Just 12 months ago Case Keenum was anything but an attractive free agent. In 2018 though, he is receiving more than a passing glance from a number of teams.
In 2017 he was meant to just be a bridging backup for the Minnesota Vikings until Teddy Bridgewater was ready to play, but Sam Bradford’s long history of injuries reared its head and forced Keenum into the starting role. The result was a career year with 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 3,547 yards, a 67.6 completion percentage and a trip to the NFC championship game.
While the Vikings look set to throw money at Kirk Cousins in an attempt to push them over the line at last, Keenum is entering free agency as the next best available quarterback (excluding Drew Brees who is 99% to return to New Orleans), which is not a bad position to be in.
While there are several passers in the upcoming draft class that could end up filling some of the holes around the league, Keenum is in a strong position to effectively call his shot and choose his destination. The only question is which team is the best fit for his talents?
A veteran team with a new head coach, the Cardinals are not quite a blank slate but they are close. Steve Wilks is a defensive head coach and is likely going to leave a lot of the offensive management to new coordinator Mike McCoy, albeit with some oversight.
McCoy is notorious for having a large and complicated scheme, something he seemed to pick up from Peyton Manning when they worked together in Denver, and while it worked with a quarterback of his caliber and to a certain extent Phil Rivers, with the Broncos in 2017 the whole unit grew frustrated with him.
Provided Wilks can keep McCoy’s ever expanding playbook under control there is no reason to think he and Keenum couldn’t create a solid partnership.
In Minnesota, Keenum excelled at sliding in a muddy pocket to make plays and give himself throwing lanes. While it occasionally got him into trouble as he held the ball looking for a big play rather than hitting his checkdown, that ability will serve him well in Arizona where the offensive line is not stellar.
While he won’t have the talents of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to throw to, in Arizona he will have Larry Fitzgerald, and perhaps most importantly the ridiculously brilliant David Johnson at running back.
Versatile pieces like Johnson are hard to come by, and having his ability to both run the ball and make plays as a receiver will give Keenum a lot of options and help identify defenses pre-snap.
What Denver can offer that Arizona can’t is a pair of talented outside receivers. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are both more experienced and less explosive athletes than Diggs and Thielen, but they are brilliant in their own ways. Thomas is remarkably physical, and Sanders still carries a deep threat.
There are not many better receiver tandems in the NFL, and while the Broncos lack a strong running game or inside receivers, they can offer Keenum two terrific outside playmakers.
With McCoy not working well in Denver last season, the Broncos replaced him with Bill Musgrave, who did so well with Derek Carr and similar weapons in Oakland.
Carr’s best years in Oakland came in 2015 & 2016 with Musgrave in charge, and those years got him a big-money contract extension from the Raiders. While Keenum will likely be signing a middle-tier deal this season, the prospect of spinning that into $120-plus million down the road is certainly an enticing one.
The other QB-needy teams like Buffalo, the Browns, and the Jets cannot offer the combination of receiving weapons and coordinator talent that Arizona and Denver can. While the Jets can certainly out-bid anyone and hand the team over to Keenum immediately, their offense is really very bare, and Buffalo’s is perhaps even worse for receiving talent.
Both Arizona and Denver have some work to do on the offensive line, but they are in a position defensively where they can almost guarantee Keenum a highly drafted offensive line prospect to help protect him.
In the end Arizona feels like a better fit. It is indoor like the Vikings were and Vance Joseph’s regime comes into 2018 on very tenuous footing. Steve Wilks isn’t going anywhere for a while and has the time to lean on Keenum for a few years if it all breaks right. The Cardinals give Keenum a chance to succeed on the field and good support off it. They would be the best fit for him this offseason.
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