MINNEAPOLIS - The vetting process is complete. The speculation nearly finished.
Vikings officials have dined with Blaine Gabbert. They have watched Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Cam Newton and Ricky Stanzi in private workouts. They have spent several hours at Winter Park trying to get inside the head of Ryan Mallett and played host to Andy Dalton.
All that's left is the decision that will play a significant role in determining the direction of this 51-year-old franchise: Will Rick Spielman, Leslie Frazier and Co. use their first-round pick on a quarterback - something the Vikings have done only two times - and attempt to end a five-year string of stop-gaps at the position?
Barring a decision to trade up, Newton and Gabbert almost certainly will be gone by the time the Vikings select 12th overall Thursday night. That leaves Locker, Ponder and Mallett as the most likely targets.
Frazier, who served as interim coach for the Vikings' final six games of 2010 before having the temporary tag removed a day after the season ended, made it clear last month that his desire would be to find his next quarterback through the draft.
In this league, you either have one or you don't, said Brian Billick, the former NFL coach and Vikings offensive coordinator who is an analyst for NFL Network. When you look at the front of this draft, you can almost to a man see why (teams are) in the front end of the draft. They don't have a quarterback.
The Vikings are searching for a quarterback who provides hope and the stability they have lacked at quarterback since Daunte Culpepper suffered a season-ending knee injury seven games into the 2005 season.
There have been reports that the Vikings have Washington's Donovan McNabb on their radar and that the 34-year-old would like to play in Minnesota, but that move again would be nothing more than a potential quick fix.
McNabb is coming off a disappointing season with the Redskins in which he was benched in favor of journeyman Rex Grossman. It's expected that the Redskins will release McNabb. But the NFL lockout means no transactions can be made until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
Then there is the issue of McNabb's willingness to serve as a mentor for his potential successor. Frazier gave a telling answer when asked about pairing a veteran short-term starter with a rookie.
He would have to understand that, 'This is what your role is,' Frazier said.
It would be up to us to explain that to get the right guy. Otherwise, it really splits your team and stunts the growth of that young quarterback.
There also is Kevin Kolb, whose emergence enabled the Eagles to trade McNabb last year. Kolb is expected to be available as Philadelphia has turned to Michael Vick as its starter. Kolb has started only seven games in four seasons, but at 26 he would provide a potential long-term solution.
McNabb could be obtained for nothing if he's released, while the asking price on Kolb is likely to be a high draft pick or more.
Keeping it under wraps
Spielman and Frazier, who will be working together on the draft for the first time and appear to have just about equal power, have managed to keep the Vikings' thinking very quiet in recent months. Because of the NFL lockout, their primary focus has been on the draft, and there is little question their research on this quarterback class has been extremely thorough.
From Locker's lack of accuracy in the pocket to allegations of drug use by Mallett to the status of Ponder's surgically repaired right shoulder, there isn't much the Vikings don't know about this group.
If the Vikings do select one of the top quarterbacks, odds are they would need to do it early.
They own the 43rd pick in the second round and don't have a third-rounder because they dealt it to New England last year in the Randy Moss trade. One option might be trying to move back in the opening round in order to grab a quarterback, such as Locker, and also recoup the third-rounder in the process.
Waiting until the second round might be a gamble, because there has been speculation that the top seven quarterbacks (Newton, Gabbert, Locker, Ponder, Mallett, Dalton and Colin Kaepernick) could be gone in the top 40. There also could be a run on the position late in the opening round as many teams need quarterbacks.