Zimmer, Turner envision Vikings keeping three quarterbacks

Christian Ponder (7) is in the final year of his rookie contract, which accounts for $3.23 million against the salary cap this year.

Bruce Kluckhohn/Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Coach Mike Zimmer isn’t ready to declare who will be his starting quarterback in a competition between veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater, but Christian Ponder’s place on the roster appears set.

Zimmer said he doesn’t see the team going with just two quarterbacks after offensive coordinator Norv Turner said he sees the value in having a third quarterback on the roster.

Christian Ponder, the team’s 2011 first-round pick who failed to become the long-term starter, has taken few practice snaps and didn’t play in Minnesota’s second preseason game on Saturday, leading to some speculation the team could go into the season with just Cassel and Bridgewater.

Zimmer shot down that notion on Tuesday when he was asked if he would be comfortable with having two quarterbacks on the roster.

"I don’t think we’ll be two quarterbacks, if that’s the question you’re asking," Zimmer said.

Ponder, 26, is in the final year of his rookie contract, which accounts for $3.23 million against the salary cap this year. The Vikings declined the fifth-year option on his contract making him a free agent after this season.

"There’s advantages to both ways, going both ways and we’ll adjust to whatever," Turner said. "But I think we have a pretty good quarterback situation right now."

Ponder didn’t play in Saturday’s preseason game, which saw Bridgewater lead a comeback in the 30-28 victory by throwing a touchdown pass to receiver Rodney Smith with 18 seconds left. Cassel has started both preseason games and Zimmer has announced Cassel would start this week’s game at Kansas City.

Cassel is 17 of 22 for 215 yards passing in the preseason with one touchdown, a 77.3 completion percentage and a 122.4 quarterback rating. Bridgewater is 22 of 33 for 226 yards, two touchdowns, a 66.7 completion percentage and 106.4 quarterback rating.

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Ponder threw one pass in Tuesday’s practice after going without a passing attempt in Monday’s practice. He had taken limited practice snaps throughout training camp.

Ponder was 3 of 7 for 39 yards in the first preseason game and was booed by the home crowd as Minnesota played its first game of the season in its new temporary home at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

"I was obviously very disappointed in our opening game the way fans reacted to Christian because I think he’s done everything he can do," Turner said. "He’s working his butt off and I think he’s a guy that’s going to be valuable to our team."

Ponder started 35 games over the past three seasons but inconsistency led Minnesota to turn to Cassel last season. The Vikings then traded with the Seattle Seahawks to acquire the final pick in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft and selected Bridgewater out of Louisville.

Ponder started nine games last season but missed time with two separate injuries. He completed 63.6 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns to nine interceptions and a 77.9 quarterback rating.

Cassel started the final four games and finished the season with an 81.6 quarterback rating, 60.2 completion percentage and 11 touchdowns to nine interceptions.

Turner appreciates having three quarterbacks on the roster after his experience as the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator last season. Like Minnesota, Cleveland started three quarterbacks last season.

Brandon Weeden had the highest passing yardage and only three-touchdown game of his career in a close loss at Jacksonville but missed time with injury. Jason Campbell replaced Weeden. In Week 13, Campbell had a career-high 391 passing yards and just the second three-touchdown game of his career, while throwing no interceptions in a loss to New England.

Brian Hoyer had his career-best game in a road win against the Vikings when he threw for 321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in Week 3.

"We had three different guys have their career-best games in three different situations and we didn’t win the games because we gave up a touchdown at the end of the game or something kept us from winning the game that was out of the quarterback’s hands," Turner said. "I thought that happened to Christian a number of times last year. So, having three quarterbacks if that’s the way we end up going, it’s extremely valuable to me."

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