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Post-Favre Vikings in search of next franchise signal-caller

MINNEAPOLIS -- After all that waiting on Brett Favre, the Minnesota Vikings are accustomed to quarterback uncertainty.

One year later, the Vikings are again in an awkward spot.

The NFL lockout froze trading activity and free agency, making the NFL draft -- Minnesota has the 12th overall pick -- the first opportunity to address the team's most critical of many needs.

The 2011 quarterback class is deep, with seven prospects pegged by most draft analysts as first- or second-round selections. The quandary for the Vikings, though, is that most of them are viewed as longer-term projects. Beyond Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, both near-cinches to be taken before the Vikings are up in the first round, nobody in the rest of the group is considered a can't-miss guy.

The other issue is that the lack of trades and signings has put other teams seeking a franchise quarterback in the same situation, creating a "feeding frenzy" next weekend, as NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock put it.

"The problem this year is there's not one quarterback I could pound the table for and tell you is Sam Bradford or Matt Ryan," Mayock said.

The lockout itself could also make it difficult for a rookie to thrive this season, given the strong possibility of lost practice time and conversations with coaches, and ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said he doesn't see any of this year's quarterbacks as ready to contribute right away.

Green Bay carefully groomed Aaron Rodgers before Favre's noncommittal approach to his playing status prompted the Packers to give Rodgers the job in 2008. Now, they're the reigning champs.

"That's the way you should develop a quarterback," Kiper said. "What would have happened if he had gone to the Redskins? I don't think he'd have been Aaron Rodgers right now. He probably would have been kicked to the curb. But he developed. He changed his whole delivery, his whole mechanics of throwing the football. Now he's a potential Hall of Famer and has a Super Bowl ring."

The Vikings haven't made their decision-makers available for interviews since the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier are scheduled for a news conference on Tuesday to discuss the draft.

Washington is expected to let Donovan McNabb go whenever the lockout is lifted, a proven veteran the Vikings might be able to use while a newbie watches and learns. Carson Palmer has asked out of Cincinnati. With Michael Vick's emergence, Philadelphia could trade Kevin Kolb.

The Vikings haven't given up on Joe Webb, either, their sixth-round pick last season who might have a better future as a wide receiver, and Rhett Bomar also remains on the roster.

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But Frazier indicated at the combine that the time is right to draft a quarterback.

"We want a guy we can say, 'That's the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback for years to come,' and not to be in this situation two or three years from now," Frazier said then. "We're still going to try to turn every stone and find that guy."

The list of first-round busts is at least as long as the success stories, with infamous flame-outs like Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Joey Harrington and Jamarcus Russell looming large over every team that ponders a quarterback with a high pick.

"It gets your attention," Frazier said. "You've got to do everything you can to get this right, but it's not an exact science and you just hope you get it right. ... Others have tried and failed who are very, very good at this."

With Newton and Gabbert expected to be gone, Jake Locker of Washington is widely considered the next best. He hurt his stock by returning for his senior season and struggling with his accuracy, though he is viewed as a tough competitor.

Former NFL head coach Jon Gruden, now an ESPN analyst, predicted success for Locker in a recent conference call with reporters.

Lack of "accuracy sometimes can be terminal. Sometimes you can't cure that. I think that is a big concern with Jake Locker, because he does miss some throws," Gruden said. "But ... you can see what this guy's capable of doing. He can be a one-man wrecking machine. There is a brilliant talent inside this body he's got. It's a matter of regaining his fundamentals, confidence and composure a little bit, and he'll be fine."

Mayock suggested the Vikings, given their situation, might have to talk themselves into taking Locker.

"I think that's what they're trying to decide in that building right now. That's what I'd be trying to decide," Mayock said.

If they don't, or if Locker is gone, they might have to put together a package to move up in the second round or even into the end of the first round to get Christian Ponder of Florida State, Andy Dalton of Texas Christian or Colin Kaepernick of Nevada. Strong-armed Ryan Mallett of Arkansas is also in the mix, though he's been dogged by off-the-field and character concerns.

"I think there's panic amongst the teams that need quarterbacks, and ultimately would it make sense for the Vikings to have a Kevin Kolb or a Bulger or a Palmer?" Mayock said. "Maybe, because I think the worst thing you can do is reach for a quarterback and miss."

Green Bay's Rodgers model is ideal, but St. Louis took Bradford first last year and improved right along with the rookie. Ryan led Atlanta to the playoffs in 2008 as a first-time starter, as did Joe Flacco with Baltimore that year and Mark Sanchez for the New York Jets the following season.

"In our league, 'rebuilding' is not a good word," Frazier said at the combine. "But we've got so many pieces in place. I don't think you can be afraid of going with a young quarterback if he's the right guy."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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