Cowboys, Vikings prove evaluating QBs is no easy task
NOV 01, 2013 9:33p ET
The Minnesota Vikings face Garrett and Romo this week with nothing resembling consistency at quarterback. Christian Ponder, the 2011 first-round pick who previously lost the starting job, will start his second straight game for Minnesota, which had started three different quarterbacks the previous three weeks.
Romo, much maligned earlier in his career, has started every game in which he's been healthy since assuming the starting spot for Dallas in Week 7 of 2006, making 101 starts in the eight-year span. Having a franchise quarterback has never been more important in the NFL, particularly with the change from run-first to pass-first offenses.
Finding that franchise quarterback has maybe never been tougher though.
"It's not an exact science," Garrett said. "It's absolutely an inexact science and I think it's hard to evaluate guys and see what you're going to get. College football is different than pro football. I think there's no position that's probably more challenging to evaluate than the quarterback position. There have been a lot of misses through the years on all NFL teams of these guys. I think if you evaluate or decide what the most important criteria are for that position, and again stick to what you think those things are and see if the player fits it or doesn't fit it, I think that's when you give yourself the best chance."
This week's game in Dallas is no better example. Romo has developed into one of the league's top quarterbacks. He ranks fifth in the league in passer rating this season at 101.7. Romo is one of the success stories, except he wasn't even drafted. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by Dallas in 2003 out of Eastern Illinois.
Romo sat for two full seasons before getting his shot late in 2006. He's now a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback and has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in every season he's started 16 games.
"More than anything, I was just really raw," Romo said. "I started playing football at a very late age, so I had a lot of ground to make up over time. They were all right. At the end of the day they just don't see those things I talked about necessarily that can separate you, if you go to work and put your head down and keep getting better."
Minnesota's been searching for consistency at quarterback since before Romo took over the job in Dallas. The Vikings have had 11 starting quarterbacks since Daunte Culpepper suffered a devastating knee injury in 2005 and the team hasn't found a long-term replacement.
This season, Minnesota has used Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman at the position. Ponder and Freeman are former first-round picks who might be running out of chances in the NFL. Ponder wasn't able to secure the spot since replacing Donovan McNabb and Freeman was run out of Tampa Bay after a couple promising seasons because of issues with the coaching staff.
"The reason to bring in Josh Freeman is, when I looked the situation, can we add a guy that would improve our 53," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said Friday. "I understand the situation because of the sensitivity because it's a quarterback position. But I also understand that if there is a player -- and this was a unique situation that does not happen every year. Believe me, there were more teams than just us involved in this -- I felt that it was an opportunity to take a look at a young quarterback. Whether he played or didn't play, that's the coaches decision. But for us to get an evaluation on a player for the next 12 weeks since he's been in here, you rarely get an opportunity to do that. So, that was the decision why we wanted to bring Josh Freeman in."
Freeman is healthy after a concussion, but now behind Ponder in the pecking order. Both Ponder and Freeman are dealing with the first real threat to their NFL careers since being drafted.
Romo had his naysayers, who knocked his consistency and inability to win big games. He's won one playoff game in his career. But Romo never let the negativity affect him.
"It's part of the process of maturing, probably as an individual, a player and as a quarterback in this league," Garrett said of Romo. "These positions that they play are high-profile positions. There's only 32 starting NFL quarterbacks in the world. So they understand what comes with it. It's the best job in the world. There is none better, but with it comes a lot of highs and lows and you're a guy who's out in front. That's just part of the deal. I know those guys wouldn't trade their positions for anything in the world. You come to understand how you handle success and how you handle adversity. You try to be as even-keeled and consistent as you can, and keep going forward trying to get better as an individual and a football team. I think Tony's done a great job of that over the last few years."
Asked what the most important criteria are to evaluating a quarterback, Garrett and Romo both offered similar opinions.
"Me, it would be instincts, their ability to get through progressions at a fast rate," Romo said. "You can always work on accuracy. You can always work on footwork. You can get guys to do the right things, be good leaders, all that stuff. But inherently, what you can't teach them is to see the field quickly, react quickly and get through stuff fast. That's where I find that they just miss the mark most of the time with young guys."
Garrett said a quarterback has to have the physical ability, but the mental approach separates the true franchise quarterbacks from the short-lived careers of many first-round picks.
"If you have the physical dimensions to do it and you have those traits, I do think what separates all players is that mental toughness and that ability to be your best regardless of the circumstance," Garrett said. "No position more than the quarterback position, being mentally tough and handling all the different things that come with the position are critical. I think being a smart guy helps the evaluation of a quarterback. I think guys who understand and learn from their experiences benefit in the NFL and I also think just the word instincts. It's a very instinctive position. Guys who have good instincts and can see things and react to them quickly are typically the ones that play the best."
Romo believes the right person has to be the one evaluating the quarterbacks, too.
"I think you some guys just develop a little later," Romo said. "And I just think that sometimes only certain people can evaluate the quarterback position at a high level. I think it's a very tough thing because there's so many different things that go into it. And I think it's a difficult position to gauge. System alone dictates difference processes. I think unless you're really the guy coaching and teaching, you don't really know everyone's strengths and negatives."
Spielman, his personnel staff and the Vikings' coaches will be evaluating Ponder and Freeman the rest of the season, without an indication yet whether the franchise quarterback is on the roster or if Minnesota will need to dip back into the draft again next summer. If the losing season continues, Spielman will have a very valuable pick from which to choose.
"This was a unique situation that I felt was too good to pass up," Spielman said of adding Freeman. "Now, where we're at with our quarterbacks will be determined at the end of the season. Now that we have the ability to look at all three of those, how the coaches handle who's playing and not playing, who's the backup and not the backup, I'm 100 percent whatever they decided to do. But I know by the end of the year we should definitely have idea on what direction if we have a franchise quarterback on this roster right now, or do we have to go into the draft potentially and look for a franchise quarterback, or where do we go at the end of the season?"
And even then, finding the right quarterback won't be easy.
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