INDIANAPOLIS – The Minnesota Vikings are the only team with the right combination that would entice any free-agent quarterback: They’re a ready-made Super Bowl contender, and they also have oodles of salary cap space.
Multiple teams came to Indianapolis for this week’s NFL scouting combine and have no idea who their starting quarterback will be this season. The way it’s shaping up, it seems like Minnesota will have to make the first move that knocks down the quarterback Jenga blocks.
The standard move would be for the Vikings to bring back free-agent-to-be Case Keenum after he had a good season and the Vikings went 13-3. But Kirk Cousins’ availability gives the Vikings a rare opportunity to sign a Pro Bowl level quarterback still in his prime. There was a report that the Vikings won’t franchise tag Keenum, which would mean they’re willing to gamble they can do better or re-sign Keenum later. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman met with the media on Wednesday and said all the team’s quarterback options are on the table.
“Just to be clear, there have been no decisions made,” Spielman said.
[Watch on Yahoo: Live stream the 2018 NFL scouting combine on Yahoo Sports’ website, app]
The Vikings have stopped short of publicly proclaiming Keenum as their quarterback of the future. Coach Mike Zimmer wouldn’t gush about Keenum during last season as he played well (and part of that might be his coaching style), and Spielman was asked if he thought Keenum and the Vikings could repeat what he did last season. If there was a time for Spielman to tell the world he wanted Keenum back as his quarterback that was it. He didn’t exactly do that.
“I would say that, if we didn’t believe in Case Keenum and what he was able to accomplish, and I’ll keep those personnel discussions internally … but Case Keenum came in, led our football team, did a phenomenal job,” Spielman said. “He has a knack for making plays. He made a lot of big plays for us because of not only his smarts, his leadership but his mobility as well.
“We were very excited about what Case was able to accomplish.”
Those are nice compliments, but not a strong signal the Vikings will be signing Keenum to a long deal.
None of that means Keenum won’t be back, and just because there was a report that he won’t receive the franchise tag doesn’t mean that the Vikings won’t change their mind by the March 6 deadline. Perhaps the Vikings bring back fellow free agents Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater (who will probably be a free agent unless his contract tolls because of time spent on the PUP list, and the NFL has yet to rule on that, according to Spielman), but there’s a lot of injury risk with them both. There have been reports the Vikings have interest in Cousins, and that makes sense. Cousins has better peak production and a longer track record than Keenum. Of course Cousins will cost a lot more than Keenum, and that’s a factor. Also, a team like the New York Jets could offer Cousins way more than the Vikings. The Vikings have more than $50 million in projected cap space, according to Spotrac, currently ninth most in the league. The Jets have almost $95 million.
The Vikings seemingly have the most options among the teams in the quarterback market, and that makes them the team everyone should be watching to get the quarterback madness going.
“A lot of things will go into play in this decision,” Spielman said. “Contracts are definitely a factor in it.”
The Vikings’ first move will trigger what should be a fascinating quarterback carousel this offseason, one that includes four quarterbacks who could go in the top 10 of the draft. And if the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees don’t come to a contract agreement before free agency, it could get really crazy.
Here’s a look at a few teams who will be caught up in the quarterback carousel but might have to get in line behind Minnesota:
Denver Broncos: The Broncos might end up falling in love with a draft prospect, but John Elway isn’t in rebuilding mode.
“Life’s too short to rebuild in the NFL,” Elway said Wednesday.
Elway said the Broncos are close to being championship contenders again, which might indicate he wants a veteran quarterback. He also said the Broncos will bring back receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, a sign that the Broncos aren’t tearing it down. Elway can’t discuss potential free agents from other teams because they’re still under contract until the start of the new league year, but he said he’ll be exploring “anybody that won’t be under contract.”
The Broncos will certainly inquire with Cousins, but he might be too expensive given their cap space (projected to be about $26 million). Keenum could be a fallback option, though they’ll wait to see what Minnesota does.
The Broncos could also use the fifth pick of the draft on a quarterback, but they can’t know which ones will slip to them. Denver has had a tough time figuring out the quarterback position after Peyton Manning’s retirement, and the next couple months are crucial for Elway to fix it.
“Believe me, I’m not done swinging and missing,” Elway said with a laugh. “Misses don’t bother me. We just have to figure out a way to get it right.”
Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer retired, and the Cardinals found themselves with no quarterbacks on the roster. While some teams are looking for a veteran starter, a high-profile quarterback of the future or a cheap developmental quarterback, the Cardinals are looking for all of it.
The Cardinals don’t have the cap space (projected $23 million) or draft position (15th overall) to easily fix the problem. It’s no surprise that the Cardinals will be aggressive exploring any option.
“When you don’t have one, there’s no other way,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. “We’ll have plans in place for not only free agency, but a trade option potentially, and the draft. So we’re all three, because we don’t have any on the roster currently.”
The Philadelphia Eagles might hold a big key to the quarterback carousel if they get the right offer for Nick Foles. If the Cardinals, Broncos or another team fail to land their preferred free-agent quarterback and get desperate, maybe the Eagles would warm up to the idea of trading the Super Bowl MVP.
Buffalo Bills: One interesting piece of the quarterback carousel is how the Tyrod Taylor situation will play out. The Bills aren’t smitten with Taylor, though it’s not like the team can have a ton of confidence in 2017 fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman. On Wednesday, the Bills brass didn’t give Taylor a glowing vote of confidence, though they didn’t say they’d be cutting him.
“Tyrod Taylor is on our roster right now and we are taking it day by day,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said.
“That process will work itself out,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said.
Maybe the Bills bring back Taylor, or perhaps they’ll explore trade options when other teams move on to Plan B.
New York Jets: The Jets have a ton of cap space to throw at Cousins, but what if he stays true to his desire to play for a winner? The Jets aren’t close to contending. Then they’d just have a lot of cap space and no quarterback to spend it on, unless someone like AJ McCarron tickles their fancy. Perhaps a quarterback they desire falls to their sixth overall pick, though the Browns, Giants and Broncos have picks ahead of the Jets and could take a quarterback, and other teams could trade up. Like everyone else, once the Jets figure out if the Vikings can land Cousins, they’ll explore all other options, perhaps including bringing Josh McCown back.
“Being a veteran quarterback or a younger guy, we just have to make sure we have the right fit for our guy,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “Doesn’t matter what age he is.”
Cleveland Browns: It seems like the Browns are intent on drafting a quarterback, though they still have the cap space to shake things up if they pursue a free agent. Considering the Browns have almost $112 million in projected cap space, anything seems possible.
There are a lot of teams that will be trying to figure out their quarterback situation in free agency and the draft. But until teams see if the Vikings land Cousins, or whatever other direction they go, there might be a bit of a holding pattern.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Manziel recalls the night that ruined his career
• Bears to cut costly QB after only one season
• NBA warns of tanking in memo to owners
• Jets cut Wilkerson two years after $86M deal
• Red Sox take step toward re-naming Yawkey Way
– – – – – – –