The good, the bad and the ugly of the Vikings’ new QB

Published 3:32 am Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

The Minnesota Vikings signed free agent quarterback Josh Freeman to a one-year contract worth about $3 million on Sunday.

Freeman, who was in his fifth NFL season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was released following a poor start to the season and after clashing with his coach Greg Schiano.

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This means the Ponder era is over in Minnesota and that Freeman will likely start for the Vikings on Oct. 21 against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.

Here’s the good, bad and ugly on the Vikings’ new quarterback.

The good

Freeman is the same age as Ponder, 25, but is far more accomplished. In his second season in 2010, Freeman threw 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions and led the Bucs to a 10-6 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. He had the eighth-highest quarterback rating that season and was elected as a Pro Bowl alternate. Last season, Freeman threw for 4,065 yards with 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Freeman has eclipsed 3,400 passing yards three times in four full seasons. By comparison, Ponder’s career high is 2,935. He has a strong arm and is accurate throwing the ball beyond 20 yards.

Freeman has done more than Ponder with less around him. We’ve put an asterisk besides Ponder’s career numbers because, until this year, he never had great receivers to throw to downfield. But at least he’s had Adrian Peterson as a decoy. Freeman has never had elite players around him, and during his breakout season in 2010, his top receiver, Mike Williams, and running back, LaGarrette Blount, were rookies.

Prior to being released by the Buccaneers, Freeman missed only one game in three full seasons.

It’s possible a change in scenery could bring out the best in the quarterback. Freeman had his best season under coach Raheem Morris, but Morris was fired after the Bucs went 4-12 in 2011, and the team hired former Rutgers head coach Schiano. Freeman and Schiano have never got along well — to the point where it was rumored that Schiano conspired to get Freeman stripped of his role as a captain. Schiano could be in well over his head in Tampa Bay, too. He had very limited NFL coaching experience before being hired by the Bucs and spent the previous 10 seasons coaching a mediocre Rutgers program. Could a strong locker room and coaching staff in Minnesota bring the quarterback back the Pro Bowl?

The bad

While Ponder had a terrible start to the 2013 season, Freeman’s was actually worse. Freeman has a league-worst completion percentage of 45.7 and passed for just 571 yards in three losses. Ponder is often criticized for his yards per attempt average, which is always near the bottom of the league, but Freeman and Ponder share a 5.1-yard per-attempt average this season, good for 31st in the NFL.

Freeman threw more interceptions, 39, during the 2011-12 seasons than any other quarterback in the NFL.

The ugly

While Freeman stayed out of legal trouble during his five-year career, he’s run into quite a few off-the-field issues this season. Freeman is currently participating in the NFL’s drug testing program, but is nowhere near being suspended. He has also reportedly been fined at least five times this season by the Buccaneers. He has missed at least two team meetings and did an interview with ESPN that was not authorized by his team. Since being benched in Week 4, Freeman was vocal about his desire to be traded or released from Tampa Bay.

While we don’t know whether Freeman can become the Vikings’ franchise quarterback, we know Ponder and Cassell won’t. A one-year audition for Freeman is a smart move to help salvage the season and give the Vikings’ a viable signal caller while Adrian Peterson is still in his prime.

This is a low-risk, high-reward move by Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, who acknowledges he now knows Ponder is not the answer behind center.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Tuesday.