November 21, 2017

Keenum or Bridgewater?

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

If there’s anything that sportscasters love, its a quarterback controversy, so Minnesota’s fascinating quarterback situation is providing lots of hot takes, but sturdily resists becoming an actual controversy on the team. The Vikings started the season with Sam Bradford at QB1, Case Keenum as his backup at QB2, and Kyle Sloter, a hot-shot youngster snapped up after a great preseason performance for Denver, as the developmental QB3. Teddy Bridgewater was still on the PUP list and nobody knew when or even if he’d be medically cleared to come back to the team, and if he did return, there was no assurance that he’d be able to resume his career right where he left off before the 2016 season.

Life comes at you fast, especially in football, as Sam Bradford appeared in the weekly injury report after his excellent opening game against the New Orleans Saints, and did not get back onto the field for several weeks. Keenum stepped up and did his best to hold things together until Bradford’s knee could heal. Bradford was back on the field for game 5 against the Chicago Bears, but it quickly became clear that he didn’t belong on the field, if only for his own safety. Keenum came on in relief and Bradford eventually was put on the injured reserve list.

In the meantime, Teddy Bridgewater had clear sailing through his time on the PUP list and was returned to the team roster the same day Bradford departed to IR. By all reports, Bridgewater is doing well in practice and would probably have seen some game action by now, except that Keenum has been having a career year. Head coach Mike Zimmer really does want to get Bridgewater back into the starting line-up, but Keenum is still doing far too well to risk making a change. Keenum signed with the Vikings to be Bradford’s backup and is earning backup money for his efforts. He won’t be earning backup money next year, however: he’s been statistically playing in the upper half of the quarterback rankings and pretty much by definition there will be teams willing to pay him a king’s ransom to be their starter for 2018 and beyond. The Vikings, however, probably can’t afford to pay Keenum that kind of money, as Arif Hasan explains:

Case Keenum is playing the best football of his career, and that probably means he’s not going to stay a Viking for very long.

Ranking eighth in adjusted net yards per attempt, 14th in passer rating and third in ESPN’s Total QBR, Keenum’s passing is miles ahead of where it was last season — 28th, 27th and 30th in those respective statistics— or his career, where he ranks 30th and 32nd in ANYA and passer rating of 33 quarterbacks with 1,000 attempts.

At the moment, Keenum seems to be playing himself into a starting job somewhere, and if the Vikings are as confident in Teddy Bridgewater as they appear to be, it will be difficult to re-sign him and Keenum at the same time.

Much has been made of rising quarterback values for otherwise mid-tier players — and we’ve noted those as well — and nothing exemplifies that better than Mike Glennon’s contract with the Chicago Bears, something that pops up in nearly every discussion about quarterback contracts.


Assuming that the trend for mid-tier quarterback salaries flattens out and remains near 80 percent of a top-five contract, Keenum could earn a contract that averages anywhere between $17-$22 million.

It seems unlikely Keenum breaks $20 million, but new cap room does funny things. At the very least, Keenum is on track for a good paycheck and may get just as much as Glennon did in Chicago, $15 million.

On the other hand, Keenum will be competing with an unusually crowded quarterback market.

While it might not be fair to call the market for quarterbacks robust, teams looking for signal-callers to act as starting stand-ins while a rookie develops will certainly have their options. And there will definitely be teams who will have played themselves out of a prime draft spot that might take shots at finding a starter.

Assuming Brees re-signs in New Orleans and Jimmy Garoppolo re-signs in San Francisco, the highest-profile quarterbacks hitting the market will be Tyrod Taylor and Kirk Cousins. Both should earn starting salaries with a new team and could make the market more difficult for Keenum who would likely earn significantly less than either of them.

In the short-term (between now and the Super Bowl, should the Vikings get that far), the talking heads in the sports world are demanding that Zimmer name Keenum the starter for the rest of the season. Matthew Coller explains why Zimmer doesn’t need to do that:

Sure, Keenum has been good. He’s won six games in a row and totaled 11 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 92.6 quarterback rating. And he’s done so in the midst of a national debate over whether the Vikings should bench him for Teddy Bridgewater.

Keenum was made for this type of situation. Questions about whether he should be the starter – whether it’s from the head coach or the fans, who some Tweeters reported to have been chanting, “Teddy! Teddy” on Sunday – are Keenum’s norm. Ask a hockey player if he’s distracted by the cold or a baseball player if the sun is in his eyes. Yep, but that’s how it always is.

The locker room isn’t split. Bridgewater’s been Keenum’s biggest supporter. And Zimmer’s lukewarm endorsements haven’t dimmed Keenum’s beaming confidence.

Naming him the starter for the rest of the year only sets up for Zimmer to look silly if he has to bench Keenum.

One thing to keep in mind as we analyze the Vikings’ quarterback situation is sample size. This isn’t Keenum’s first stretch of strong play during his career – just as some .250 hitters occasionally bat .400 for a month.

In 2013, he threw eight touchdowns, two interceptions in his first five starts, picking up 7.3 yards per attempt and posting a quarterback rating of 89.6. Over his next five starts, Keenum tossed one TD, six INTs and put up a 55.7 rating.

In five games from September 18 to October 16 last year, Keenum notched seven touchdowns, 8.4 yards per attempt and a 97.4 rating. In the next five games, his rating was 64.7.

Maybe his success will continue this time. The Vikings’ veteran has been given an offensive line that has given up five sacks in eight games, a running game that has combined for over 1,000 yards, two of the top-20 wide receivers in the NFL, an innovative offensive coordinator and arguably the NFL’s best defense.

If it does continue, then Zimmer will just leave him in.

But if Keenum hits the wall as he’s done in the past, the Vikings’ head coach has to leave the door open for Bridgewater to come back.

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