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  • All three of the Vikings’ quarterbacks are free agents this season, so which—if any—will be on the roster come March 14? Rick Spielman's plan likely involves the franchise tag.
By Albert Breer
January 25, 2018

A version of this story appears in the Jan. 29—Feb. 5, 2017 double issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. To subscribe, click here.

Back when it was still preposterous to think that Case Keenum was the Vikings’ future under center, general manager Rick Spielman sat in a golf cart during training camp and pondered the uncertain future ahead at quarterback. Sam Bradford was warming up for practice and Teddy Bridgewater, rehabbing from major knee surgery, was watching.

“We haven’t made any decisions yet,” he said. “But I know through our roster and cap planning, we have plans in place to have that position taken care of.”

The situation was complicated then, and Keenum made it even more so in the NFC championship game, when he threw two picks and lost a fumble in the blowout loss to the Eagles. Keenum, like Bradford and Bridgewater is an impending free agent. So what’s Spielman’s plan? An important piece of it involves the franchise tag—while this may be a high-class problem to have, it’s a problem all the same.

If the league salary cap is $178.1 million in 2018, then the nonexclusive franchise tag for quarterbacks will be $23.3 million. Tagging a quarterback at that figure would give the player the leverage to ask for a long-term deal in excess of $25 million per year. Because of their respective injury histories, it’d be hard to come up with an argument that either Bradford or Bridgewater deserves to make that much money.

After Sunday’s performance, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine Keenum would get the tag either, and impossible to see him taking home the kind of blockbuster deal that would result from it—all of which means that Minnesota might have zero quarterbacks on its roster when free agency begins on March 14.

“If he had a big night [Sunday], Minnesota probably would try sign him to a long-term deal or, worse-case, franchised him,” said one NFC personnel exec on Sunday night. “The way he was playing, he wasn’t looking at $25 million-$30 million, but maybe $18-20. And after tonight, they’re probably gonna have to have a discussion on what to do with Bridgewater, Bradford and Keenum.

“He may have knocked himself down to an area where not many people are, and that’s between $10 million and $16 million a year, that second/third tier guy. I think it really hurts him.”

In order to illustrate the the no-man’s land that Ryan Fitzpatrick was in two years ago and that all three Vikings could be in now, here’s the salaries of a few comparable quarterbacks. Chicago’s Mike Glennon, who’ll likely be cut, is slated to be the NFL’s 19th highest-paid quarterback by average salary in 2018, at $15 million. Teammate Mitchell Trubisky is next on the list, at $7.26 million and Philadelphia’s Nick Foles is the next QB not on a slotted rookie deal, at $5.5 million per year.

The harsh reality? Keenum cost himself a lot of money in the NFC title game.

“It gives [the Vikings] an out, from a decision-making standpoint,” said an AFC exec after the game. “There’d be pressure on then, had they won that game and gone to the Super Bowl. It gives them an out, because the last thing people are going to remember is the sting of the defeat.”

“Yes,” agreed the NFC exec. “And it shouldn’t. But it’s the last taste they have in their mouth. Human nature will tell everybody that he’s a nice backup who had a good run—and then had a bad night and showed his true colors.”

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