The Denver Broncos found out what the Minnesota Vikings feared.
Case Keenum was a one-year wonder.
After throwing for 3,890 yards with 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, eight fumbles and posting an 81.2 passer rating (29th out of 33 quarterbacks in the NFL) in 16 games, Keenum was replaced as the Broncos’ quarterback on Wednesday when Denver reportedly agreed in principle to acquire Joe Flacco from Baltimore. The trade cannot officially be completed until the NFL’s new league year begins March 13.
This will be the latest attempt by Broncos general manager John Elway to find a starting quarterback and comes after Denver went 6-10 under Vance Joseph. The Broncos fired Joseph after the season and have hired former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as head coach.
Say what you want about Kirk Cousins — and there is no arguing he did not lead the Vikings to the desired results in the first season of the three-year, $84 million contract he signed last March — but the Vikings knew what they were doing when they let Keenum walk despite a fantastic 2017 season.
Keenum replaced the injured Sam Bradford after the Vikings’ opening-week victory over New Orleans and played in 15 games, making 14 starts, and helped lead Minnesota to a 13-3 finish. Keenum threw for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions and had a 98.3 passer rating in the regular season. The Vikings beat the Saints in their first playoff game — winning on Keenum’s last-second pass to Stefon Diggs — before losing in the NFC title game in Philadelphia.
Despite Keenum’s success, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s comments throughout the season made it clear he had his doubts the journeyman could have long-term success. The Broncos gambled that Keenum could repeat his success and signed him to a two-year, $36 million contract that included a $6 million signing bonus and $25 million guaranteed.
Keenum, 30, made a base salary of $8 million in 2018 with a $4 million roster bonus and $3 million signing bonus. Keenum is due a base salary of $18 million next season with a $3 million signing bonus. The Broncos almost certainly will try to move Keenum, that seems unlikely, or will end up absorbing a $10 million hit in dead-cap money if they jettison him. The latter scenario appears likely.
Keenum, who has started 54 of the 57 games in which he has played, almost certainly will get a chance elsewhere and, if nothing else, can again catch on in a backup role and hope for another magical season.
The Vikings, meanwhile, will hope Cousins can do far better after leading the Vikings to a disappointing 8-7-1 finish in 2018. What the Vikings do know is that moving on from Keenum was the right call.