The move makes sense. While Matt Cassel performed admirably in Week 4 against the Steelers, a quarterback with Freeman’s potential (Dowell Loggains would tell us that potential isn’t really a flattering word) doesn’t often come open on the free agent market, and Cassel isn’t viewed as a long term solution for the Vikings.
While Freeman has a long way to go to regain “QB of the Future” status, the Vikings – presumably having thrown in the towel on Christian Ponder – made a smart move signing Freeman, who doesn’t hurt their chances of a return to the playoffs in 2013 and should be able to use the remainder of the season as an audition for the starting job next year. If it doesn’t pan out with Freeman, Minnesota is no further behind, they were drafting a QB in April anyhow.
The move is good news for Minnesota’s fantasy players of interest as well. I spoke after Week 4 about how Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Kyle Rudolph, and even Adrian Peterson owners should hope for Matt Cassel to hang onto the starting job. However, it didn’t seem like the Vikings coaching staff was inclined to keep it that way. With Freeman in town, Minnesota should have a near-league-average QB behind center for the rest of the year. Per reports, he won’t take the reigns immediately, but they are paying him starter’s money for the remainder of the season so Freeman should be the starting QB for the duration effective as soon as he is ready.
The short and simple truth of it is that Christian Ponder wasn’t very good. I could break down each player and tell you how Freeman will improve their game, but the easiest way to put it is: he’ll do so by being a better passer. Ponder’s career 6.3 Yards Per Attempt and 182.6 YPG are well below the Mendoza-line (Grbac-line; Dilfer-line?) and won’t sustain an offense – fake or otherwise. Freeman, viewed as a reclamation project, is considerably ahead of Ponder in both measures, as well as most quarterbacking metrics. He was bad enough to get released in Tampa, yet he’s still an improvement.
Most importantly, he’s shown an ability to score through the air. While last year was an imperfect campaign, Freeman notched 27 passing touchdowns (good for 7th most in the league), the second time in his career he’s thrown more than 25. Ponder has yet to top 18, while offering just 7 performances that Pro Football Focus graded as ‘positive’. Freeman had seven just last year. While he wasn’t all that efficient throwing the deep ball last season, and part of this result comes from scheme rather than QB Freeman has shown an interest in taking shots downfield – with the second most yards in the league on passes greater than 20 yards last year and the 4th greatest percentage of passes thrown that same distance. Ponder went deep on just 7.5% of his passes last year (half of Freeman’s 15.9%) and gained just 269 yards on them, by far the fewest of any fulltime starting QB. Throwing deep isn’t always the formula to win games, but, it definitely helps accrue fantasy production among receivers. In particular, this willingness could benefit Cordarrelle Patterson in the long term – though, the Vikings would have to let him see the field first, he’s played just 44 snaps this year.
He’s far from elite, but if he can return to last year’s form he’s average… sufficient… which is enough to keep guys like Jennings and Simpson relevant in standard formats.
Beyond that, Freeman’s presence should help create some holes for Adrian Peterson. He’s still likely to see 8 men in the box more often than most, but if the Vikings new QB can spin it there will be more room to run as defenses adjust to a more effective vertical passing game.
As far as the QB himself goes, the outlook doesn’t change a great deal from when Freeman was in Tampa. Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson are a downgrade compared to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, but Peterson counters Martin (arguably, Martin was more of a receiving threat and thus adds to a QBs stats) and #5 didn’t really have a pass catching TE in Tampa. So he’s roughly as valuable in Minnesota as he was in Tampa – a back-end QB2 with a greater degree of upside given that he won’t be playing for a coach that hates him.
The analysis is simple, so much so that you probably didn’t need me to tell you. We don’t need to make anything more of it than it is. Ponder was bad enough from a fantasy perspective that just about anyone is an upgrade. Lucky for Freeman, he fits the bill.