Case Keenum plans to sign with the Denver Broncos when free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday. Details of the contract have yet to be confirmed, but ProFootballTalk reported that it could be worth as much as $18 million to $20 million annually. Whatever the final figure is, it will be a hefty raise from the $950,000 Keenum earned with the Vikings in 2017. For the Broncos, it will be a far cry from last season, when the team didn’t pay any of its quarterbacks more than $1 million.
“Rebuild” Is Not in John Elway’s Vocabulary
Broncos linebacker Von Miller did everything except hold a boombox outside of Kirk Cousins’s bedroom window to entice him to come to Colorado. On Saturday, Miller told NFL.com that he was “all in for the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes,” but that he trusted whatever decision the Broncos GM makes 100 percent.
Instead of nabbing Cousins, Elway is apparently going all in on Keenum as the first major domino to fall in free agency. Keenum led Minnesota to the brink of the Super Bowl last season after he took a circuitous path to become the Vikings’ starter when Sam Bradford went down. The most prolific NCAA quarterback of all time, who went undrafted in 2012, has finally earned his payday.
“Life is too short to rebuild in the NFL,” Elway said at the NFL combine in February. That attitude has applied to his entire tenure in Denver. Six years ago, Elway lured Peyton Manning to the Broncos, a move that resulted in rewriting the NFL’s offensive record books, two Super Bowl appearances, and a Lombardi Trophy. With Keenum, the team is once again hoping to pull itself out of the abyss by landing a quarterback in free agency.
The Broncos finished dead last in the AFC West at 5-11 last season and haven’t made the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50. After having the no. 1 defense by DVOA in 2015 and 2016, the Broncos defense slipped to 10th last season and the team had the 31st-ranked offense by the same metric. Denver doesn’t need a miracle to return to a .500 record (though Keenum can do miracles). Even average quarterback play to replace the trio of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch under center could put the Broncos back in contention for a division title.
The issue is that Elway wants to win the Super Bowl, not just the AFC West, and the Broncos defense is now merely above average. Sending cornerback Aqib Talib to the Rams doesn’t help. The 2018 Broncos have the same faces at key positions—linebackers Miller and Brandon Marshall, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., and receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders—but the core talent and tremendous depth on what was an elite defense has diminished. For the past two and a half seasons, Denver was an average QB away from a Super Bowl run. Now the team has a solid quarterback as a long-term answer, but the question is whether the Broncos are out of time.
#KirkorBust for Minnesota
Asked at the combine whether Keenum could repeat his 2017 season, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was blunt. “Is he the guy who played for the Rams or the guy who played for us?” Zimmer asked, referring to Keenum’s rough stretch in Los Angeles. It was on-brand honesty from Zimmer that shows the risk that Denver is taking, but the Vikings are in a precarious situation, too. Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater are both free agents as well, meaning the team could lose all three of its quarterbacks from last season. If Minnesota fails to sign Cousins, the Vikings may be the team left standing in this offseason of quarterback musical chairs.