Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Minnesota Vikings Next Franchise Quarterback

The Minnesota Vikings have realistically had one franchise quarterback in the more than 50 years they've been in existence, and that man was Fran Tarkenton. As a third round pick he may very well be the greatest draft pick in Vikings history, although to be fair the league was considerably smaller so Tarkenton was a third round pick despite being the #29 overall selection. I'll still give the honor of best draft pick to Randy Moss, but certainly wouldn't argue with Fran.

Throughout the team's entire history, they've spent only four first round draft picks on quarterbacks. They drafted Tommy Kramer 27th overall in 1977, Daunte Culpepper 11th overall in 1999, Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011 and most recently Teddy Bridgewater 32nd overall. When you don't spend the necessary resources to find a quarterback, it's easy to understand why the team has been unable to find a consistent starter since Tarkenton.

After years of relying on veteran free agent signings like Randall CunninghamJeff George and some guy named Favre, the team has clearly changed it's strategy over the last handful of seasons. And while both Ponder and Bridgewater were ultimately disappointing as first round picks, the strategy is the right one as first round quarterbacks that develop into quality starters are massive bargains in terms of the salary cap for their first five NFL seasons.

Most experts believe the Minnesota Vikings will try to extend current starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who is a free agent following this coming season. Bradford had a solid season with the traditional stats, and it's a popular opinion to think he's going to have an even better season this year because of how poor the Vikings offensive line was last season. I'm not sold, and don't think Bradford's dink and dump season was all that impressive, but it's clear Bradford has at least some value around the league.

If he can remain relatively productive and avoid another major injury, the team would be wise to simply franchise tag him next off-season for what is likely to be around $22M, and then trade him for the best draft pick offered, likely a mid-second rounder if I had to guess. Even if Bradford is able to lead the team to a playoff berth, he's not the kind of quarterback teams win Super Bowls with and if the ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl, it doesn't make much sense to continue trying to get over the hump with a clearly average player at this point.

The 2018 NFL Draft is widely expected to be a very strong draft for quarterbacks, with as many as eight quarterbacks sporting potential first round grades at this early juncture. Loading up on as much draft ammunition as possible is going to be important, because it will allow the Vikings to move up in the first round if there's a particular quarterback prospect they covet.

Drafting a first round quarterback would likely signal yet another rebuild for this franchise, but with the Vikings expected to toll Teddy Bridgewater's contract by another year thanks to a weird CBA quirk, they could go to him for one more season if he's healthy while the rookie learns the ropes even though they declined his fifth year option earlier this spring.

Undoubtedly a few of the college quarterback prospects will have worse-than-expected seasons, and their draft grades will fall off, but with both traditional pocket passers like Josh Allen and super-athletes like Lamar Jackson available, the Vikings can overhaul their entire offense by drafting a quarterback and designing the offense around his skill set. It's clear that the short passing concepts created by the west coast offense aren't explosive enough for this Vikings team to compete on a weekly basis, and expecting the defense to hold every opponent under 17 points a game is too tall of a task.

So here's to hoping the Minnesota Vikings are able to get a fairly productive season from Sam Bradford, are smart enough to trade him at his peak value, and pick the right young quarterback prospect to lead the team for the next decade. As I've said before, until you find that true franchise quarterback, it makes sense to draft one every single season. The Vikings do not have a franchise quarterback, but maybe at this time next season we'll have a young stud to hang all of our hopes and dreams on.

Or we'll just continue to lovingly root for losers, which is sadly becoming commonplace for Minnesota sports fans.


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