The Minnesota Vikings seem to be headed toward a high-stakes game at quarterback.
The safe move would have been to franchise tag Case Keenum. Keenum played well last season, the Vikings made the NFC championship game, and most NFL teams wouldn’t risk the blowback over possibly letting their quarterback go after that type of season. Yet, the Vikings aren’t expected to franchise tag Keenum according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, though they have until March 6 to change their minds. Keenum could hit free agency if he doesn’t get the tag. Once Keenum can hit the open market he probably should take advantage of that, considering how many teams need a starting quarterback. He might get a deal that would make the franchise tag look like a smart investment.
The Vikings could still re-sign Keenum before or after free agency starts, though if that was their plan the safe move would have been to tag him now and work out a deal. The Vikings reportedly won’t do that, and things get interesting.
The refusal to tag Keenum will lead to plenty of speculation that the Vikings will be in on Kirk Cousins. Cousins has more of a track record than Keenum. Cousins is unique among free-agent quarterbacks because he’s still in his prime, healthy and very productive. The Vikings can’t match teams like the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets when it comes to cap space, but according to OverTheCap.com they have a little more than $49 million in projected cap space. That’s enough to make Cousins a fair offer. There’s no other team that has that much cap space and also meets Cousins’ desire to go to a team that can win right away.
Here’s the doomsday scenario though: The Vikings strike out with Cousins, who goes for a bigger payday with the Jets, Browns or someone else. Keenum then decides to test the market and goes to another team that needs a quarterback like the Browns or Broncos. The Vikings don’t have a high enough draft pick to take a ready-to-start rookie. They’d follow up a 13-3 season and a trip to the NFL’s final four by scrambling to find a quarterback. That wouldn’t play well with a fanbase that’s desperate for a Super Bowl. Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater can also become free agents, and it would be hard to depend on either to start in 2018 due to health concerns.
The safe move for the Vikings would be to bring back Keenum. And it’s quite possible Keenum showed signs of a true breakout last season at age 29. But the Vikings don’t want to go the franchise tag route with him, and that will make them a very interesting team to watch the next few weeks.
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