Former NFL executive: Chrisitan Ponder is ‘obvious choice’ for Vikings

ponderFormer NFL executive Bill Polian, who is best known as the architect of the Colts as GM and then team president from 1998-2011, is a respected football mind. He also drafted Peyton Manning with the No. 1 overall pick in 1998 and then didn’t have to worry about what else to do about that position for the next 13 season, when Manning started every game.

Manning was injured in 2011. The Colts had bad backup QB plans — Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins all started at least three games apiece. Indianapolis went 2-14. Polian was fired.

So to reiterate: Polian is a good football mind, but maybe not when it comes to decisions on backup quarterbacks.

That’s your background information for what Polian had to say Tuesday night on Sirius XM radio, in the wake of Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending injury. In a discussion of the Vikings’ options for bringing in a QB, Polian not only uttered the name we don’t like to name but did so with emphasis:

Christian Ponder is the “obvious choice” for the Vikings, he said.

Eh, what?

Let’s hear Polian out for a moment, give him a chance to explain.

“He’s the obvious choice for a lot of reasons. The only drawback … is that he is a failed No. 1 choice in Minnesota, and all the fans know it. To some degree the players know it — not to some degree, the players do know it. … But you’re in a heck of a fix right now. And he provides, as a backup with Shaun Hill being the guy, as a backup he provides stability and a little bit of time to look for a better solution. Ultimately sometimes in a situation where there are no good solutions, the least hurtful solution is the one that makes sense.”

Shorter Polian: everybody in Minnesota knows Ponder can’t play, but maybe bring him back anyway because you need somebody and it could be worse.

OK, that’s not quite fair. If you squint at what he’s saying from the perfect angle, it makes sense. Ponder — who recently joined the 49ers but figures to be cut/expendable there — knows the system. The Vikings know him. He would know his role.

But still: no.

Five questions and answers about Teddy Bridgewater’s injury

teddyzimmerTeddy Bridgewater’s season-ending leg injury is only a day old, and already there have been tons of angles and perspectives about what it all means. Here is an attempt to tie all those things together and answer a bunch of questions in one place — one-stop shopping if you’re wondering what it all means.

1) What exactly do we think happened? This is probably the trickiest question to answer since it was a seemingly routine play, but basically: Bridgewater dropped back to pass during Tuesday’s practice at Winter Park, and somewhere during that process — without being touched — he suffered a complete tear of his ACL as well as what is being reported as a tibiofemoral dislocation.  The fact that it was a non-contact injury is not surprising, medical experts say. Most ACL injuries happen that way. He was taken away by ambulance and sedated. He awaits surgery and a long recovery process.

2) What’s the prognosis for Bridgewater’s recovery? He is certainly out for the season. Again, without knowing all that will be found in the course of surgery, this question is a little tricky to answer in full. The fact that there is reportedly no damage to nerves or arteries is relatively good news, though the full recovery process from a torn ACL figures to take a year — pushing Bridgewater right up against the start of the 2017 season.

3) What does it mean for Bridgewater, football-wise? The timing is quite bad for a lot of reasons — the primary one being this was billed as a potential breakout season for Bridgewater. He had an encouraging rookie season in 2014 and a play-it-safe 2015 season in which the Vikings went 11-5 and won the NFC North title. The preseason chatter was that the Vikings could contend for a Super Bowl if Bridgewater took a big step forward. And in his most recent game, Bridgewater looked like a quarterback primed for bigger and better things. Instead, we’ll be left with lingering questions of “what if,” while Bridgewater will miss a full season of development.

4) What does Bridgewater’s 2016 absence mean for the Vikings? It means 36-year-old veteran Shaun Hill, at least in the short-term, becomes the starter. Joel Stave, an undrafted rookie free agent, is now No. 2 on the depth chart. Other positions will become more important. It means the Vikings will likely rely on much of the same game plan they used in 2015: a safe passing game, a strong running game and a stout defense. That was a winning formula a year ago, and in the best-case scenario this year’s team could probably still contend for a playoff spot with Hill under center. But barring a major QB acquisition or unexpectedly above-average play from Hill, the Vikings’ Super Bowl chances took a severe hit.

5) If the Vikings want to get another quarterback, who is out there? It’s a pretty thin group, though there are a couple of potentially intriguing players who could be available in a trade. One is 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who has faded after leading a couple of deep playoff runs. Another is Mike Glennon, a backup in Tampa Bay. The Vikings have some promising history with Randall Cunningham (1998) and Brett Favre (2009) stepping in late to lead great seasons. But in general, Super Bowl-caliber QBs aren’t typically found in late August.

Bridgewater and the 2016 Vikings: The pain of ‘what if?’

teddyrodgersThe “what if?” is the worst kind of regret. It sits there, mocking us because it’s impossible to rewrite history, taunting us because it’s not feasible to simultaneously experience more than one reality.

And the “what if?” certainly feels as if it will be the worst football-related thing to come from Teddy Bridgewater’s awful, season-ending injury Tuesday. The very worst thing, of course, is the pain itself that it is causing a player who deserves better. But the shared pain of what it means for the 2016 Vikings’ season is real as well.

The short-term questions — among them: Will the Vikings, about to enter their new stadium in a season of high hopes, acquire another quarterback? How will this impact the running game? — will be resolved. We will have answers, whether we like them or not.

But they are not the questions we really wanted answered. Namely, this was supposed to be the year we really found out some things about Bridgewater and the Vikings. This was supposed to be the merging of a quarterback who seemed to be getting better, still had more to prove and still appeared to have more to offer … with one of the all-time great running backs in NFL history, defying his age long enough to meet Bridgewater in a season where their talents could overlap … with a defense that was very good last year and has the makings of being exceptional this year.

We weren’t going to get all the answers, but my word we were going to start getting them. We were going to find out if Bridgewater was more than a “game manager,” a fine thing but generally not a Super Bowl-winning description when it comes to quarterbacks. We were going to see him “cut it loose,” as his coaches have urged — a thing we had already seen, cruelly, in a late first half flash of brilliance in the third preseason game, which turned out to be Bridgewater’s last game of the season.

We were going to find out just what the declarations that “the Vikings would go as far as Bridgewater would take them” meant. We were going to see if those who had their doubts about his ceiling — count me among them, based on body of work — would be proven wrong.

We will not know any of these things.

That does not mean the season is lost. The Vikings could make a shrewd move for a QB who fits well for a season. It’s even possible Quarterback X will do as well or even better than Bridgewater would have done. Hey, maybe Shaun Hill is even that guy. That’s probably wishful thinking, but it’s possible. More likely: A determined Adrian Peterson, which is the best kind of Adrian Peterson (see: 2012), could put the offense on his back. The defense could prove to be just so good that the Vikings can’t help but win.

Like I said, we will find out all of those things about everyone else. What we won’t find out is how they mix together with the third-year QB the Vikings were pinning a whole lot of hopes on. We won’t be able to go back at the end of it and say, “OK, now let’s try that all again, this time with Teddy.”

And the answers, quite possibly, are more than just delayed. By 2017, will Peterson still be here? Will Bridgewater be fully ready to go? Even if he is, where will he fit in with everyone else who had a year to improve and play together while he had to stand still?

Last year ended with one of those awful “what ifs” when Blair Walsh missed a chip shot. This year hasn’t even started yet, and already it feels like 2016 will be defined by that same terrible, unanswerable hypothetical question.

That hurts.

Here are Vikings QB options with Bridgewater out for year

kaepIt feels a little strange to already be thinking about how the Vikings might replace Teddy Bridgewater given how fresh his season-ending injury is. But that’s the nature of the “next player up” league. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he and GM Rick Spielman already started talking about it Tuesday. So let’s take quick stock of the Vikings’ QB situation.

Veteran Shaun Hill, at least in the near-term, will become the starter. Joel Stave presumably goes from No. 3 to No. 2. Brad Sorensen was cut Tuesday. That’s not much to go on with the regular season less than two weeks away. The Vikings would seem to be in the market for another experienced QB — as competition for Hill or at least as a backup. Who is out there (or at least potentially available) as cuts loom for NFL teams this week?

COLIN KAEPERNICK: The 49ers QB has been embroiled in controversy over his decision to sit during the national anthem. That could have bearing on his situation with San Francisco, though his roster spot was already tenuous and he could be a candidate to be cut this week. Kaepernick was a starter for parts of 2012-15, helping the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and NFC title game appearance as a dual threat. He dropped off last season, but he’s still only 28 and could be among the best players available. That reunion with Alex Boone would be interesting.

MICHAEL VICK: Who knows what the 36-year-old has left in the tank, but he’s currently a free agent. If you believe in nostalgia, remember this: the two best season in recent Vikings history (1998 and 2009) were sparked by veteran QBs (Randall Cunningham and Brett Favre) who weren’t starters at the beginning of camp. Former Bucks guard and Minnesota native Nate Wolters wants to dig even deeper in the time machine, by the way.

MARK SANCHEZ: The Broncos are reportedly shopping him. That’s not exactly an endorsement considering they, too, are thin at QB. But he’s an option.

GENO SMITH: Same as Sanchez, Smith is reportedly available in a trade with the Jets.

MIKE GLENNON: A slightly more intriguing name than Sanchez or Smith, Glennon is stuck in Tampa behind Jameis Winston and is rumored to be available in a trade. He put up decent numbers in 2013 and 2014 and is only 26.

OTHERS: Dave Richard at CBS Sports rattled off a list of other QBs who played for Norv Turner and could be pried away — guys like Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden and … it’s hard to even type this … Christian Ponder.

 

Wolves’ Kris Dunn will win NBA Rookie of the Year, peers say

krisdunnThe Timberwolves will have their third consecutive NBA Rookie of the Year winner — at least according to the rookies themselves.

In an annual survey of 38 NBA rookies, the Wolves’ Kris Dunn was tabbed as the most likely winner of the award, garnering 29 percent of the votes to narrowly edge Brandon Ingram of the Lakers.

Dunn was also named the best playmaker and tabbed the best defensive player in the rookie class — which would certainly make new head coach Tom Thibodeau happy. Dunn also fared well in the question about which rookie will have the best career, coming in second to Ingram.

Interestingly, Dunn also received the most votes on the question about who is the funniest rookie. Is there anything this guy can’t do?

Keep in mind, though, that this is 1) just a survey before any games have been played, 2) it’s not even a sure thing that Dunn will start considering Ricky Rubio is also on the roster and 3) the rookies have tended to be off-base in past years. Last year they said Jahlil Okafor would be the landslide ROY, and it ended up being Karl-Anthony Towns in a unanimous decision. Two years ago they liked Jabari Parker by a whopping margin, but Andrew Wiggins took it.

It is also worth noting that no team in NBA history has had three consecutive Rookie of the Year Award winners. The last team to have two in a row before the Wolves were the Buffalo Braves in 1973 and 1974. Buffalo, by the way, improved from 21 to 42 to 49 wins between 1973 and 1975.

BTN football rankings: Gophers ahead of Badgers (and many others)

gophersbadgersMaybe the Big Ten — and particularly the West — is just so wide open that it’s hard to predict this season. Maybe there is just a lot of faith in Tracy Claeys’ team.

Whatever the reason, we’ve seen more than one college football expert weigh in with a very positive outlook when it comes to this year’s Gophers. Last week it was ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit tabbing the Gophers as a surprise winner of the West (though couching it a bit by noting how there is no true favorite in the division).

And now it’s Big Ten Network’s Tom Dienhart coming out firing with his preseason conference power rankings. Let’s see, he starts with Ohio State. Sure. Then Iowa. Yes, makes sense — a standard pick to win the West. Then Michigan State and Michigan, two more powerhouses.

And then the Gophers. Yes, Minnesota at No. 5 — and No. 2 in the division. That’s ahead of Nebraska (6), Northwestern (7) and most notably Wisconsin (8), all of whom are West foes.

Dienhart, it should be noted, isn’t fully sold on the Gophers.

Writes Dienhart: “If you wanna be Mr. Trendy and create headlines for yourself, pick the Golden Gophers to win the West. Hey, it may happen. The schedule is kind. And this is a smart staff that maximizes its roster as well as any Big Ten program. But is this really a championship-caliber offense?

That seems to be a fair assessment. The schedule is quite forgiving, and it doesn’t take too much squinting to see Minnesota start the year 7-2 (or even 8-1?) heading into a closing stretch of at Nebraska, home vs. Northwestern, at Wisconsin.

It certainly sets up, at least, to give Claeys a chance to be a hero and prove himself worthy of keeping this job for a long time. The Badgers, meanwhile, have a brutal start. Their first four conference games are against Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa — all top 20 teams, with three of the four on the road.

If you’ve watched the last decade two decades three decades four decades half-century of Gophers football, though, you also know that nothing can be taken for granted.

How many 2016 Twins players are opening day roster locks in 2017?

twinsThe Twins have used 47 players this season.

Forty-seven — with the 48th (Logan Schafer) set to debut tonight. That’s almost two full 25-man rosters, which is not good. The Royals (38 players used) and Tigers (41), who just got done beating up on the Twins, are more representative of what a team might experience during the course of a normal season filled with ups, downs and injuries.

The Twins? They’re still throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, which in a lost season is not a bad short-term plan. In a mostly lost decade, it’s not a good long-term plan.

As such, here’s a question: how many of those 47 players should we consider “locks” to be on the opening day roster in 2017? Sure, there is no such thing as a sure thing. But take “lock” to mean someone that would make you VERY surprised to not see on the roster. Here’s my early list:

LOCKS: Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes*, Glen Perkins*, Trevor May*.

That’s it. Seven guys. And three of them have asterisks because it assumes they will be healthy at the start of 2017. Mauer will have two years left on his contract and a no-trade clause. Sano and Kepler have shown enough this season to be penciled into the lineup. Santana is their only reliable starting pitcher. Hughes and Perkins are quite valuable when healthy and both are under contract. May has some of the best stuff on the team and is inexpensive.

LIKELY: Brian Dozier, Kyle Gibson, Ryan Pressly, Eddie Rosario, Taylor Rogers, Brandon Kintzler, Jorge Polanco.

Dozier makes the list of “likely” instead of locks not because of performance (clearly) but because a new regime could decide he’s the Twins’ best trade asset in pursuit of a high-caliber starting pitcher. Gibson has regressed this season but he still figures to be in the rotation. Pressly has appeared in 61 games this season and done a credible job. Rosario has been quite good since returning from the minors. Rogers has been good enough to be considered a bullpen arm, if not more, in 2017. Kintzler has been a revelation, though the Twins’ shouldn’t make the same mistake they made with Kevin Jepsen and assume he will duplicate his work next season. Polanco will be out of options and seems likely to earn some role.

QUESTIONABLE: The other 34 guys. That includes Kurt Suzuki (pending free agent), Eduardo Escobar (could have his role taken by Jorge Polanco) and every other underachieving starting pitcher, young or old, among others.

BIG PICTURE: There should be a pretty significant roster overhaul in the offseason and a TON of roster battles in spring training. Given what looks like an impending regime change, it should be very interesting to see how that happens.

The Twins need to figure out what to do long-term at third base, shortstop, catcher at at least one outfield spot. They need to figure out several spots in the starting rotation. They need to figure out several bullpen spots.

Aside from that, they’re set.

Vikings’ MVP: Bridgewater; least valuable: this sad piece of pizza

Teddy Bridgewater was sharp Sunday in the “all-important” third preseason game, putting to rest the controversy of sitting out the “less-important” second preseason game. His three-throw sequence to Charles Johnson, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph late in the first half was a thing of beauty, and his 22-yard scamper earlier in the half showed off the moves that have made him a sneakily effective scrambler. He looked the part of an upper-echelon QB not afraid to cut it loose.

But if Bridgewater was the MVP of the first game at U.S. Bank Stadium — insomuch as a preseason game can have an MVP — we also have a nominee for least valuable: this sad looking piece of pizza tweeted out by Darren Rovell. It was said to have been sold for $8.50 at Sunday’s game.

These are learning moments for everyone, and one has to imagine this is a correctable mistake.

Revisionist history: KG, Iverson could have been Wolves teammates

iversongarnettRevisionist history is a dangerously fun kind of history. It allows us to re-imagine outcomes and scenarios with the benefit of hindsight, exchanging a less-favorable actual past for a more desirable imaginary version. In the process, we forget about potential obstacles or reasons something might not have been so great. Hey, if we’re reinventing a fictional past, we get to decide the terms, right?

So let’s dig into a fun item from Adrian Wojnarowksi’s recent podcast with The Vertical in which he talks to former 76ers GM Billy King. In the podcast, King reveals that former Philadelphia star guard Allen Iverson was amenable to a trade to the Timberwolves in 2006, in order to team up with Kevin Garnett. The trade never happened, of course — Iverson was soon after traded to Denver — but let’s imagine that it did. And let’s play the revisionist history out to its fullest extent — but for better AND for worse.

An Iverson trade to the Wolves in 2006 — depending on what the Wolves had to give up, of course — would have made a borderline good team even better. It would have given Garnett a legitimate running mate and his most dynamic teammate since Stephon Marbury forced his way out. Bleacher Report has a GREAT image that it tweeted out.

The combination of both players’ wills and skills very well could have made the Timberwolves a playoff team in 2006-07. Remember, the Wolves even without the trade were 20-16 at one point that year. The West was stacked with good teams (Dallas, San Antonio and the Lakers, just to name a few), so it’s hard to imagine the Wolves would have made a deep run. But a playoff berth and maybe a first-round series win with those two? Sure.

If the Wolves had made the playoffs that year, they almost certainly would not have fired head coach Dwane Casey midway through the season (a move that looks awfully bad in hindsight, regardless). And it’s a 99.9 percent certainty they wouldn’t have traded Garnett in the 2007 offseason coming off a playoff season and with Iverson still going strong. That means Boston almost certainly would not have won the NBA title in KG’s first year with the Celtics.

Maybe the KG-Iverson combo would have been good enough to keep the Wolves afloat for much of the rest of the decade, assuming they both stayed healthy. Iverson would have been 31 at the time of the trade, while KG would have been 30 — so both were going to be entering a period of decline, but both had plenty of productive seasons left. If that happened, maybe KG never would have been traded at all.

However, if Garnett was never traded and the Wolves remained a playoff team or fringe playoff team all those years … they probably never would have bottomed out (and Garnett probably never would have won a championship). True, they wouldn’t have endured all the lean years — some of which were truly hideous. They quite possibly never would have employed Kurt Rambis or David Kahn. But they also quite possibly would not be in the position they are in right now — with a nucleus led by No. 1 overall picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins that has the potential to do serious damage in years to come.

So I guess in this history revision, you have a choice: 5-8 years of pretty good basketball and the sight of KG and AI as teammates, though probably not on a title-contending team, leading to a period of decline in recent years … or 10 years of constant rebuilding, leading the point the Wolves are at right now?

Byron Buxton: 19 strikeouts in 46 Class AAA at bats since demotion

buxtonByron Buxton’s overall numbers in Class AAA Rochester this season are still quite good (and encouraging), as the 22-year-old Twins prospect is hitting .315 with a .944 OPS.

But Buxton, who was demoted in August while hitting just .193 in the majors and while in the midst of a 6-for-46 slump that included 19 strikeouts, has struggled to make contact in his stint in Rochester since being sent down.

In fact, he’s struck out just as frequently at the lower level, albeit with better overall results. Buxton is hitting .261 (12 for 46) since being sent down, but he has 19 strikeouts in that span. Even during a modest four-game hitting streak in his last four games (6 for 19 in that span, including a home run), Buxton has piled up nine strikeouts.

I’m not here to read too much into a small sample size, but that’s a very high rate — even for Buxton, who hasn’t been afraid to strike out even while posting great numbers throughout his minor league career. It bears watching as his season progresses and the Twins consider September call-ups when rosters expand in a week.