This may be old news but I think it’s worth one last look. The whole Joe Webb issue. The whole issue of whether Rick Spielman is rippable for sending his team into the playoffs with only Webb as a backup behind Christian Ponder.
Yes I know, we’re beating a dead horse. But like it or not, the argument still rages on. Two factions have emerged over the weeks. On one side you have people who think Spielman was right to keep Webb, but Bill Musgrave just did a terrible job taking advantage of his talents in the playoff game. On the other side you have those who think Musgrave was put in a terrible spot by Spielman, and Spielman is the one who deserves the majority of the heat.
I think this whole argument really comes down to one point. But don’t listen to me on this. Listen to Tom Pelissero who lays it out perfectly in this piece. The new reporting in the article is not that important. The Vikings knew Joe Webb was terrible after watching him in practice on Tuesday before the playoff game? So what? They probably knew he was terrible before that practice. That’s interesting as a footnote but not really central to the whole situation. By that point they really didn’t have any other choices. So if Spielman screwed up, he screwed up long before that. And Musgrave and the whole team were basically hung out to dry.
For my money, the key bit of Pelissero’s piece is right here:
For all the athletic talent Webb possesses and the playmaking ability he has shown in past relief appearances, the playoff game exposed a hole in the plan of having him as Ponder’s No. 2.
Players must be interchangeable to a degree for precisely this kind of situation. If you have to lose, you at least want to lose trying to do what you do best.
Put another way, for all the criticism of coordinator Bill Musgrave’s play-calling, imagine the outrage if the Vikings had abandoned the offense that helped Adrian Peterson win the MVP.
If Musgrave installed a Webb-specific game plan and Ponder ended up playing, it would have created the same sort of issue. Their strengths and the way they see the game are too different.
Musgrave could have called the same read-option plays over and over after some headless-chicken production on the opening series. He opted to let Webb try to execute elementary play-action throws and — challenging situation or not — the result was a resounding failure.
So Pelissero basically agrees with the position that Musgrave was put in a terrible spot. And who put him in that terrible spot? Rick Spielman did, by not having a viable backup option. Don’t hang the albatross of Webb around Musgrave’s neck in the first place. Give him someone he can work with. Give him someone who can at least try to run the regular offense.
No quesiton, Spielman comes out far more rippable than Musgrave or Leslie Frazier in this. But for some reason a lot of people want to give Spielman a pass. Are they just in the tank for Spielman? He had one good draft and now they want to crown him a great GM. But there’s more to being a great GM than just drafting well and having a long-term plan you can sell to the fans with slick repetition of buzz words. You must be able to read circumstances during the heat of battle and adjust on the fly occasionally.
Spielman is great at selling his plan, but is he great at flexible thinking? Is he great at the sort of on-the-fly decisiveness that is sometimes required of executives? I think the answer is no. I think if he had flexibility and nerve, he would’ve ditched Webb with a month to go in the season regardless of his big plan and picked up Sage Rosenfels, who at that point was on the street.
You can say Rosenfels probably wouldn’t have done any better than Webb. And that’s a valid point. But back to Pelissero’s point. What do you want in a backup QB? A gimmick guy who requries you to install a whole different offense? Or a guy you can slide right in?
“Players must be interchangeable to a degree.” That’s Pelissero’s key line. Clearly, Webb’s skills are different than Ponder’s. Rosenfels isn’t perfect but he’s closer to Ponder. Nothing would’ve been guaranteed with Rosenfels, but he clearly gave you a better chance than Webb.
My thing is, you get to that stretch of games where you’re still in the playoff hunt, and you cold-bloodedly assess your personnel. You say to yourself, “Which guy scares me the most if we get into the playoffs and can I get someone better in there?” The first guy who should scare you is Webb. And your next move should be to pick up the phone and call Rosenfels.
Any way you slice it, Spielman was silly to let the team go into the playoff hunt with only Ponder as a viable QB. He was borderline negligent. Spielman did some good things last year but that doesn’t make him above criticism. He is not a God-like figure. He is fallible. Be in the tank for him if you want, but you’re full of it if you think somehow Spielman can’t be ripped for choosing Webb.
And frankly I think it’s a little weak to hang all the blame on Musgrave. Fact is, even had the Vikings somehow won that playoff game, certain fans would’ve found reason to rip Musgrave. He’s like Brad Childress in that way. Some people just hate his guts and will always rip him no matter what. It’s sort of lame to hang it all on a coordinator since coordinators are the easiest guys to rip. People seem less eager to rip Spielman, maybe because he’s a good bullshitter and they’ve been sucked in.
I’m with Pelissero. Have a #2 QB you can slide in. Forget the gimmick crap. Forget the dream of Webb as some kind of brilliant Wildcat weapon. That’s 2011 thinking. In 2012, Spielman needed to think in 2012 terms. And his thinking needed to evolve as the team’s situation evolved. Fact is, Spielman froze up when the team needed him. He can formulate a plan and stick to the plan and sell the plan to fans who are eager to believe but can he make shrewd moves on the fly? Does he have the real-time thinking skills to go with the slickness?
Yes this team has been reckless in the past. And yes Spielman deserves credit for coming up with a plan and being willing to stick with it. But it’s also important to know when you have to deviate from the plan. You don’t want to deviate so much that you hurt the team in the long-run, but that’s the kicker here. Dumping Webb would not have hurt the long-term plan. Because Webb simply doesn’t factor in for the future.
This is what’s so puzzling to me about Spielman’s handling of the QB situation last year. He chose Webb, the guy with no immediate or future value, over Rosenfels, a guy who was a better #2 option in the short-term and arguably had more value to the long-term plan because of his mentoring ability. So Spielman chose the guy with zero value over the guy with a small amount of value.
Sorry but I just don’t’ see the reasoning behind keeping Webb. He should’ve been dumped after that dismal preseason. Forget the gimmick value. Gimmicks are for loser teams. Gimmicks are for the Jets. And even the Jets had enough sense to keep Greg McElroy as well as gimmick player Tim Tebow, so they’d have a legit backup if anything happened to Mark Sanchez.
Who did the Vikes keep along with Webb? McLeod Bethel-Thompson, a guy who had no chance of seeing the field except in a dire emergency. A guy who was not even close to a viable option. Spielman apparently has less sense than the people running the Jets. At least when it comes to quarterback. And that’s a little troubling.
But hey, at least now the Vikes appear ready to move on from Webb. So they learned their lesson. It’s too bad they needed an embarrassing playoff loss to teach them this lesson. Value every spot on your roster. That’s the lesson. Don’t keep worthless players around for no apparent reason. Got it Rick?