Case Keenum was never going to return to the Minnesota Vikings.
As much as that might have frustrated some, and as well as Keenum played last season, it should have come as a surprise to no one when reports surfaced early Tuesday morning that Keenum would sign with the Denver Broncos when free agency opens at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert pointed out in a tweet on Tuesday morning, “the Vikings walked away from a player who produced one of the top five single-season QB performances in their history.”
No one will argue how well Keenum performed in leading the Vikings to a 13-3 regular-season record, the NFC North title and the conference title game. Keenum did it after taking over for the injured Sam Bradford in the second game of the season and playing for the paltry sum (at least for a quarterback) of $2 million on a one-year contract he signed to serve as a backup.
Keenum, who had never started more than nine games in a season, threw for 3,547 yards, completing 67.6 percent of his passes, with 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions and had a 98.3 rating in 15 games and 14 starts. Keenum’s most memorable moment came on his desperation heave to Stefon Diggs on the final play of the Vikings’ victory over the Saints in the divisional round.
And despite all of this you never got the feeling that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was sold on Keenum’s ability to repeat that success. When it came to Keenum, the question was whether he had turned a corner and established himself as a potential star or was a backup having a career year.
It was clear Zimmer felt it was the latter.
Zimmer’s comments throughout the season shed plenty of light on how he felt about Keenum. In November, Zimmer referred to the fact that Keenum has “got a horseshoe right now.” Shortly thereafter, Zimmer said Keenum had “big balls.”
The former comment meant Zimmer felt Keenum was the beneficiary of luck and the latter spoke to the fact Keenum was taking chances and that’s something not every coach wants to see. It was no accident that Zimmer took so long to commit to Keenum as his starting quarterback, despite the fact the Vikings were in the midst of an eight-game winning streak.
Despite all the signs that Zimmer didn’t see Keenum as his long-term quarterback, there were many who refused to believe. They got a final slap of reality during the recent NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
In discussing all three of the Vikings’ soon-to-be free-agent quarterbacks, a list that also includes Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, Zimmer said this when discussing Keenum: “Is Case the guy he was last year or is he the guy he was two years ago?”
Zimmer didn’t say it but it was clear he had no interesting in finding out the answer. That now will be the Broncos concern.
The Vikings are still being linked to Kirk Cousins, who stands to get far more than Keenum will from Denver, and Zimmer also has concerns about that. The primary one being that Cousins’ three-year contract, which might be $27 million or more per season guaranteed, will make it difficult for the Vikings to improve their roster in other spots and retain some key pieces.
But the Vikings feel that Cousins would be a sure thing at quarterback and have the ability to get them to a Super Bowl. As for Keenum, there clearly was a feeling he was a one-season wonder and that season is now past.