With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Minnesota Vikings.
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Kyle Sloter -- $555,000
Key stat: Keenum proved to be the most important free-agent acquisition in 2017, leading the Vikings to a 13-3 record and trip to the NFC Championship Game in a season in which he posted a career-best 98.4 passer rating. Over the past four seasons, Minnesota’s quarterbacks have notched the 12th-best total QBR (56.3), are 13th in passer rating (91.3) and rank 16th in TD-INT ratio (1.90).
Money matters: Minnesota spent $22.5 million in 2017 on its quarterbacks, with $18 million allotted for Bradford, who played just six quarters of football due to lingering issues with his left knee. This offseason, the Vikings can afford to pay top dollar for a quarterback, given their approximated $57 million in available cap space. They should be able to offer Kirk Cousins a competitive deal worth upward of $30 million a year if they choose to enter in his free-agency sweepstakes. If they elect to place the franchise tag on Keenum, it would cost them $23 million for the one-year tender. Coach Mike Zimmer stressed the importance of making the right decision at quarterback at the NFL Combine last week. He also emphasized the notion of not sacrificing other strengths of the team by overpaying for a QB. "You just have to pick out the right one that’s going to help your football team the best," Zimmer said. "And where you can still do things at other positions. You don’t want to go crazy here."
Big picture: The Vikings have the league’s most unique quarterback scenario. In the coming days and weeks, they’ll need to decide whether they want to bring back Keenum, give Bridgewater a chance to show he’s able to be a starter again or decide to move past their current QBs and on to someone else. Minnesota hasn’t had a ton of stability at the position within the past decade. Taken in the first round of the 2011 draft, Christian Ponder was the Vikings' only three-year starter during that stretch before being replaced by Bridgewater, who was selected 32nd overall in 2014. Between Bridgewater's and Bradford's bad luck, the consistency of this group has been disrupted by unfortunate injuries that have altered the Vikings' plans during the past two seasons to find a long-term solution. Given the abundance of options they have to choose from -- including possibly drafting one, as general manager Rick Spielman hinted at in Indianapolis -- this year appears to be the Vikings' best chance at securing the long-standing stability they have sought.
The game plan: Spielman said at the NFL combine that no decisions have been made in regard to the quarterback position. That’s going to change quickly with the window to deploy the franchise tag closing on Wednesday and free agency just over a week away. Putting the tag on Keenum would be an unprecedented move. Minnesota has only utilized it twice before and never on a quarterback.
The Vikings' push for a Super Bowl appearance can happen with a top-15 quarterback at the helm of the offense. Between their own pending free agents and the likes of Cousins, that option shouldn’t be difficult to find. If Minnesota chooses to let Keenum test the waters of free agency, that doesn’t necessarily mean his time as a Viking has come to an end. The Vikings could strike out on Cousins in free agency and elect to give Keenum a multiyear contract, topping the offers he might receive from teams such as the Denver Broncos or New York Jets.
But if the Vikings do land Cousins, they’re in an ideal position to continue their push toward a league championship. Signing a reliable veteran backup quarterback would be the next move to take place to complete a quarterback room that also features Sloter.