Case Keenum Fits the Profile Perfectly for What the Broncos are Looking for in a Backup to QB Drew Lock
As the NFL's legal tampering window approaches on March 16, fans are dying to know which big-name free agents GM John Elway might attempt to lure to the Mile High City. Most of the focus will be centered on the high-profile free agents who have been linked with the Denver Broncos — names like Dallas Cowboys' cornerback Byron Jones.
Splashy names gain the big headlines in free agency but Elway will also be keen to not ignore the vital, less glamourous positions on the roster. It might not be as high profile but the Broncos will be looking for a back-up quarterback and one candidate could be a familiar face — Case Keenum.
Several dominoes will need to fall before Elway pursued a clipboard holder who will serve as the Broncos' insurance policy if a major injury should befall Drew Lock, such as the preseason thumb sprain he suffered last year. When it comes to quarterbacks, Elway’s first major move will be to cut bait with the veteran Joe Flacco, saving a considerable amount of salary cap dollars.
With Flacco, and most probably OG Ronald Leary, likely to be jettisoned, it will furnish the Elway with a considerable war chest to hit free agency hard this time around. Spending the team’s cap dollars also comes with the knowledge that Lock is on his rookie deal and the most likely candidate to back him up, Brandon Allen, is a low-cost option about to hit restricted free agency.
That’s not to assume that Elway will completely devalue the position entirely, jumping into with the Lock era with both feet comes with the mandate of providing him with a locker room mentor and ally who can help him grow and mature. So many of the old guard of established signal-callers like Tom Brady and Philip Rivers could be available, but QBs like them will be seeking starting jobs, while the Broncos are committed to developing their own homegrown franchise cornerstone to build around.
New Orleans Saints' QB Teddy Bridgewater is likely to be the most prized of all backup options but he will also be looking to find a starting gig when he tests free agency. Elway will need to be creative to find an option that will fit the Broncos' scheme and locker room dynamics.
Could the recent appointment of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur lead the Broncos back full circle to a quarterback like Case Keenum, who even now is only two years removed from signing a two-year, $36 million contract to serve as the starter in Denver? Keenum and Shurmur combined to produce the journeyman QB’s best season in 2017, which is what led to the Broncos making him a prized free-agent acquisition.
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Under Shurmur's guidance, Keenum threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and registered only seven interceptions while leading the Vikings to a Divisional title and a playoff win.
Elway traded away Keenum before the start of the 2019 campaign in the belief that Flacco would be an upgrade, even paying a 50% share of Keenum’s restructured $8M salary to facilitate the move to Washington. Playing for the dysfunctional Redskins and their revolving door at QB hurt the veteran, and with the newly hired Ron Rivera cleaning house, Keenum is fully aware it’s yet another one and done NFL stay.
“I’d love another shot to play in this league," Keenum said via Ethan Cadequx of NBC Sports Washington. "So if there’s another chance, another opportunity out there. I’m not sure where that might be, I don’t take these things lightly. I’m going to go compete and make myself better this offseason and hopefully be ready for whatever team might come calling."
Keenum just turned 32 and having bounced around the league considerably, it’s only logical that the veteran might have to be more realistic in his career ambitions. Therefore, whatever it takes to keep himself in gainful NFL employment makes the most sense for the upcoming 2020 season, even if it meant a return to Denver on the cheap.
Keenum’s football intelligence, when it’s mixed with his talents as a QB, certainly fits the profile of a solid NFL-level backup. If his ego can take the considerable demotion and allow him to swallow his pride, a return to Denver could be a case of 'beggars can’t be choosers' in the cruel world of pro football.
However, with the exception of Brock Osweiler, Elway has been almost militant in his refusal to rekindle things with his former players who once donned the Orange and Blue but have since moved on to other opportunities. However, Keenum's skill-set and experience, combined with where he's at on his career trajectory, checks every box of what the ideal backup to Lock might look like.
We'll see what free agency holds for the Broncos when it kicks off on March 18.