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Freeman in; is Ponder out in Minnesota?

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Christian Ponder era isn't over for the Minnesota Vikings.

At least, that's the front coach Leslie Frazier put up on Monday, the same day newly-signed Josh Freeman arrived at the team's complex to begin assimilating to the offense.

Ponder is recovering from a fractured rib and either he or Matt Cassel will start against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Beyond that, Freeman will certainly be in the mix.

"I think Christian still has a bright future here with our football team," coach Leslie Frazier said. "It may not look like that on the surface, but Christian is a professional. He's going to work as hard as he can every day to prepare and get back on the field and help our team win."

Don't believe it. Ponder is still with the team, and he practiced "with very little pain, if any" to his fractured rib. But signing Freeman can mean only one thing: The Vikings have had it with Ponder's inconsistency and no longer view him as the long-term option at quarterback.

Ponder is only 25 and was the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. But Freeman is only 43 days older than Ponder and he was the 17th overall pick in 2009.

"Freeman is a good player," Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "He was a first-round pick for a reason."

The Vikings aren't concerned about Freeman's fallout with the Buccaneers, chalking that up to a personality clash with coach Greg Schiano, who might be as high strung as Frazier is laid back.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman reached on Ponder in the draft. But it was understandable. For so many years, the Vikings had been a team that relied on signing aging quarterbacks for short-term runs. In many cases, such as Brett Favre in 2009, it worked. But it was time for this franchise to commit to a rookie and take the plunge, regardless of how high the pick was in the draft.

In 29 games as a starter, Ponder has shown glimpses of being a potential franchise quarterback. When the Vikings needed to win their last four games to make the playoffs a year ago, Ponder helped make it happen, finishing it off with his best game as a pro in the season finale against the visiting Packers.

But more often than not, Ponder has been more of a tease, lapsing into long slumps in which his accuracy and confidence disappear. He is 0-3 this season with seven of the Vikings' 10 turnovers and a 65.9 passer rating that ranks 31st in the league.

A fractured rib sidelined him for the Sept. 29 game against the Steelers in London. With backup Matt Cassel throwing more decisively, the Vikings finally achieved some rhythm while not turning the ball over.

A week later, Freeman agreed to terms. Ponder returned to practice a day later, saying all the right things. But even he knows it doesn't look good.

Asked what this meant for his future in Minnesota, Ponder thought for a second and said, "I don't know. I mean I'm not management and my focus right now is what I can control, which is getting healthy and preparation. We'll see what happens. It's their decision. It's not my decision."

Essentially, the decision had been made. Freeman was due for a physical on Monday afternoon.

"We think he'll be able to help us," Frazier said. "To what degree, only time will tell, but we're looking forward to having him join our team and, hopefully, help us get some momentum and continue the momentum that we started with that win against Pittsburgh."

Ponder seemed to be winging it when cornered by reporters for about 2 1/2 minutes before the team's public relations staff rescued him on Monday.

"We'll see how it plays out," Ponder said. "I'm a man of faith, so I believe that God has my future in His hands. I don't know what that means, but I'm trying to get healthy and ultimately I think this will make be a better quarterback."

Ponder said his confidence is still in place.

"This wasn't my decision and it's, I guess, what's best for the team," Ponder said. "But in my eyes, I'm getting prepared to play. As long as I play well, then I'm the one on the field."

Ponder said Frazier told him that he has "full confidence" in him as a quarterback. Asked if he can believe those words considering Monday's actions, Ponder said, "Leslie is a man of faith, so I'm going to take him at his word and I believe what he and Rick say."

--CB Chris Cook (groin) missed the Steelers game and all but a few moments of the Browns game the previous week. He returned to practice on Monday and appears close to returning.

--SS Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) missed part of the Browns game and all of the Steelers game. He returned to practice on Monday and appears close to returning.

--TE-FB Rhett Ellison (knee), who has missed the past two games, returned to practice on Monday and appears to be close to returning.