Several major questions about 2018 have been staring at the Vikings for months, but always with the caveat that they would be dealt with when the team’s surprisingly successful season finally ended.
Well, that happened Sunday. And now perhaps the most important of those questions — who will be the starting quarterback next season for a team that went 13-3 during the regular season and made it within a game of playing a Super Bowl in its home stadium? — is at the forefront of an interesting offseason.
Teddy Bridgewater started every game in 2015 for the Vikings. Sam Bradford started 15 in 2016. Case Keenum started 16, including two playoff games, for Minnesota in 2017.
All three were teammates this season, and all three can become free agents on March 14.
“I have an inkling that all those guys are going to be starting quarterbacks in this league for someone, and they’re going to win a lot of games,” Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said Monday.
So now what?
Multiple national reports Sunday indicated the most likely scenario is that the Vikings will use the franchise tag on Keenum, which would be a one-year commitment at more than $20 million. The Vikings can use that designation on one impending free agent during a 15-day window starting Feb. 20.
“I really haven’t thought too much about it,” Keenum said of his contract status during locker room clean-out day back in the Twin Cities on Monday, less than 24 hours after the Vikings’ season ended with a 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. “I love this team. I love these guys. Love the coaching staff. I love this whole organization.”
Keenum said he plans to go somewhere warm and let the process play out. Putting the franchise tag on Keenum would seem to be an easy solution to the Vikings’ conundrum. That said, it’s hard to imagine the situation being more unusual or complicated.
To recap: The Vikings acquired Bradford in 2016 after Bridgewater’s knee injury late in the preseason. Bradford stayed healthy in 2016 and entered 2017 as the starter. Keenum was signed as a low-cost backup on a one-year, $2 million deal while Bridgewater continued his recovery. But Bradford was injured after only one game, and Keenum took over.
Bridgewater returned to the active roster in early November, and Bradford went to injured reserve. But Bradford was activated before the Vikings’ first playoff game and served as the No. 2 quarterback for both postseason games, with Bridgewater inactive for both.
“This year, I think, my biggest test was my character,” Bridgewater said Monday. “In a perfect world, I would have loved to have been dressing, but I understand decisions are made to give this team the best chance to win. I understand that and I’m a pro. I know what it takes. It happened, and I dealt with it.”
Bridgewater said he didn’t read too much into his demotion to No. 3 when it comes to interpreting the Vikings’ long-term plans, but he said he’s “definitely, without a question” worthy of being a starting quarterback for someone in 2018.
Will the Vikings put the franchise tag on Keenum or sign him to a long-term deal? Is that decision complicated by the news that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, credited for helping Keenum excel this year, was named the New York Giants head coach on Monday?
Would the Vikings rather turn back to Bridgewater, who said Monday he feels as healthy now as he has for a long time? Would they risk signing Bradford — who did not address the media Monday — and hope he stays healthy? Will they eschew all three and make a play for another quarterback in free agency?
“I’m sure those guys (in the front office) are going to do the best they can to give us the best chance of winning with the decision they make,” running back Latavius Murray said.