Vikings

The 5 Stages of J.J. McCarthy Becoming A Franchise Quarterback

Photo Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

After years of draft busts and free-agent band-aids, the Minnesota Vikings believe they’ve found their franchise quarterback. J.J. McCarthy will look to fill a void that’s existed since Fran Tarkenton was slinging passes to Ahmad Rashad in the ‘70s. The question on everyone’s minds: When will McCarthy supplant Sam Darnold as the Vikings’ starter?

However, as Kevin O’Connell told reporters during OTAs, he will not measure McCarthy’s progress on completions or how he stacks up to Darnold during training camp. It will be an intense process in which McCarthy will be forged in fire, testing the patience of everyone who follows the team.

Because of this, there will likely be five stages in McCarthy’s development as a franchise quarterback. While we don’t know what O’Connell’s benchmarks are, we can evaluate the roller coaster of emotions that McCarthy’s development will take fans on.

Stage 1: Curiosity

The Vikings worked through a thorough process to find their next franchise quarterback. However, most fans may not know much about McCarthy’s potential. They may have seen him dismantle the Gophers at Huntington Bank Stadium last fall and watch him beat Michael Penix Jr. in the National Championship game. Still, Vikings fans are conducting their process like they would on a new in-law who just joined the family.

Fans will search for any YouTube video they can find for information. The Just Bombs Production song is burned into their brains. They’ve watched McCarthy’s draft-day phone call a million times. They’ve looked at the menu of Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor and wondered if McCarthy ordered the Brooklyn Reuben. That would signal a desire to leave the Vikings and sign with the New York Giants or New York Jets someday. Or Dave’s Open Road, an act of betrayal due to its Wisconsin muenster cheese.

Vikings fans have been through this recently when Kirk Cousins signed in 2018. They knew they were getting a quarterback but didn’t know much about him or why he was available. Soon after, they learned that he drove around in his grandma’s van, was a big Lord of the Rings fan, and his F-bomb of choice was “frick.”

Stage 2: Observation

Once Vikings fans believe they’ve figured out who McCarthy is, it’s time to find out what the football player is like. Fans won’t be able to see much during OTAs or team minicamp, except for the carefully edited pieces the social media team puts out. However, the big unveil will come during training camp.

While the Vikings can control the environment in June, training camp is more like the Wild West. Fans will gleefully blow past the warning signs and dig out their iPhones to record every rep of McCarthy’s practice. After posting it on social media, people will over-analyze each throw and talk themselves into McCarthy being the next Tom Brady or Christian Ponder.

This will reach a fever pitch during joint practices and preseason games. O’Connell may decide to use a veil of caution in these situations, but it won’t stop fans from saying things like, “Ope, that pass looked a little low,” or “What a frickin’ laser.”

It happened last year when Vikings fans tried to decide what to make of Jaren Hall. However, they will turn up the intensity for a player who the Vikings made their highest-drafted quarterback in franchise history. That could change with one viral play that could make McCarthy a bust or the greatest quarterback ever.

Stage 3: Anticipation

Unless McCarthy takes over the starting job in camp, this is the point where fans lose their minds. They’ve gotten a taste of McCarthy in game action, and they will want a heaping plate if he does well. O’Connell may have a different opinion about waiting for McCarthy to “Sand the Floor” in his Miyagi-like training process.

Until he’s ready, the Vikings will treat fans to a handful of Darnold games. Like the second stage, this could go in a few different directions. Darnold could be great and give McCarthy the same redshirt year Daunte Culpepper received behind Jeff George and Randall Cunningham in 1999. Or he could be 2006 Brad Johnson or 2011 Donovan McNabb, skipping passes into the turf and hearing fans chant the younger quarterback’s name.

Either way, O’Connell will do his best to buy time until he believes McCarthy is ready. He’ll tell reporters, You know how I feel about Sam, and Sam knows how I feel about him while remaining positive about McCarthy’s development. The only thing that can cool this off is a few wins. However, the smoldering underbelly will continue to cook until McCarthy enters the lineup.

Stage 4: The Big Reveal

Stage 3 could be the longest stage of this process, but it leads to a massive payoff here. McCarthy is getting ready for his first start. It’s appointment television. Somewhere, a grown man is telling his favorite nephew, I’d love to make your birthday party, but J.J. McCarthy is starting. It’s OK. He’ll understand someday.

McCarthy’s start will likely be at home, meaning the crowd will roar in approval when he takes the field. The “J.J.” chants will be deafening. The young quarterback’s eyes could be larger than Cousins’ in a two-minute drill. People will consider any glimpse of success as a massive win, and they can chalk any mistake up to inexperience. The fanbase will be fully behind him and talk themselves into this being the beginning of an era.

Stage 5: The Final Evaluation

By now, the national media has joined into this evaluation. Stephen A. Smith may be screaming that McCarthy has to play with LeBron. Colin Cowherd could think he’s the next big thing. Mike Florio might theorize that the Vikings will trade him for Malik Nabers. Local pundits will produce two-hour podcasts discussing whether McCarthy is The One.

This is where things get fun. McCarthy will likely ride the ups and downs of becoming that true franchise starter, but the fact is that Vikings fans haven’t been here in a long time.

They saw Ponder struggle and never recover after being saddled with Bill Musgrave and the late-career version of Greg Jennings. They saw Teddy Bridgewater take over as the starter and lead the Vikings to a division title before suffering a career-altering injury the following summer. Even Cousins generated some excitement, shredding the Green Bay Packers for 425 yards and four touchdowns in his second game with the Vikings.

All of this will send Vikings fans through a gauntlet of emotions. But the best approach is to strap in and enjoy the ride.

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