EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Christian Ponder had started 29 straight regular-season games for the Minnesota Vikings since replacing veteran Donovan McNabb in the sixth game of his rookie season.
Through parts of three wildly inconsistent seasons, Ponder always had full support within the organization that made him the No. 12 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Injuries were the only factor to take him out of the starting lineup.
The latest injury ended his chance to be Minnesota’s starting quarterback and Ponder doesn’t know if he will ever get another opportunity with the Vikings.
Coach Leslie Frazier announced Josh Freeman, signed last week by Minnesota, will start next week’s game against the New York Giants and is expected to keep the starting job the rest of this season.
Ponder said he’s talked with the organization that once believed he was going to be the long-term starter, but he isn’t sure if he will ever get the chance to win back the job he held before he missed the Week 5 game with a fractured rib.
“I don’t know,” Ponder said when asked if he has a chance to be the starter again. “I don’t know what’s going on, what the decisions are. Again, they’re trying to figure out what’s best for this team. I don’t really know.”
Ponder said he’s been told to prepare as if he’s starting. But if Freeman performs the way Minnesota hopes, Ponder won’t be getting his job back. There is no brewing quarterback controversy.
Frazier said Ponder will be the top backup when Freeman starts on Monday night at New York.
“For this season and for this ballgame, primarily this ballgame, he’s going to be our backup quarterback in this game,” Frazier said. “There’s still so much more football to be played, and there’s so many things that can happen to the remaining parts of this season. I don’t want to pigeon-hole Christian by any means but Josh, we’re hoping he does well. That’s why we’re putting him in the lineup. If something were to happen and Christian had to get in there we’d expect Christian to play well, also. We’ll see how it goes as time goes on.”
Ponder returned this season as the starter for the third season, the critical season of evaluation for his long-term status in general manager Rick Spielman’s eyes. Spielman said he waits until after the third season to complete evaluations on drafted players. Ponder didn’t make it through a full third season.
Along the way, due to injury and performance, Ponder lost the faith of the team’s decision-makers.
Ponder is 23rd in the NFL in completion percentage at 59.0 percent and is 32nd in quarterback rating at 65.9. He threw for 691 yards in three starts, all losses, and accounted for four touchdowns and seven turnovers. With Freeman available after being cut, Minnesota jumped at the chance to add a potential starter.
Frazier approached the team’s management on Monday about making the switch full-time to Freeman after just a week in the system. Frazier said the decision was his to move on from Ponder as starter and go with Freeman.
“Yeah, I think that’s always been the case,” Frazier said of making the decision. “It would be hard to be the head coach if you can’t do that. Yes, that’s important.”
Frazier said the ultimate decision was on his shoulders, but he wanted Spielman and the team’s owners to understand the reasoning behind the move.
“When you’re talking about the quarterback position, which affects your entire franchise, this is not a decision you make alone,” Frazier said. “I informed them of what I was thinking and why I was thinking this and what I wanted to do, and they signed off on it. But you don’t make these kind of decisions on an island. I need their support and I need them to understand why.”
The decision puts Ponder in limbo.
“The biggest thing is just focusing on what you can control,” Ponder said. “That’s how I practice and how I prepare. You let everything run its course and you try and figure out what’s the best situation for yourself and for your family and see what’s going to happen going forward.”
A week ago, Ponder said he thought a trade to another team would be tough for him. Asked Wednesday if he would embrace a trade, Ponder’s opinion changed a bit.
“I don’t know,” Ponder said. “Again, I have to figure out what’s best for me and everything and for this team. I don’t know if that’s staying here and going somewhere else.”
Frazier said he’s never given thought that Ponder wouldn’t be with the Vikings the rest of this season.
“That’s never crossed my mind that Christian wouldn’t be on our roster, and it’s not crossing my mind now,” Frazier said. “I don’t see any scenario where he would not be on our roster.”
But support for Ponder as a starting quarterback is gone, even if he’s not.