Pacifist Viking stole a whole lot of my thunder for this post with his National Friday League column, which you can read here. However, I will add a bit of color myself.
Coming off a 3-13 season, if the Minnesota Vikings were going to improve to 10-6 and make the playoffs in 2012, which they did, I would have imagined Christian Ponder would have had to play well enough to silence any doubt that he was the answer as the franchise quarterback.
He didn't do that. In 2012 he was occasionally good, but frequently either OK or abysmal. He finished 25th overall in passing yards, 23rd overall in touchdown passes and 23rd overall (I'm tossing out guys like Colt McCoy who hardly played but had higher ratings than Ponder) in quarterback rating. How much of this is on Ponder and how much of it is on the bad batch of wide receivers he had to throw to, I can't say. I think a fair bit of it is on Ponder though and he'll have to improve in a number of areas (accuracy, reading defenses, decision-making, pocket awareness) in order for the Vikings passing offense to get where it needs to be for this team to consistently be in the playoffs.
It would be foolhardy for Vikings fans to think Ponder and the Vikings passing game can continue to perform at the level it did in 2012 and expect this team to compete for a playoff spot consistently. They managed to do it this year because Adrian Peterson had a season for the ages, they played abnormally good against San Francisco, Houston and, to an extent, in the season finale against Green Bay, and they went 5-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer after going 2-9 in those kinds of games in 2011. Because I doubt Peterson will run for 2,000 yards again next season, and because winning close games often comes down to luck rather than skill, we can't expect a repeat of those things in 2013. So if the Vikings are going to continue to be a 10-6 (or better) team they'll have to get better in other areas to make up for the regression. One of those areas is going to have to be Ponder's play.
I'm pessimistic that Ponder is the guy (read this). But he played well enough in the Vikings final two regular season games that I'm OK with him being the starter next year. But as PV wrote on Friday, the backup plan can no longer be Joe Webb. That ship sailed on January 5th at Lambeau Field. The list of free agent QBs starts with Joe Flacco (who ain't hitting the open market) and drops steadily in talent level from there. Still, the Vikings need a viable veteran who can keep the offense afloat if Ponder gets hurt. I don't know where that veteran is coming from - maybe bring Sage Rosenfels back for another tour? The Vikings might even have to take a chance and draft a guy relatively early in April who they think can play right away - like Washington did with Kirk Cousins - as a hedge in case Ponder reverts to sucking ass again.
Other things I'd like to see ...
Wide receivers: I also agree with PV that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman must do all he can to sign a #1 wide receiver during free agency. There are only three that fit that bill and appear that they will be available (Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace) and they will be costly. But the Vikings really need to add someone to the roster who has proven he is a #1 receiver as opposed to one they hope or think could be a #1 receiver. Adding such a player will also allow the Vikings to resist the temptation to reach for a WR in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft and instead select the best player available (every team claims they do this, but I don't think they always live by this creed) - perhaps a run stuffing defensive tackle with some pass rush ability, a linebacker who can cover the middle half of the field on passes in the Cover Two (a problem all year for the Vikings) or a big cornerback who can press at the line of scrimmage. This year's draft is deep in WRs with potential, and there are good players who could be had in the second-to-fourth round range. Add a Jennings or Wallace, draft a WR (or two) in rounds 2-4, and couple them with Percy Harvin and an improving Jarius Wright, and you've given Ponder the tools at WR that should eliminate any excuses if he plays poorly again.
Percy Harvin: I sure hope the Vikings come to a resolution with Harvin. I was encouraged by the things Spielman said about Harvin in this Q & A with ESPN 1500's Tom Pelissero, but I'm getting the vibe that Harvin won't be back with the Vikings in 2013. That would not be good. Harvin might be a pain in the ass, but he's a supremely talented pain in the ass. And as the Vikings found out with Randy Moss, it's hard to replace an all-timer once you've let him go. Again, my hope is the Vikings find a way to work things out with Harvin and keep him on the team. The passing game will be much better for it.
The Coaching Staff: There's been no announcement yet, but head coach Leslie Frazier should get an contract extension from the Vikings. I also would like to see no changes made to the Vikings coordinators, and that includes offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. I know loyal KAB commentator Eric The Red disagrees, but I think Musgrave did pretty well with the hand he was dealt in 2012. He had an extremely shaky QB running his offense and no WRs outside of Harvin who could do anything until Wright gained some experience. Yet the offense still finished 14th overall in points scored. I think it's important for a player like Ponder, who needs a comfort zone, to have a third year in the same offensive system. I think the same applies to all the players surrounding him - from offensive lineman, to running backs to tight ends and WRs. The players won't have to learn new terminology or new roles or adjust to a new coach. I'm all for continuity among a coaching staff after a 10-6 season. However, if Spielman gives Musgrave and Ponder more talent to work with at WR and the offense is still mediocre in 2013, then you make a change. Not now, though.