Ponder knows four-year roller-coaster ride with Vikings coming to end
In the weeks that followed the Minnesota Vikings 2014 season, quarterback Christian Ponder planned to return home. Ponder could spend time with his family, including having more opportunities to spend with his 7-month-old daughter, Bowden.
As the days unfold and Ponder has more free time, he also has an activity planned: hitting the Internet to find potential landing spots to continue his career.
Ponder, the former first-round draft pick by Minnesota who failed in his opportunity to become the team’s long-term quarterback, knows his time with the Vikings has likely come to an end after four roller-coaster seasons.
"I’m sure in the next few days when I’ve got down time I’ll start Googling some stuff, but my focus has been here so far and now I’m going to start talking to my agent," Ponder said a day after Minnesota’s season ended with a win against the Chicago Bears. "Nothing’s really going to happen until March, but I’ll try to get a good idea of what’s going to be out there."
Ponder has time and has been preparing himself for the inevitability since last summer. Ponder, 26, started 36 games in four seasons for Minnesota. But he lost his starting job for good late in the 2013 season when Matt Cassel took over.
"Once they drafted Teddy and didn’t exercise the option I knew that my time was coming to an end most likely, and so I’ve tried to enjoy this year and this season and we’ll see what happens going forward," Ponder said.
The union never worked between Minnesota and Ponder. Seeking a young starter to build around and settle the game’s most important position, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman perhaps forced his own hand by taking Ponder in the first round in 2011. Minnesota hadn’t had long-term franchise quarterback since Daunte Culpepper was hurt in 2005.
The 2011 draft was filled with potential at the position, most of whom have failed after teams reached for their quarterbacks. Carolina’s Cam Newton went first overall and is coming off a playoff appearance, but he is the exception.
Then came Jake Locker in Tennessee, likely on his way out this offseason as well. Jacksonville cut ties with Blaine Gabbert last offseason. Ponder was the fourth quarterback selected in the first round.
"It was an interesting (experience)," Ponder said of his time with Minnesota. "It was up and down for sure. 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 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."
Despite being put behind by a lockout, Ponder didn’t take long in replacing Donovan McNabb, who was a failure as a short-term fill-in. Ponder started 10 games in his rookie season and showed flashes of potential mixed with questionable decisions and poor accuracy.
But he had established himself as the starter and helped the Vikings to a playoff berth the following season backed by running back Adrian Peterson’s historic MVP effort. A badly-bruised triceps would keep him from playing in his only playoffs with Minnesota and his job would never seem as secure again.
Injuries and inconsistency again plagued Ponder in 2012 and he eventually lost his job for good, replaced by Cassel even after Ponder returned to health. The Vikings knew they had to look again for a future at the position.
"I learned to deal with adversity," Ponder said of his time in Minnesota. "I felt like I matured a lot the last four years. I felt like I’ve grown up as a man and a football player. The adversity’s tough, but you’ve got to be thankful for it because it helps you out. And it has been helpful, and it’s going to be help me in the long run in my football career and being a father and a husband, and again I’ll remember all these times."
As fate would have it, Ponder, as the third-string quarterback, got another chance this season against an opponent that would help define his time in Minnesota: the Green Bay Packers.
Coaching from new coordinator Norv Turner was supposed to help Ponder. Instead, he looked like the tentative and inaccurate passer he had been for much of his four seasons. Ponder completed just 22 of his 44 passes for 222 yards and two interceptions while being sacked six times.
In four years with the Vikings, Ponder had a 75.9 quarterback rating, completed 59.8 percent of his passes, had 38 touchdowns to 36 interceptions and was sacked 95 times in 38 games, or 8.2 percent of his pass attempts.
Ponder said all the right things as he cleaned out his locker on Dec. 29, that he isn’t "closing any doors" and "there’s a chance I’ll be back here," but he knows the likelihood is he was cleaning out his locker for the last time.
"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."
So, in the days and months ahead, Ponder will spend some time with family, talking with his agent and even looking at his options on the Internet for when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March.
"I’ll be looking for a good team, a good organization, hopefully an opportunity to compete," Ponder said. "If not an opportunity to compete for a starting job, an opportunity to learn and be a good backup in a good situation; and a good quarterback room and a good place to live. I’ve got to talk to my wife — my daughter doesn’t talk yet so she’s not going to have much input — but we’ll find a good place that we’re going to enjoy living and we’ll have to weigh our options."
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