http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nf ... y/4269041/
Pushing Freeman as Vikings QB too early hurt Frazier
Tom Pelissero, USA TODAY Sports 6:14 p.m. EST December 31, 2013
(Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
QB position was Frazier's undoing at multiple turns
Freeman can become free agent in March; will get $10.4 million for 4 starts with 2 teams in 2013
Leslie Frazier did everything he could to sell players on his gamble, despite signs Josh Freeman wasn't ready to play less than two weeks after signing with the Minnesota Vikings in October.
"You could tell Josh did not know the offense," said one of several Vikings players who spoke to USA TODAY Sports about the situation Tuesday. The players spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they weren't supposed to discuss team business publicly.
"Practices did not really go that well that week. But Coach Frazier was in the team meetings like, 'Oh, I think this is the best week of practice we've had all year.' And everyone's like, what? What are you talking about?"
Maybe Frazier felt pressure to play the talented quarterback general manager Rick Spielman had just given a $2 million contract for what amounted to a 12-week tryout. Or maybe Frazier was trying to convince himself he'd get a spark at the only position that could provide it.
To players, the decision was a show of desperation from a well-liked coach who was fired Monday with one year left on his contract, leaving Frazier's successor to work with Spielman and try to fix a desperate situation at the NFL's most important position.
"Debacle," a second player said of the Vikings' quarterback situation this season. "When they started Josh in that Giants game, we were as confused as anybody."
It wasn't the only reason the Vikings dismissed Frazier, a defensive-minded coach whose defense flopped repeatedly in the season's early stages, costing them a chance to win the wide-open NFC North for the first time since Brett Favre retired.
But it's a quarterback-driven league, and that position was Frazier's undoing at multiple turns, from his push to trade for washed-up Donovan McNabb after the 2011 lockout to seemingly arbitrary switches this season from Christian Ponder to Matt Cassel to Freeman and back again.
"I haven't got it right yet," said Spielman, who used the No. 12 overall pick on Ponder in 2011 and signed Cassel in March. "We've worked as hard as we could to try to get that right."
That's why Spielman took a chance on Freeman, who has all the physical tools but was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in October after a public feud with then-coach Greg Schiano – and didn't exactly establish himself as a leader with his new Vikings teammates.
Four people with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports that Freeman was late for numerous meetings in his roughly three months with the Vikings. A third player said Freeman often was among the last players to the facility.
One of Freeman's agents, Erik Burkhardt, said "anything about meetings or missing anything is false," and the only issue was Freeman played too soon.
Either way, Frazier couldn't go back once Freeman was healthy, particularly because the consensus in the locker room was Cassel should have kept the job after he led the Vikings to their first win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 29, three weeks before Freeman's debut.
"I feel bad for Josh getting thrown in so quickly," the first player said.
Freeman bombed against the New York Giants on national television Oct. 21, completing 20 of 53 passes for 190 yards with an interception in a 23-7 loss, then reported concussion symptoms the next day and never played again.
Ponder and Cassel split starts on the way to a 5-10-1 finish, and Frazier was ousted with several other NFL coaches – Schiano, Gary Kubiak in Houston, Mike Shanahan in Washington – whose QB changes were part of their undoing.
No position is harder to fill, which is why the Vikings were willing look past the flags on Freeman in the first place. He can become a free agent again in March after collecting more than $10.4 million for his four starts with two teams in 2013.
Cassel can void the remaining year of his deal in February. Only Ponder is under team control for 2014, and he may not return either, depending who replaces Frazier and how quickly Spielman chooses to move on in what's probably his last chance to find the answer, too.
"Every team is always going to be looking for that franchise quarterback until you actually get one," Spielman said, "and you're going to continually grind away until you finally hit on one."