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Vikings decline to pick up Christian Ponder's 5th-year option

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If Christian Ponder is with the Vikings come 2015, it won't be on his current rookie contract.

The Vikings declined to pick up quarterback's fifth-year option by the 11 p.m. Friday deadline, CBS Sports reports, meaning the 26-year-old will be a free agent at the end of next season.

The Vikings' 2011 first-round pick played in nine games last year, throwing for 1,648 yards, seven touchdowns and nine picks, while completing 63.6 percent of his passes.

ESPN notes Ponder would have been owed $9.686 million in 2015 if the team had picked up the option.

Why so much for a signal-caller with a career quarterback rating of 77.3?

MMQB explains the fifth-year option tool, which was added to first-rounders' rookie contracts as part of the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement. All first rounders get a four-year contract, with a team option for that additional year. For players chosen between picks 11 and 32 (Ponder was taken 12th), the value of the contract becomes the average salary of the third through 25th highest-paid players at the same position.

Of Ponder's fellow 2011 first-round quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker) only one – Newton – had his option picked up, Pro Football Talk notes.

Earlier this week, Ponder told ESPN's Ben Goessling he was hoping for a "clean slate" with the Vikings. And former Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson tells the Pioneer Press he thinks it's still too early to call Ponder a sure draft bust.

At this past week's voluntary minicamp, Matt Cassel – signed to a new two-year deal this offseason – took snaps with the first team, getting acclimated to new offensive coordinator Norv Turner's offense.

“He talks and preaches discipline, and everything is so detail-oriented,” the 31-year-old Cassel said. “He stays on top of it in the meetings, nothing slips by him. He coaches us hard, makes people accountable, and that’s what we need.”

The Vikings brass could also decide they need a young quarterback in next week's draft to serve as Cassel's successor. That could be Johnny Manziel, who former quarterback Rich Gannon recently described as having "the balls of a burglar." Or Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, who is shooting up draft boards and apparently thinks the Vikings are a good fit.

Meanwhile, longtime Viking Kevin Williams is mulling retirement if he can't find what he considers a fair deal.

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