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Vikings need to sort out their 3M QB assortment of Mullens, Mannion and Mond

With addition of Mullens, one quarterback will be the odd man out

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks Kellen Mond (11), Kirk Cousins (8), and Sean Mannion (14) warm up during training camp July 29, 2022, at US Bank Stadium.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports
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EAGAN, Minn. — Suddenly, there is another 3M in the Twin Cities. It involves Mullens, Mannion and Mond, and what the Vikings will do with them.

On Monday, the Vikings acquired Nick Mullens from the Las Vegas Raiders for a conditional seventh-round draft pick presumably to be their backup quarterback behind Kirk Cousins. But first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell has yet to anoint Mullens for that role and insists competition is ongoing between him, Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond despite shaky play by the latter two in the first two preseason games.

And even if Mullens indeed does become the backup, there remains some intrigue on which remaining quarterback will be the odd man out.

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More should be known when the Vikings play the Broncos in Denver at 8 p.m. Saturday in the last of their three preseason games. Then again, O’Connell has not said if Mullens will even play against the Broncos. By Tuesday, the Vikings must make a decision on which quarterbacks will open the season on the 53-man regular-season roster.

For now, what is one way to break it down? How about talking to some former Vikings backup quarterbacks?

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Sean Salisbury, who played for the Vikings from 1992-94, is a longtime NFL analyst who rarely holds back his opinion. He likes the move the Vikings made with Mullens, and believes Mannion will be on his way out.

“I think their backup quarterback position until Nick Mullens got there was in the lower third of the league,” said Salisbury, who lives in Houston and hosts “The Sean Salisbury Show” on local radio station KBME-AM 790. “I trust Mullens more than I do with what they had in (training) camp, so I think it’s a wise move. Nick gives you a better chance than the other two.

“I would keep the young guy Mond as a developmental guy … You’re probably going to have to move on from Sean because I expected more from him. The job, he could have grabbed it by the throat, and he didn’t.”

Sage Rosenfels, a Minnesota quarterback in 2009 and 2011, also said the Vikings needed to make the move they did on Mullens.

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Nick Mullens

“Obviously, the Vikings didn’t feel great (about their backup situation) and went out and got Nick Mullens, and I think that’s a very good move for them,” Rosenfels said. “I like his competitive sprit, his quick release. I think he understands football really well. He’s a guy who maybe doesn’t have a ton of talent, but he can add something to the table if and when called upon.”

The Vikings started Mannon in their first preseason game at Las Vegas and Mond in the second against San Francisco, but they split reps in both games. Mannion, who is entering his eighth season and has been Cousins’ backup the past three, has been cautious with his play and hasn’t shown much. Mond, entering his second season, showed some promise in the 26-20 loss to the Raiders, throwing two touchdown passes, but struggled in the 17-7 loss to the 49ers, throwing two ugly interceptions.

So far in the preseason, Mannion has completed 18 of 27 passes for 137 yards for a passer rating of 79.9. Mond has completed 19 of 34 passes for 201 yards with the two touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 68.4.

“There wasn’t that much suddenness out of the quarterbacks, somebody able to get the ball out quickly and make decisions quickly,” Rosenfels said of the Vikings’ quarterback play in the first two games.

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In three preseason games for the Raiders, Mullens completed 21 of 29 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 103.4. He had an impressive performance against the Vikings on Aug. 14, completed 7 of 9 passes for 94 yards with a touchdown.

Mullens is entering his sixth NFL season and has a 5-12 record as a starter and a career passer rating of 87.3. He played in similar offensive systems to Minnesota’s when he was with San Francisco from 2017-20 and Cleveland last year. Those offenses have been referred to as the Shanahan System, named after Mike Shanahan, the coach who won Super Bowls with Denver after the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

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Sean Mannion
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

“It really does make a difference to have some familiarity with the offense,” said Brooks Bollinger, a Vikings quarterback in 2006 and 2007. “I always talk about it like speaking languages, When I went from the West Coast (offense in Minnesota) to Dallas (in 2008), with the Zampese 3-Digit System (named for longtime NFL assistant Ernie Zampese), it was like going from Chinese to French. But if (Mullins is) coming in here with some familiarity, that’s a huge head start.”

Bollinger, an Eagan resident who was briefly O’Connell’s teammate when they both were quarterbacks with the Detroit Lions in 2009, didn’t want to speculate on who should be Minnesota’s backup quarterback and who should be let go. But he does have a soft spot for all the quarterbacks vying for spots behind Cousins due to his former backup status.

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Kellen Mond
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

“It makes my stomach hurt a little bit because I know what it’s like to be sitting in each one of those chairs,” said Bollinger, who played in the NFL from 2003-09 and had 10 career starts. “It’s a tough time of the year because you’re playing for your future and you get limited opportunities to do it. I try look at it and empathize with the situation that each one of those guys is in.”

While Rosenfels calls it a no-brainer that Mullens should be the backup, he stopped short of saying which quarterback the Vikings should let go. As for Mond, Rosenfels wishes him the best in his NFL career, but has doubts about his future.

“He has talent but I have not seen the sort of fluidity and timing, those type of things, natural quarterback movements, when I watch Kellen Mond,” Rosenfels said. “And I think that’s where he struggles, he doesn’t feel like a natural quarterback. You have to be a natural thrower, someone that has rhythm and timing in their footwork, and I haven’t seen that out of him yet.”

While Salisbury said Mond still could develop, he said he saw him play a lot at Texas A&M and that his play was up and down and he was “overdrafted” by going to the Vikings with the second pick in the third round in 2021. Salisbury doesn’t anticipate Mannion ever will show much more than he has in his first seven seasons, which have included a passer rating of 66.2 and a 0-3 record as a starter.

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Mannion’s last regular-season start came in the Vikings’ ugly 37-10 loss at Green Bay in Week 17 last season, when Cousins was out after testing positive for COVID-19. O’Connell was not the coach then, but Salisbury figures that game is reason enough for the Vikings to have traded for Mullens.

“You saw it go to hell in a handbasket,” Salisbury said. “You don’t want to say after a game, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ … (The Vikings) were fortunate to get (Mullens) in a trade, and they didn’t have to give up much. Mullens may not be a star, but he provides you mental security. He’s not going to make the same throws as Cousins makes on a consistent basis, but mentally he is going to keep you in a good place.”

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