Case Keenum’s play this season likely will earn the veteran journeyman a multiyear contract and an opportunity to compete for a starting job with a quarterback-desperate team in 2018.
But Keenum, who is playing on a one-year, $2 million contract, isn’t the only member of the Vikings’ offense who stands to benefit from his team’s success.
In his first full season as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur has overseen a unit that lost its starting quarterback (Sam Bradford) after one game, its star rookie running back (Dalvin Cook) in the fourth game and went two games without one of its top receivers (Stefon Diggs).
Despite this, the Vikings are sitting atop the NFC North at 7-2 thanks in part to an offense that is operating far more efficiently than it did a year ago.
The Vikings finished last season 23rd in the NFL in points per game (20.4), 18th in passing (240 yards per game) and 32nd in rushing (75.3 yards per game). With major upgrades to the offensive line, and a system far more suited to 2017, the Vikings are 10th in points (24.1), 12th in passing (246) and 11th in rushing (118).
All of this should lead to Shurmur being a hot name when it comes to head coaching openings after the season. The biggest thing that teams looking to make a coaching change will consider is Keenum’s success in the Vikings’ system.
Keenum, 29, took over as the Vikings’ starter after Bradford’s surgically repaired knee began to ache following Minnesota’s season-opening victory over New Orleans. Keenum already has reached a career-high in touchdown passes (11) and threw four on Sunday in a victory at Washington.
He also has completed 170 of 262 passes for 1,914 yards with a career-high passer rating of 92.6. Keenum has thrown five interceptions, including two in Washington, but, for the most part, he has provided steady play.
Shurmur deserves some of the credit for this, especially when you consider Keenum’s previous struggles.
The Vikings’ offense often was ineffective, and appeared outdated, under former coordinator Norv Turner’s leadership. The Vikings helped themselves by jettisoning running back Adrian Peterson, retooling the offensive line and dropping the interim tag from Shurmur’s title during the offseason. Shurmur has done an excellent job of fitting his system around the strengths of his players.
Shurmur, who joined the Vikings as tight ends coach last season before replacing Turner when he walked away last November, already has been given one chance as a head coach but the circumstances were about as bad as it can get.
After two seasons as the Rams’ offensive coordinator, Shurmur was named coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2011. He proceeded to go 9-23 and was fired after two years. Shurmur replaced Eric Mangini, who had gone 10-22 over two seasons.
He was succeeded by Rob Chudzinski, who went 4-12 in 2013 before being replaced by Mike Pettine. Pettine was shown the door after going 10-22 in two years. Hue Jackson, in his second season in Cleveland (see a pattern here?), is 1-24 and likely will be fired after this season.
This type of dysfunction leads one has to think that Shurmur’s first go-around as a head coach won’t be held against him. What will be considered is the success he’s had working with Keenum after spending the offseason preparing an offense that best fit Bradford. Teams are always intrigued by assistants they feel can have success working with quarterbacks, especially young ones.
Potential landing spots for Shurmur could include the New York Giants, Indianapolis, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Arizona. The Bears could be an interesting landing spot with so much invested in 2017 second-overall pick Mitch Trubisky and Jameis Winston could use some guidance with the Buccaneers.
Shurmur figures to become an even hotter commodity if Teddy Bridgewater returns from his knee injury in the coming weeks and becomes the third quarterback to guide the Vikings.
Obviously, the Vikings won’t want to lose Shurmur, but if he is pursued by other teams for a head coaching job that likely will mean Minnesota’s success has continued into the playoffs. The trade off in that case – losing Shurmur but seeing his team make a postseason run – is one Mike Zimmer almost certainly will be willing to make.