The time for the Minnesota Vikings to commit anew to a starting quarterback has almost arrived.
They’re still in evaluation mode, according to general manager Rick Spielman.
With Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford each on track to become an unrestricted free agent in two weeks, the Vikings have yet to make any final decisions about any of them. That’s what Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday.
“There have been no decisions made, and I know there have been a thousand reports out there,” Spielman said. “We’re going to move forward and continue to evolve this process through the meetings this week with the agents.”
The most notable report, by the NFL Network this week citing unidentified sources, was that the Vikings don’t plan to use the franchise tag on Keenum. That’s a way they could essentially kick the quarterback-decision can down the road by keeping him for 2018 at a rate in the top tier of current league-wide salaries at the position, which would be well more than $20 million this year. That’s also a lot of money for a player who was a career backup until Bradford’s knee injury after the season opener paved the way for his breakout performance.
Spielman dismissed that report, praising Keenum in general terms after the run to the NFC championship game at eventual champion Philadelphia. He said the Vikings have discussed how Keenum could fit in new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s preferred scheme but otherwise declined to divulge any specific assessment.
“Case Keenum led our football team and did a phenomenal job and has a knack for making plays,” Spielman said. “He made a lot of big plays for us because of not only his smarts and leadership but his mobility as well.”
Bradford, given the long-term uncertainty about the stability of his knee, is the likely the team’s least-desirable option. Bridgewater carries the same health risk, having not started a meaningful game since the wild card round in the playoffs on Jan. 10, 2016, because of the knee injury that kept him off the field until a brief appearance late last season. He’s younger and cheaper than both Keenum and Bradford, though, which would give the team the most flexibility under the salary cap to sign other stars to pricey contract extensions and upgrade other positions of need.
There’s a murky provision in the collective bargaining agreement that allows a player’s contract to be tolled to the next season if he’s physically unable to perform as of the sixth regular season game. Bridgewater was on the PUP list then, per the minimum stay, but he has said he was fit to play prior to then. Spielman has said the matter would be up to the NFL, but he said Wednesday that he expects Bridgewater to become a free agent like the others.
“I don’t personally believe, with what I know today, that his contract will toll,” Spielman said, adding: “One thing I would say is that Teddy has been such a great teammate and is a great person and has been great for our organization. Any time our organization can reach out and help a player, even though it may not benefit us, we are always going to look out for the best interest of our players.”
That of course leaves the open market, where former Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins will be beginning March 14. He’d be more expensive than any of the other three, but the package of his age, durability and resume is the most desirable.
“I haven’t had the chance to pick where I’m going to play since 2007 when I chose to go to Michigan State, so I’m looking forward to that opportunity,” Cousins said during Super Bowl week on an appearance on SiriusXM satellite radio. “I think it’s a pretty short checklist. At the end of the day: I want to win.”
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