Coming off a 13-3 season and an NFC Championship Game appearance, the Minnesota Vikings may have the most difficult quarterback decision in the NFL. Three players with starting experience are on the roster, but all three have serious question marks. Further, all three are slated to enter unrestricted free agency. Will it be Case Keenum? Sam Bradford? Teddy Bridgewater? A veteran from another team? A rookie? Mike Zimmer and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo have more than a quarterback question, they have a quarterback conundrum.
Sorting Through the Minnesota Vikings Options at Quarterback
The Case for Case
No one can deny the success Keenum had last year for the Vikings. In 15 regular season games (14 starts) he threw 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He finished with over 3,500 yards and had a completion percentage of 67.6. It was by far the best season of his career by any measure. When the playoffs came around, it seemed he was in line for a fat new contract as an entrenched starter.
Unfortunately, as many had been waiting for all season, the clock struck midnight in the playoffs and the carriage turned back into a pumpkin at Lincoln Financial Field. Just a week after one of the greatest finishes in NFL history, Keenum and the rest of the team came out with the flattest championship game performance since the Patriots’ balls in 2015.
Now, it seems Keenum’s best chance to stick with the team will be the franchise tag. Projected at well over $20 million for quarterbacks, the tag would give Keenum elite money while giving the Vikings flexibility to move on if need be.
— Last Word On Vikings (@LWOS_Vikings) January 21, 2018
Buh Bye Bradford?
After week one this season, few Vikings fans would believe Bradford would be the least likely quarterback to be re-signed. He played the game of his life in the season opener against New Orleans, tossing three scores and 346 yards with an astounding 84.38 percent completion mark.
Unfortunately, that was the last time anyone saw Bradford on the field and healthy last season. After a knee injury late in week one and a difficult to watch attempt to play through the pain against Chicago, Bradford was placed on injured reserve. He returned and was active for the playoffs as a backup, but did not get back on the field. Given his extensive injury history and presumably high price tag, it’s likely the team will move on from the 2010 first overall pick. DeFilippo has also said he wants his quarterback to have some mobility, which may rule out Bradford as an option.
John DeFilippo: Says his QB needs to have some athleticism in the pocket.
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) February 9, 2018
Bridgewater is the cheapest option. The youngest option. The player with the highest upside and the most to prove. He was drafted to be the Vikings franchise quarterback. But he also might pose the biggest injury risk. Could Bridgewater start for the Vikings again? Chances are, yes.
Bridgewater presents a risk to be sure, but now well over a year after his infamous non-contact knee injury, he may well be the best option the Vikings have. Many fans disrespect Bridgewater for his low touchdown numbers or, even worse, want to toss him aside due to his injury. But Zimmer has repeatedly shown his belief in Bridgewater, from admitting that Adrian Peterson and Norv Turner held him back to refusing to name Keenum the full-time starter as long as Bridgewater was active.
The Vikings would likely be able to sign Bridgewater to a short-term incentive-heavy deal. This would give them the flexibility to start Teddy or use him as a high quality backup. There is another potential option though– the NFL will have to decide whether to toll Bridgewater’s contract into next season, in which case the debate on re-signing him would be a moot point.
The Vikings may still try to toll Teddy Bridgewater's contract for a year, and they'll blame it on the NFL https://t.co/2sKuJYygvp
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 2, 2018
Kirk Cousins will likely be the NFL’s highest-paid player in a few months. Reports say he will command at least $30 million a year. Cousins has also reportedly expressed interest in joining the Vikings, leading some fans to believe he might take a discount to join a Super Bowl contending team. Paul Allen of KFAN Radio and the Voice of the Vikings has also been dropping some hints about Cousins on the air, and as Vikings fans have learned, when the Vox in the Box is high on a free agent or draft prospect, the team usually is too.
There are reasons to be very excited about the prospect of Cousins joining the Vikings, but also reasons to be skeptical. If he signs with Minnesota, it will be for at least $25 million per year, and more likely much more. Committing 15 percent or more of the salary cap to a single player is always a risky proposition. Especially when the player has only led his team to the playoffs once as a starter.
The money is not the only red flag with Cousins. Despite a talented offensive line unit, Cousins fumbled the ball 13 times last year and nine times in each of the previous two years. He also has shown grave inconsistencies with his accuracy at all three levels.
Still, there are reasons Cousins has earned two franchise tags in a row. Captain Kirk is a prototypically built quarterback with a big arm and more athleticism than he is credited for. He is a vocal and fiery leader who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Cousins also has three consecutive 4,000 yard and 25 touchdown plus seasons. Unfortunately, he threw double-digit interceptions in each of those seasons too.
Picks for Nick
Before he embarrassed Zimmer’s defense in the NFC title game, Nick Foles was the butt of many jokes among Vikings fans. Now, there is a chance the Vikings could be sending more high draft picks to the Philadelphia Eagles for another former Jeff Fisher quarterback.
Foles has little going for him on paper. He has been a borderline starter throughout his career, with two notable stretches of brilliance running gimmicky offenses. In 2013, while under Chip Kelly, Foles threw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Then, after Carson Wentz tore his ACL late this season, Foles threw 971 yards, six touchdowns, and just one pick en route to Super Bowl MVP honors.
With Wentz on the mend, the Eagles may be forced to trade Foles to avoid a quarterback controversy. Given his experience with DeFilippo, many have tied Foles to Minnesota. There is a risk though– besides his own inconsistent career, there are other backup (and starting) quarterbacks who have gone on brilliant playoff runs before falling back to earth the next season. Jeff Hostetler, Trent Dilfer, Doug Williams, even Joe Flacco all won Super Bowls before reverting to mediocrity.
Could Nick Foles be the solution to Vikings' questions at quarterback? https://t.co/dnjokDKwlz
— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) February 7, 2018
Rolling with a Rookie
To greater or lesser degrees, every veteran option for the Vikings at quarterback is a known talent. Some come with greater risk than others, but in general, all have established values based on their careers to date. Even if the Vikings re-sign or bring in a veteran, they could also draft a quarterback to groom into a future starter. Holding the 30th pick in the first round and without much ammo to trade up, the team is unlikely to end up with one of the top four quarterbacks. Sill, there are other talented options in the early to mid rounds.
Lamar Jackson is a quarterback, period, and a talented one at that. The former Heisman Trophy winner has an elite arm, elite legs, and makes plays that defy reason. Although he has some mechanical and accuracy issues, he has the talent to be the next Michael Vick and the character to be an NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year. With the success DeFilippo had with run-pass-options in Philly, the playmakers in the Vikings offense, and the potential to be groomed as long as needed, the Vikings would be smart to consider Jackson with the 30th pick and idiotic not to snatch him up if he remains on the board in the second round.
Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph is a potential day two pick who could be a starter with a year or so of development. At 6’5″ and 230 pounds, he has the ideal size for an NFL pocket passer. He also has more mobility than some may give him credit for. Critics say he has been elevated by his surrounding cast, but joining a talented offense in Minnesota, that would necessarily be a problem. NFL.com compares him to Christian Ponder, which will scare off many Vikings fans, but with proper coaching and a strong surrounding cast, Rudolph could be a strong game manager with a little extra upside.
Finding the Guy.
While the Vikings have some tough decisions to make at football’s most important position, they have many options. The team has cap flexibility, inside knowledge about three of the top free agent options, and is a desirable destination with a very strong roster, coaching staff, and facilities. Vikings fans each have their favorite player to be next season’s starter, but should also be excited about the depth of options. The coaches and front office have a great opportunity to choose their guy. No matter who the team chooses, it is important to remember that he will be surrounded with great talent and coaching on both sides of the ball. This will take pressure off him to elevate everyone else and instead allowing him to focus on his own game.