While the Vikings are publicly unable to acknowledge their interest in Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins until the start of free agency next week, their machinations at the NFL combine last week did plenty to suggest they’re lining up for an aggressive pursuit of the former Pro Bowler.
That line of thinking, paired with the Vikings’ own lukewarm public statements on Case Keenum, made it a fait accompli that the team would pass on using the franchise tag on Keenum before the window to do so expired on Tuesday afternoon. Putting the franchise tag on Keenum would have guaranteed the Vikings at least temporary control over one of their in-house quarterbacking options for 2018; they could have always rescinded the tag on Keenum had they signed Cousins, and tagging Keenum likely would have meant no other team would have signed him in the meantime. The Vikings, however, also ran the risk of Keenum signing the tag and playing on a one-year deal worth $23.2 million.
So the Vikings made the expected decision not to use the tag, meaning the only way Keenum won;’t become a free agent a week from today is if the team signs him to a new deal between now and then. The Vikings are operating in a manner that suggests confidence they’ll be able to sign Cousins, but until or unless his deal gets done, there’s some risk of missing out on him while Keenum goes elsewhere.
Keenum has both the fewest health questions and the most recent success of the Vikings’ three in-house quarterbacks, and several NFL sources at the combine last week wondered aloud whether the Vikings could have signed him to a modest multi-year deal (say, $5 million a year) in the middle of last season, to give him a raise after his newfound success and buy themselves some control at a price that still wouldn’t break the bank if Keenum returned to a backup role down the road. For whatever reason, though, Keenum is now a week from free agency; the cost of resigning him goes up the closer he gets to the open market, as does the possibility of him signing with another team before the Vikings even welcome Cousins to town on a free agent visit.
It’s a risky strategy, and it could all turn out fine for the Vikings if they’re able to win the bidding for Cousins. They could also return to Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater on a modest, incentive-laden deal (with its attendant injury risks), or bet they’re able to come back to Keenum if his market doesn’t materialize. A week from free agency, though, a team that was one game from the Super Bowl last season still doesn’t know who its starting quarterback will be in 2018. There’s a certain amount of uncertainty in that position, and the Vikings will have to navigate it wisely over the next week or so.