Barring a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, it's unlikely that the Vikings will call upon whoever wins the backup quarterback job to be a savior.
But what if Cousins does go down with a major injury and Mike Zimmer has to rely on the backup QB to save the season? It's a hypothetical situation that Minnesota wants to avoid, but if it happens Zimmer will have to give that job to Sean Mannion or Kyle Sloter.
At this point, Sloter is clearly the odd man out. Zimmer was extremely critical of Sloter during a media session this week, despite Sloter continually showing up and playing big in preseason games.
“He’s got to get a lot better in a lot of the other parts of being a quarterback," said Zimmer. "Making the right checks, getting people in the right formation, making sure the motion is there, not missing the time clock when it’s eight yards in front of you. There’s a lot of things that he has to get better at if he wants to be the backup quarterback.”
That stinging critique doesn't match up with the results.
In 10 career preseason games, Sloter has thrown for 957 yards and nine touchdowns. This preseason he went 6-of-7 for 57 yards and a touchdown against the Saints, then lit up the Seahawks by going 11-of-13 for 116 yards and a touchdown.
It's not like Mannion has been bad, but he did throw a brutal pick-six against the Seahawks to mar an otherwise solid performance. Overall this preseason, Mannion is 18-of-27 for 190 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
If the Vikings need a QB to step up for one or two games, then Mannion is probably the answer. He's got one regular season start under his belt and more experience as a backup QB in the league. Plus, he's apparently not making the boneheaded mistakes that Zimmer claims Sloter is making.
But if the Vikings need a hero to step up for a long stretch in the event that Cousins goes down, then Sloter feels like the better choice. Who cares if the play clock winds down on him once or twice and he fails to get guys lined up in the right spots every play. The guy has produced results.
"People learn in different ways," Sloter said Thursday, via The Athletic. "Some people can just go into the classroom and pick it up right away. I’m a guy that I feel like the way I learn is by doing it."
Nobody can argue with Sloter's numbers, even if they have come against third-string defenses.
Sloter might not be a genius in the classroom, but neither was a quarterback named Brett Favre, who had no idea what a nickel defense was.
Not to compare a preseason darling to a Hall of Fame gunslinger, but Sloter has never had a chance in regular season action against a first-team defense. Maybe he'd look silly and overmatched, but maybe he's got some gunslinger in him that would come in handy compared to a game manager like Mannion.
Unless the Vikings defense is unbelievable, the Vikings are going to need more than a gunslinger if Cousins goes down for an extended period of time. "
Last year with the Rams, Mannion opened preseason play by going 3-of-13 for 16 yards against the Ravens, and finished exhibition play 24-of-46 for 168 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
One could also argue that Mannion hasn't had an opportunity to shine, but Sloter's preseason production blows Mannion's away.
In two weeks the Vikings will trim the roster to 53 players. At this point, it looks increasingly likely that they'll keep two quarterbacks on the roster – Cousins and Mannion – and that means Sloter's best chance of staying in Minnesota is if the Vikings are able to sneak him through waivers and sign him to the practice squad.
But there, too, Sloter might be the odd man out because the Vikings reportedly have a high affinity for Jake Browning, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Washington.
“Whenever the time comes that they feel I’m deserving of the (backup) reps,” Sloter said, “I think I’m going to take off.”
The Vikings face the Arizona Cardinals Saturday at noon in Week 3 of the preseason.