 77.9 quarterback rating, 63.6 completion percentage and 11 total touchdowns to 13 turnovers.

Injuries struck again. He missed a game with a rib injury and Cassel came in to lead Minnesota to its first win of the season. Ponder got his job back three games later, only to again show inconsistency and eventually suffer a concussion. Cassel started the final four games.

Cassel returned and a young quarterback was on the way via the draft, but Ponder wanted to stay in Minnesota, especially after seeing the team bring in Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator under new coach Mike Zimmer.

"Yeah, I did (want to stay with the Vikings), especially knowing Norv was coming in, that there was going to be a lot that I could learn and pick up from him," Ponder said. "So, it's a big benefit for me that I'm still here."

Here means splitting time, for now, with Cassel and Bridgewater. Each quarterback has received time with the starting offense. For the practice open to media last week -- when Bridgewater was away for the NFL's Rookie Premiere -- Cassel took nearly all of the first-team repetitions.

Ponder said he's received some time with the first-team offense and isn't sure who the reps will be split as the offseason continues.

"When I'm out there, I'm trying to make the best of every play and make smart decisions," Ponder said. "As we keep going forward, I think they'll have more of a set plan after OTAs going into camp, going into the preseason games and we'll see what happens."

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