The funny thing about Case Keenum’s story is that the West Coast offense was born out of a top-pick quarterback injury back in the early days of Bill Walsh’s career in Cincinnati.
It’s amazing that two situations in football can be separated by nearly 50 years and still have many of the same threads. Virgil Carter, Walsh’s West Coast quarterback who replaced Greg Cook to lead the Bengals to the 1970 playoffs, would be proud of Pat Shurmur’s offensive design revolving around short passes and yards after catch.
But Carter, a sixth-round pick 1967, didn’t win in the playoffs. He went 7-for-20 in a 17-0 loss to the Baltimore Colts in his only postseason appearance. He was only the Benglas’ starting quarterback for one more year.
The backup-to-starter story has been told a number of times throughout the history of the NFL. In 1988, Vikings backup Wade Wilson stepped into the spotlight with a No. 1 rated defense and led Minnesota to a 11-5 record and a playoff win. He had a 91.5 rating that year, but couldn’t repeat his play in the following seasons.
Alex Smith, who has a 13-win season and three 11-win seasons to his name, struggled for years in San Francisco before breaking through. Players like Jake Delhomme and Rich Gannon were fringe starters who took their teams to Super Bowls and proved to be more than a one-year wonder.
So history would suggest that the Keenum situation could go either way.
Is it fair to ask him to perform when the lights are at their brightest before looking to make him the long-term option at quarterback?
It seems that’s what the Minnesota Vikings might do. Jason La Confora of CBS reported that the Vikings have not had any discussions with Keenum about a contract extension yet.
Judging a player by playoff performance brings about a major concern with sample size. It would be like grading a college quarterback on his Bowl game. Bad luck, bad matchup etc. can make a QB look worse than he is or good luck, good matchup etc. can make a QB look better than reality.
Joe Flacco is a good example of a quarterback who struggled early in his playoff career, then won the Super Bowl later. In Flacco’s first nine postseason games, he tossed four touchdowns and seven interceptions. But in 2012, he had one of the greatest postseason runs of all time, posting a 117.2 rating en route to a ring.
Even if we try to extend Keenum’s sample size back to when he joined the Rams, the Vikings’ QB has pretty inconclusive numbers. Since 2014, he’s won 18 of his 28 games with 35 touchdowns, 19 interceptions and an 89.3 rating. The 28-game sample with some great and some poor situations puts Keenum on the fringe of being a franchise QB. Those numbers closely reflect those of Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown since 2015.
There is evidence to suggest that his play has been greatly impacted by the team’s supporting cast, but that could be said for many QBs. And the Vikings’ supporting cast doesn’t appear to be on the verge of falling apart with Dalvin Cook set to take over the backfield next season and the offensive line set at both tackle positions and center.
Of course, if Keenum wins the Super Bowl, it would be shocking if the Vikings moved on. Anything short of that could make their decision difficult. If they franchise tag him, it’s going to be costly. And it’s likely Teddy Bridgewater – their franchise QB before his 2016 knee injury – will likely walk away in free agency. There would certainly be fear of Keenum struggling in the future and Bridgewater thriving elsewhere.
If the Vikings will also have other – more proven – options. Eli Manning could potentially pull a Brett Favre move or Kirk Cousins could sign as a free agent. It’s possible the Vikings could see all of them as better for 2018 than their current starter even if he performs well in the postseason.
There’s also the possibility that Keenum could follow offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur if he leaves for a head coaching job regardless of playoff outcome.
With all that said, the Vikings should already know whether the want to move forward with Keenum. Success or failure or anything in between in one or two playoff games is not a very good predictive measure.