Is Christian Ponder a Good Fit For the St. Louis Rams?
Image courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportsDuring week 7 of the 2013 season St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford tore the ACL in his left knee. After months of rehab and a long road to recovery Bradford tore the same ligament this weekend in the Rams third preseason game.
“Unfortunately I can confirm that we have lost Sam [Bradford] for the year,” head coach Jeff Fisher said Sunday. “Sam suffered and injury to the reconstructed knee that he had done less than a year ago…We lost our starting quarterback but for Sam personally it’s devastating.”
With Bradford gone for the entire season, the Rams now turn to journeyman veteran Shaun Hill the man the helm at quarterback.
Entering his 13th year in the NFL, the 34 year old QB was most recently serving as the backup to Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. While Hill is serviceable as a backup quarterback, his career passer rating of 85.9 and his 13-13 record as a starter has left much to be desired. Behind Hill on the depth chart are Austin Davis (third year) and Garret Gilbert (rookie), neither of which have any NFL experience under their belt.
This then begs the question, with their starter down for the year, are there any serviceable quarterbacks out there that could come in and backup Shaun Hill leaving the Rams a bit more comfortable than two young quarterbacks with no NFL experience (hint, hint, wink wink)?
St. Louis could wait a few more days to see which third or fourth string quarterbacks get cut as teams trim their roster down to 75 early this week and then down to 53 just a few days later. But it’s unlikely that any of those quarterbacks would any viable NFL experience under their belt. Well what about this Coach Fisher…what would you say if I told you I had a quarterback available who is young, experienced and has led his team to the playoffs already?
Enter Christian Ponder.
To say that Christian Ponder hasn’t had the best record of success in Minnesota might be a bit of an understatement. A surprising draft pick in 2011 at the 12th overall selection, Ponder joined a Vikings team that was desperate to find a franchise quarterback. With the pressure on him early, Ponder saw his starting opportunity to start out of the gate fading away when Minnesota went out and signed Donovan McNabb part way through Training Camp. So Ponder would sit. For six games he sat on the sidelines as we all watched McNabb’s career fall apart before our eyes until week seven when young Christian finally got his opportunity to start a game on the road against the Chicago Bears.
Christian went on to finish that 2011 season with a 2-8 record as the starter. He had thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns, but most importantly he had gained valuable experience as the starter.
2012 saw Ponder’s potential start to shine. Entering the season as the established starter, Ponder led the Vikings to a 5-1 start to the year. With Adrian Peterson running at a record pace besides him, Ponder carried the Vikings undefeated through a tough final month of the season and into the playoffs for the first time in his career. Unfortunately, Christian would miss that playoff game with a shoulder injury and the but it finally looked like the young quarterback had figured something out. Then 2013 happened.
With off the field distractions at a maximum, Christian's on the field play started to suffer. With his confidence already low, the Vikings played musical chairs at the quarterback position and started to make strides towards publicly admitting that Ponder was in fact not the guy they thought he was.
By the start of 2014 Training Camp, Christian had found himself third on the depth chart behind a veteran leader (Matt Cassel) and a highly touted rookie (Teddy Bridgewater).
Please don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying that Christian’s skill sets are far and away better than Shaun Hill’s. Shaun has seen more, he’s learned more and he might have a little more confidence built up over the span of his career, but Christian Ponder is more talented. Even if St. Louis were interested in an upgrade to backup Shaun Hill, Ponder is surely more talented than Austin David and Garrett Gilbert.
So what could the Vikings get in return for Christian Ponder if the Rams were to come knocking?
During the off season, the San Francisco 49ers landed a 6th round pick for a quarterback in Blaine Gabbert who was drafted ahead of Ponder in 2011 but had accomplished far less in his three year career than Christian. With a team as desperate as St. Louis, a 6th round value is where you have to start the conversation.
To put the value of a 6th (or 7th) round pick in perspective for you, only 2 of the Vikings four 6th and 7th round picks (Jeff Baca & Mike Mauti) are even on the roster with the Vikings this year, and one of those two is almost assuredly getting cut before the season starts. That said, the year before the Vikings struck a little gold landing kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round and LB Audie Cole in the 7th round. On top of that, we’ve seen general manager Rick Spielman find ways to package picks the last few Drafts and move up into more favorable early round positions. So there is definite value in acquiring those late round selections.
Admittedly, Ponder hasn’t put the best tape out there this preseason, but I still hold to the belief that Christian is an above average quarterback in this league. Given the situation in St. Louis, beggars can’t be choosers either. If I were the St. Louis Rams I would be on the phone with the Minnesota Vikings before assuring themselves that after Thursday, he can be on his way to St. Louis ready to back up (and compete with) Shaun Hill for the Rams.
It's time for Christian and the Vikings to make a split. It wasn't an awful three years, but it probably won't have all of the fond memories that both sides had hoped for. If the Vikings can swing a late round draft pick for Ponder they have to do it. It would be better for them and surely better for Christian. He's a great guy off the field, but between the white lines it's definitely time to move on.