Right before the clock struck midnight to conclude the first day of the NFL’s “legal tampering period” of free agency, ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke news that the Denver Broncos would be signing quarterback Case Keenum at the dawn of free agency on Wednesday, March 14th. With that, the speculation as to who would become the Broncos’ next starting quarterback came to an abrupt end.
Seemingly out of the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, with the free-agent quarterback reportedly deciding between the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets, it was assumed that signing Keenum would be an acceptable ‘Plan B’ to any failed attempt at signing Cousins (or Drew Brees). While Cousins was by far the more popular name in free agency, the Broncos got more than a ‘Plan B’ in signing Keenum.
In signing Keenum, the Broncos got their best possible option at quarterback.
First, “missing out” on Cousins might be the biggest blessing in disguise for the Broncos. On Tuesday morning, Schefter reported that Cousins, as expected, would sign with the Vikings on a three-year, fully guaranteed deal worth $86 million. While Cousins is a very talented quarterback, not even Peyton Manning and all of his future Hall of Fame glory commanded that much when he signed with the Broncos back in 2012. The money that Cousins was going to receive was simply too much for a team that had already traded away one of its best players (Aqib Talib) on the roster to free up cap space.
Keenum hasn’t seen much success on the statsheet to instill confidence in fans as the next great quarterback of the orange and blue. After stints with both the Houston Texans and Los Angeles Rams, Keenum seemed to turn a corner last season, playing at a Pro Bowl level despite being thrust into the starting lineup. Taking over for an injured Sam Bradford and rallying a Vikings team to a spot in the NFC Championship, Keenum played outstanding football all season, excelling in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s scheme. Starting in 14 games last season, Keenum threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Keenum posted an 11-3 record over those 14 starts.
Former Texans/Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, now a senior executive for the Broncos alongside general manager John Elway, signed Keenum as an undrafted college free agent during his stint with the Houston Texans. Undoubtedly, the familiarity with Kubiak was one of the deciding factors in bringing Keenum in to be the Broncos’ next starting quarterback. Keenum will have similar tools at his disposal in Denver that he had in Minnesota. Last season, Keenum had the luxury of throwing to two Pro Bowl receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Keenum will have similar talent at receiver with the Broncos in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
The Keenum signing also has major implications for the Broncos’ draft strategy. It allows for the Broncos to use their top-five draft position to address other holes on the roster. Instead of being forced into drafting a quarterback, the Broncos may be able to consider running back Saquon Barkley and guard Quenton Nelson, with of whom are considered the best prospects at their respective positions in quite some time. With trade rumors swirling, and many quarterback-needy teams looking to trade up in the draft, the Broncos could find themselves in a position to draft one of these blue-chip players. Should there still be in-demand quarterbacks on the board when the Broncos are on the clock with the fifth pick, they could collect a plethora of picks from a team looking to trade up to snag the one of them. This collection of draft picks would set the Broncos up nicely for both the 2018 and 2019 drafts.
Finally, the Keenum signing truly puts the Broncos in the best position to compete in the AFC West now, as well as continue working with 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch into the future. While many are quick to write Lynch off as a bust, it should be noted that Lynch was only drafted two years ago and missed most of last season due to a shoulder injury. The Broncos shouldn’t give up on a first-round quarterback, especially when they still have him under a rookie contract. Whether or not Lynch pans out to be the quarterback the Broncos hoped he would, signing Keenum will give the Broncos an immediate starting option as well as an appropriate amount of time to monitor Lynch’s development before deciding if they do indeed need to search for a longer-term solution.
No matter how you look at it, the Broncos came out winners in this deal. Keenum may not hold the star power of a Kirk Cousins, but he comes at a significantly smaller price and has every chance to accomplish the same task a hypothetical Cousins signing would have: get the Broncos back into the playoffs.