EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Entering the 2012 season with a second-year, first-round draft pick as the incumbent starter at quarterback and with an athletic third-year player behind him, the Minnesota Vikings would seem to be set at the position for the near future.
The scenario has pundits believing Minnesota could be a trade partner in April's NFL draft for a team looking to make a move for Baylor Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck seemingly set to be the top pick by the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback-needy teams could have their sights set on Griffin.
The St. Louis Rams own the No. 2 pick and have quarterback Sam Bradford, who St. Louis took first overall in the 2010 draft. Entering the offseason, Christian Ponder, the 12th overall pick last year, is the starter for the Vikings, who have the No. 3 pick. With two teams seemingly set at quarterback selecting second and third, those spots are the logical targets of draft trade speculation.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman didn't discourage that speculation when he spoke to reporters last week, but he gave everyone something to think about when he said the Vikings are pleased with Ponder but will be evaluating Luck and Griffin III as well.
"I know we're very confident in Christian," Spielman said. "But if one of those quarterbacks is too good to pass up, you also have to weigh that in, too. But we're very, very confident in what Christian Ponder brings. As we go through this process and our coaches come into this process and we put this thing together in April, I don't know where we'll be."
Of course, Minnesota must look at every option with a franchise-altering pick like the No. 3 overall. Surely Spielman will consider trades, as well as a few "blue-chippers" he says are at the top of the draft. Besides the quarterbacks, Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne could figure into the mix.
The Vikings could protect Ponder with a cornerstone left tackle to solidify the position for years. They could give Ponder a big weapon with great hands. Or, unexpectedly, they could replace him.
Spielman and his staff are headed to the Combine in Indianapolis this week, where they will surely talk with Luck and Griffin. Neither is expected to throw at the Combine, and Spielman and his staff will attend their respective pro days at Stanford and Baylor. The two workout days had been planned for the same day, but Baylor decided to move its workouts up a day.
"We'll be doing full-Monty on (Luck) and RG3," Spielman said. "You never know what happens on draft day, and I would rather be overprepared than underprepared."
The likeliest scenario would involve a team possibly the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins or Miami Dolphins trading up for the chance at Griffin.
"If it's me, I'm looking at that real hard. I want to go get RG3," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said in a teleconference last week of Cleveland moving up from the No. 4 spot. "I'm going to examine the free-agent prospects also, but if you're talking purely draft, I'm looking to move up to two as opposed to three.
"If I move to three, what if the Redskins come up to two? Obviously I'd like to give less. I'd rather not give up No. 22 also. But I think that's short sighted when you're talking about trying to secure your future at the most important position in all of sports. So I think they have to look to upgrade."
The Browns, at No. 4, appear to in the best position to move ahead because they also hold the No. 22 pick, a prize that could interest St. Louis to move back just two spots. Mayock, among others, believes Griffin might be worth the price.
"I think it will be a hell of a ride," Mayock said. "The more tape I put on of this kid, the more fun I have watching him. I was pleasantly surprised by, as I said earlier, his pocket awareness, his eyes down the field, and his physical toughness is outstanding. He takes a lot of hits and it doesn't bother him.
"Bottom line, he's a play maker. That's what this league is all about at that position."
If the Vikings do stay away from a quarterback at No. 3, Spielman acknowledged that bringing in a veteran free agent could be a possibility, similar to how Minnesota finished last season with Sage Rosenfels as the third quarterback to Ponder and Webb.
Spielman said the team will be talking with Rosenfels agent this week at the Combine, a procedure it plans to go through with all of its pending free agents.
"We're looking at options as a veteran quarterback, as a third quarterback," Spielman said. "We could be looking at options of having two quarterbacks, and having a guy on the practice squad. So we're very open to that. I think we have some veterans that we have our eye on that can come in and play that mentor role, but could also come in and play if they had to play as well. Sage did a great job with that last year. There are a couple other guys out there I can't mention that we think would fill that role."
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