The first card has been played in the 2018 NFL quarterback free agent market. Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Broncos are expected to sign Case Keenum with the hopes of returning to their Super Bowl form of two seasons ago.
Since Peyton Manning‘s retirement following Denver’s Super Bowl 50 win, vice president John Elway has employed three different starting quarterbacks, each to minimal avail. Trevor Siemian has taken the majority of those snaps. And despite going 8-6 as a starter in 2016, this past season exposed his limitations. Siemian was benched multiple times in favor of Brock Osweiler and former first round pick Paxton Lynch. Denver ultimately finished the 2017 season 5-11 and last in the AFC West.
In contrast, Keenum made a major splash in his lone season in Minnesota. Despite a reputation as a journeyman, Keenum led the Vikings to 11 wins in 14 starts in 2017. His performance culminated in a trip to the NFC Championship Game. Overall, Keenum posted career-highs in nearly every passing category, including a 98.3 rating and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of over three-to-one.
Despite the team’s performance, however, the Vikings interest in bringing Keenum back seemed lackluster. Some reported that Minnesota saw Keenum as nothing more than a backup who had a lone magical season. As a result, the Vikings have been going hard after top free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins.
It appeared Denver was doing the same. Yet, more and more reports came out that they were out of the running and Cousins was strongly leaning towards Minnesota. As a result, Elway jumped on arguably the second-hottest quarterback target on the market. Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater were also viewed as options, but both have major health red flags.
For Minnesota, the signing of Keenum eliminates a potential fallback option should Cousins sign elsewhere. At the moment, though Minnesota appears to be the frontrunner, the Cardinals and Jets are also strong candidates to land Cousins.
As for Denver, there are three major questions that go with signing a career backup who broke out at nearly 30-years-old. One, is the most recent Keenum the true Keenum or did he catch a long heater? Second, what is the money going to look like and will his cost exceed his play? And finally, are the Broncos now out of the running to take a quarterback at number five in the draft?
With four, maybe five highly-touted passing prospects expected to go in the first round, Denver was a candidate to take one. It is now unclear what direction they will go with that pick. If he views Keenum as the starter long-term, Elway would be in a strong position to trade out of the number five pick.
At the very least, Keenum brings steadiness to the Denver offense. Only Cleveland had more interceptions on offense in 2017. Keenum threw only seven in 2017, and according to Pro Football Focus, was third in the league in turnover-worthy throws at just 2.1 percent. That includes zero such throws in the red zone, albeit with one of the best red zone receiving groups in the league.
In fact, Keenum’s supporting cast was a big reason why he had so much success in 2017. Denver is partially there; they have a 1,000-yard rusher in C.J. Anderson and a solid one-two punch in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Both had relatively sub-par seasons last year, but much of the blame could fall on the men behind center. Keenum, on the other hand, quarterbacked the breakout season of Adam Thielen, now one of the league’s most feared receivers.
What the signing of Keenuum shows most is the discrepancy in opinion among NFL front offices. Elway, one of the all-time great quarterbacks, sees Keenum as a fix at the position. The Vikings front office saw him as a nice luxury as a backup but not worth a franchise tag. Time will tell whose opinion turns out to be correct.