At the highly unusual time of 11:10 p.m. on Monday, March 12, news broke that the Denver Broncos plan to ink Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum on Wednesday, March 14, when the free-agency period is set to begin. As such, Keenum, the most prominent Broncos signing since Peyton Manning six years ago this month, will be charged with returning the squad to glory after an utterly pathetic 5-11 season. Unlike Manning, however, Keenum's résumé to date is thin, and the jury is still out as to whether he'll be a top-tier NFL quarterback or a journeyman who managed to parlay a single good season into a giant payday.
Predictably, the credit for the Keenum scoop goes to former Denver-area sportswriter turned ESPN mainstay Adam Schefter. At fifty minutes before midnight, he tweeted the following: "When free agency opens Wednesday, former Vikings’ QB Case Keenum intends to sign with the Denver Broncos, sources tell ESPN. First QB domino has fallen. QB race is on."
Throughout the off-season, many fans expected the Broncos to target Washington Redskins free-agent hurler Kirk Cousins. But in recent weeks, signs pointed against team executive John Elway and his minions making such a move. Among them: The New York Jets floated the possibility of offering Cousins an unprecedented, fully guaranteed deal, and league sources suggested that his main interest was in the Vikings, by far the best team in the new-QB sweepstakes.
Then, yesterday, as pointed out locally by 104.3 The Fan's Zak Bye, Cousin penned a goodbye blog to Washington fans that tagged the Jets and the Vikings, but not the Broncos.
So what do the Broncos have in Keenum? A look at his career stats as compiled by Pro Football Reference won't take your breath away:
As you can see, Keenum started his career in Houston, where he played under then-head coach (and future Broncos leader) Gary Kubiak, but seldom took the field during his three seasons with the franchise. His record as a starter was a mediocre 2-8.
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Next, Keenum landed with the Rams, transitioning from St. Louis back to the squad's ancestral home of Los Angeles along the way — and while he showed some flashes, he managed only a 7-7 record in fourteen starts.
Last year, however, Keenum experienced a big leap. Taking over as the Vikings' signal caller from the (always) injured Sam Bradford, he led the Men in Purple to a sterling 11-3 mark. In the playoffs, he completed a miracle pass to receiver Stefon Diggs to push Minnesota past the New Orleans Saints and into the NFL title game, where they were annihilated by the future Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles 38-7.
Here's a video of Keenum's 2017 highlights:
The main question about Keenum, then, is whether last season represented his true coming of age or if it was an anomaly. And a lot of money has been wasted over the years by franchises that have bet wrong in such circumstances.
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Look no further than soon-to-be-former-Bronco-again Brock Osweiler, whose $72 million pact with the Houston Texans circa March 2016 didn't prevent him from washing out at astonishing speed.
No question that the most recent Vikings squad is better than the Broncos as currently constituted. Denver's offense sports a dubious line, a desultory running game and two wide receivers (Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders), who many observers feel are past their prime. It'll take some big acquisitions and a lot of luck for Keenum to transform them into a juggernaut.
Then again, the Broncos desperately needed to make a change behind center given their lousy options: the merely serviceable Trevor Siemian, mega-bust Paxton Lynch and Osweiler, whose second tour with Denver was considerably worse than the first. And with Keenum in the bag, Elway can concentrate on improving the Broncos in other areas. So for now, we choose to hope.
Just in Case.