Here is a prediction: Matt Cassel will start for the Vikings in 2013. Christian Ponder has been kept out of games due to injury in each of the last seasons (not until playoffs in '12). Not only does he scramble, but he seems to lack great pocket awareness or presence--he gets put into spots to take hard hits. And, with the Vikes coming off a 10-6 playoff season, the expectations are no longer in the sewers for the Viking coaching staff: if the team struggles early, and Ponder's poor play is a part of it, they'll feel the pressure more personally to make a change to help the team win. Leslie Frazier has loyally stuck to Ponder (perhaps because he knew there was no other option), but I don't think he wants to go down with the Titanic's band.
And Cassel might be just right. His performance (and team's record) in recent years has been pitiful enough that nobody anywhere thinks he's here to compete for the starting job. But he's also had two decent years ('08 and '10, with solid numbers and team success), and seems just competent enough to do a solid job if called on to perform for a solid team.
The Vikes upgraded the backup quarterback position, one of their significant needs. They did it with a veteran who has actually been a successful NFL quarterback (and not in distant memory, either).
The move to cut one of the best Vikings ever
Antoine Winfield, it has been a pleasure.
Winfield will still be one of my favorite Vikings. I can't recall a better tackling cornerback, a small DB that makes you say wow with his open field tackling and masterful play around the line of scrimmage. And Winfield the man never did anything to give Viking fans any reason to be disappointed. If he expressed frustration with the coaching staff, didn't we think he kinda had a point? He's been a leader, a worker, a player who took his craft seriously and seemed to enjoy doing it. It was fun.
The Percy Harvin Move
What is gained. When an NFL franchise drafts a player in the first round, benefits from his services for four seasons, and then is able to trade that player for a new first round pick (and a 7th and future 3rd), that franchise is probably handling its business well. And (assuming the Vikings use their picks) 2013 will be the second consecutive season with two first round picks added to the roster. The team has to make good use of those picks (which it did in 2012), but that is how you build the young core of a contending roster. There have been a lot of weaknesses needing filling for this team: four first-round picks in two seasons after the 3-13 disaster goes a long way toward solidifying the roster.
What is lost. Face it: Percy Harvin is an awesome football player. But there are two reasons the loss is OK. First, Harvin didn't want to be here. Given how many articles have highlighted Harvin's conflict with coaches (going back to Florida), it seems personality is an issue. And second, in the three seasons when Harvin was indisputably the Vikings' best receiver, wide receiver was a recognized weakness of the team. Sidney Rice's injury before 2010 led to acquiring Greg Camarillo and Randy Moss, and in '11 and '12 the Vikes still had no downfield threat. Harvin can do great things, but frankly, I think he'll be more valuable to the Seahawks than he'll be to the Vikings--meaning he may make the Vikes look bad with great production in Seattle, but that the Vikings should still be happy to get a first round pick out of him.
What is needed. The Vikes need skill position talent. They should look at WR, RB, and TE to get it. They need players who can take screens, slants, rollout dumpoffs and the like for positive yardage. They need players that can get open over the middle for first downs. They need players who can threaten deep. Jarius Wright, opportunity knocks (an underrated movie. Or is it? I haven't seen it since I was like 10, when I watched it a bunch of times and probably had it memorized. Probably it doesn't hold up). It has been disheartening watching several free agent wide receivers sign elsewhere. Restricted free agent Victor Cruz might be worth the pick. Darrius Heyward-Bey should get a phone call (it wasn't too many months ago that I was told to draft him for my fantasy football team). Leon Washington should already be on the Viking roster (you may have noticed an opening for our kick returner job). If we end up with Greg Jennings I'll resist the temptation to stick a toenail clipper in my right eye (that should be an easy temptation to resist).
For a long time it has seemed to me that if an NFL team wants to resign one of its own players, the team can do it. Teams often let players go due to money, age, increasing incompetence, new coaching staff and/or system, etc. But your basic workmanlike starter--the fairly paid, competent or even good player that does his job without much possibility of greatness or stardom--can be retained if the team wants retain him. There's nothing thrilling about it. I suppose it is basic good business, in the same sense washing your dishes is basic good business: it is necessary and good, and if you don't do it there will be problems, but it's not like you deserve a medal for it. It's not exactly a "big splash," unless you want to carry the dishwashing metaphor further and you drop a particularly heavy pot into a sink full of water, but competitive teams need to do it.
As a Viking fan I'm pleased that the annual trip to Soldier Field won't feature Lovie Smith's excellently coached defense and special teams, and I'll also be pleased if Brian Urlacher is also not there to make the Vikings miserable. But on the Vikings? That would be something. Maybe we could coax Barry Sanders out of retirement and just piss off the fanbases of the whole NFC North.
So it is Jennings. On the one hand (as most Viking fans feel, I'm sure), it is exhilarating to have a real #1 wide receiver that can get downfield. On the other, I'm fairly fearful Greg Jennings will disappoint, perhaps not because of himself, but because the situation won't be there for him to produce.
But there's one excellent thing from this, too: there are no excuses any more for Christian Ponder. Not a one. Either he's a legitimate NFL starting QB or he's not, and we'll know before 2013 is over.