Let me start by saying that I think Rick Spielman deserves a lot of credit for the good things that happened to the Vikings in 2012. Firstly, he was the man behind the great draft bonanza. The Matt Kalil pick was a slam dunk obviously, a pick anyone with any brains would’ve made. But the stuff after that was great work, great scouting, great evaluation. They knew Harrison Smith was worth trading up to get. They found Jarius Wright who ended up being a solid contributor. They didn’t hesitate to take Rhett Ellison, a man they knew would have specific value in their scheme. And of course they pulled the trigger on Blair Walsh which turned out to be a genius pick. Okay so maybe Josh Robinson has failed to develop the way everyone hoped. And we don’t know about Greg Childs. And Robert Blanton remains a project. But there is still a chance for all those guys to contribute down the road. A really good draft could end up being a brilliant one.
I also think Spielman deserves kudos for the way he was able to sell the frugal approach in free agency. Whether that approach is really his true philosophy or was dictated by ownership is irrelevant. He sold the idea to fans. He kept hammering his message home. It’s not about the big splashy free agent move. It’s about finding guys with value and paying them what they’re worth. And not getting saddled with expensive long-term contracts and big guarantees. Build through the draft, build with youth. That’s the philosophy. The guys they did sign didn’t really play a big role but those guys were mostly brought in as hole-pluggers anyway. John Carlson is the only really dumb-looking move right now, but he could still pay off down the road as the offense improves and becomes more diverse. The rest of those guys were all short-term moves to get through the season. Thanks to this approach, the Vikes will have financial flexibility going forward. That was the whole point. Spielman made it clear what the approach was going to be and never wavered from his message. Maybe it’s boring listening to him drone on about fiscal responsibility and building with young guys, but it’s not Spielman’s job to be entertaining. It’s his job to build a winning team.
And he did build a winning team. Without doing anything crazy like give an aging quarterback $20 million. Or trade away a draft pick for an aging wide receiver. He built a winning team that should only keep getting better as time goes on. He brought a sense of stability and sanity to a franchise that appeared to be adrift. He really deserves to be praised for much of what he has done.
There is no way for me to escape the feeling that Rick Spielman let the team down this year and let down the fanbase. All because of one crucial decision. A decision that had nothing to do with money. Nothing to do with the future vs. present question. Nothing to do with anything except, apparently, concern about messing with Christian Ponder’s confidence.
Why in the name of all that is good and right in the universe did Spielman not sign a decent back-up quarterback? Why?
I would like someone to explain it to me right now. Actually, I would like Spielman to explain it. I want him to call a press conference for Monday afternoon and stand up there in front of everyone and answer that one question. Why, Rick Spielman, did you go with Joe Webb as your only real back-up quarterback? When you knew good and well Joe Webb was not capable of running the offense at anything like a normal, efficient level?
I hear people talking about Webb’s change-up ability. You can throw him in there and it’s such a different look that defenses aren’t ready for it. Well okay. Maybe that helps keep the defense off-balance for a short while. But then what? Whoever you throw in there has to be able to run at least some of the regular offense. You can’t expect to just change on a dime. You can’t go from a traditional passing team to a read-option team in the space of a few days and expect that to work. This leaves out the simple truth that read-option without a QB who can actually throw is a lame, useless gimmick. Read-option with Robert Griffin III is great. With Russell Wilson it’s great. Because those guys are threats to throw at any time. With Joe Webb – who can’t throw AT ALL – it’s a cheap trick that obviously gets you nowhere.
So I don’t wanna hear about Joe Webb’s special talents. Screw special talents. How about just a back-up quarterback who can run the offense? No one expects the back-up to come in and be just as good as the starter. That’s unrealistic. But he should at least be competent. The problem with Webb isn’t that he’s not as good as Christian Ponder. It’s that he flat-out can’t run the offense. Never could run the offense. Never will be able to run the offense. It’s an offense that depends on throwing accuracy, with all those short precise passes, and Webb has none. Never has had any. Will never have any.
Gimmicks don’t win games. Planning and execution win games. With Webb, the plan had to be too radically altered. And the execution was a joke. And the sad thing is, anyone with a brain could’ve seen this coming. This is why many of us never called for Ponder to be benched even when he was playing like crap. Because we knew the alternative was not any better. We kept saying it over and over. Joe Webb isn’t the answer. Joe Webb can’t throw.
If we knew it, why didn’t Rick Spielman know it? Well, I think he did know it. And I think, for some reason, he elected not to fix the problem. He elected to stick with Webb when he could’ve had Sage Rosenfels in there. Not that Sage would’ve necessarily gone into Green Bay and won that game. It would’ve been a long-shot even with Ponder. It would’ve been a longer-shot with Sage. But at least with Sage you would’ve had some shot. With Webb you had no shot.
And please don’t come with that other argument I hear all the time. “Well the Vikings didn’t know they would be this good. They didn’t think they would need a veteran back-up.” Even after they won a bunch of games and got themselves in the playoff race? Last I looked, Sage was on the street all season. They couldn’t have brought him in for the stretch run? They simply had to keep Joe Webb around. Because he has such a great future? What is the actual value of Joe Webb to this team? None. That’s his value. None whatsoever. At that point it’s not about the long-term plan anyway. You get in the playoff race, you do what you have to do. It wouldn’t have hurt Zygi Wilf’s pocket book to bring in a veteran. And by the way it is possible to get a guy ready for a big game on short notice even when he’s just been signed off the street. Anyone remember the big game against San Francisco years ago when Warren Moon got injured and they didn’t think Brad Johnson was ready to play? So they signed Sean Salisbury, who at least knew the offense a little bit, off the street. And won the game (with San Francisco pulling starters after the first quarter, I admit).
So, why not drop Webb and sign a real back-up? Why not keep Sage or reach into the (admittedly thin) free agent pool? Was it simply that Spielman was afraid people would perceive this as a challenge to Ponder? Was he worried Ponder’s confidence would be shaken? Did he know Ponder was going to struggle and he just didn’t want Leslie Frazier to have any other option? Was it a way of essentially guaranteeing Ponder’s position? And if if that was indeed the case, it doesn’t explain why you can’t bring in a vet for the last few weeks on the understanding that it’s a temporary position. Surely Ponder is mature enough to get that. And if he’s not? Well, maybe he’s not the man for the job.
I don’t know what the thinking was, I can only guess. All I know for sure is, whatever Spielman’s rationale, the decision blew up in his face. And it blew up in the team’s face. And it blew up in the fans’ faces. He didn’t give Leslie Frazier an option behind Ponder. Except the read-option. And that was no option. Because Joe Webb in the read-option is Tebow without the grit. What ensued was total disaster. Total sadly-predictable disaster. Embarrassment for the franchise. And Spielman is responsible for that disaster, that embarrassment. He may be a great architect but he left out one highlyvital beam. Let’s hope he has learned from this mistake. Let’s hope his first move this offseason is to find a veteran back-up who can be there when Christian Ponder’s dodgy elbow goes out again.
Hey, it’s all fine and good to show confidence and faith in Ponder. But smart people understand, s**t happens. You have to be realistic. You have to make contingency plans. Having Joe Webb as your back-up isn’t a contingency plan, it’s a recipe for disaster. I’m sorry but there’s no other way to feel about this. Spielman let the team down. He let us all down. He is the villain in this mess. Let’s hope he can make it right.