INDIANAPOLIS -- Joe Webb's disastrous playoff performance didn't get him fired as the Minnesota Vikings' backup quarterback. It will, however, require him to beat out a yet-to-be-identified competitor to retain the position.
That's the best way I can put it after listening to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman speak here at the NFL scouting combine. Both Frazier and Spielman said they were reluctant to judge Webb on how he played as the Vikings' surprise starter in a 24-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers, but it's clear they aren't willing to usher him back to that role unchallenged.
As usual, the list of veteran free agents -- especially those willing to sign with a team offering no opportunity to start -- is small. A conspiracy theorist would recall that Spielman drafted free agent Tyler Thigpen in 2007, only to lose him to the Kansas City Chiefs in a botched practice squad move, and had interest in signing him two years ago.
I have no evidence the Vikings will target Thigpen next month, but he has the profile of the type of veteran they would have available to them. The draft would offer more opportunities, especially for a team like the Vikings with nine draft choices, but it could be a challenge for a mid-round rookie to win the No. 2 job in training camp.
That leaves Webb in a difficult position and one that probably won't make many Vikings fans happy. The team's insistence on developing him at quarterback, amid their complete commitment to Ponder as a starter, means one of its most unique players can't get on the field. Frazier seems no more open to Webb as a multi-positional playmaker than he was last year.
"If we got to the point where we felt that there was somebody that beat Joe out," Frazier said, "you've go to do whatever you've got to do to make your team better. If we felt like that was the best thing for Joe and the best thing for the team, then you consider it. That would be saying that you found someone that is better than Joe."
But, Frazier added: "I'm not so sure that Joe's not a good NFL quarterback. He's shown that at times, when you go back and look at the Philly game [in 2010], the game he had against Detroit [in 2011], the way he finished against Chicago [in 2011]. He's done some things, even the Washington game he stepped in [in 2011], he's shown that he can play the quarterback position. You hate for that one game against Green Bay to be the defining moment for Joe. You see some of the quarterbacks that are playing today, that was a tough spot for him."
I don't doubt that, and I suppose the best-case scenario has Webb elevating amid the competition. In the worst case, however, he loses the competition and leaves the Vikings no time to train him at other positions. At this point, it's all or nothing for Joe Webb.