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The Vikings Quarterback Conundrum: It’s OK To Be Unsure (For Now)

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Taking a look at the pros and cons of all the major players in the Great Vikings Quarterback Debate of 2018.

NFL: Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Kirk Cousins is the name du jour for the Vikings. But is he the best option for the team going forward?
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a fun exercise for you to pass some time in the offseason: go out and find ten fellow Vikings fans and ask them about the quarterback situation. Ask them who the starter should be, who the backup should be, and how much money they would be comfortable with the team spending on each.

Chances are you’ll get ten very different answers.

Some people are 100% sold that Kirk Cousins is the missing piece of a Super Bowl run, price be damned. You need a great quarterback to consistently contend in today’s NFL, and Cousins could fit that bill with the weapons the Vikings already have at the skill positions. On the other hand, others are unwavering in their opinion that Cousins is overrated; breaking the bank for him would deter the ability to re-sign crucial pieces of the team.

Many will tell you that the 2018 starter is already on the current roster. Of course, exactly who that is differs as well.

You’ll hear folks that say Case Keenum showed enough in 2017 to earn the starting job going forward. Then again, perhaps Keenum was only a one-year wonder that benefited from the amazing talent and coaching around him. His storybook run to the NFC Championship Game may not be replicable.

Of course there is still a sizable contingent of diehard Teddy Bridgewater fans who are convinced that he is still the quarterback of the future after a two-season detour. Since he likely won’t command the exorbitant salary of Cousins or even Keenum, the Vikings would have plenty of cap room to give top dollar to Stefon Diggs, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and even a big free agent or two. After all, didn’t the Eagles just get done showing us that having a complete team is more important than overpaying for one position?

“Hey, don’t forget about Sam Bradford!” others will shout. “If he’s healthy, he could be better than anyone else we’re talking about. He was pretty good in 2016—just imagine what he could do with the current roster! You remember how well he played in Week 1, right?!”

(And there’s always the random guy that is certain Kyle Sloter is the long-term answer. After all, why would the team pay extra to keep him on the 53-man roster if they didn’t have future plans for him? And why is he the only Vikings quarterback currently under contract? HMMMM?!?!)

The constant flood of options, information, and theories can be overwhelming. As February draws to a close, I’m more unsure of what the Vikings will end up doing at quarterback than ever.

And you know what? That’s OK. For now, at least. There are still 15 (agonizing) days before free agency officially starts. That means we have at least two more weeks to parse through every permutation and read way too much into everything everyone says or doesn’t say.

With so much time and so many moving parts, I’m amazed at how many football experts and fans seem certain about what the best course of action is for the Vikings. Each time I check Twitter or my other usual football internet haunts, I am bombarded with dozens of takes that are as confident as they are contradictory. With the players involved in this situation, I cannot understand how such a large number of people can claim they have the one true solution. It’s almost like football is a complicated team sport and speaking in absolutes about one of the 22 positions might be an exercise in futility.

So instead of trying to convince you what is the surefire best way to address the Vikings’ quarterback conundrum, I’m going to walk through each option and give my personal opinion of what I think should and will happen. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers because I’m not psychic and I don’t know how everything will play out. Novel concept, right? Let’s begin.

Case Keenum

With the report that Keenum will not get the franchise tag from the Vikings, it appears that his days in Minnesota could be numbered. He will be free to test the free agent market. Of course that doesn’t mean Keenum is gone for sure—the team could still try to work out a long-term deal that doesn’t chew up such a big chunk of the cap room the Vikings have.

At first glance, it could seem like a rather harsh way to depart with the quarterback that led the team to its penultimate goal. The story of a good-guy journeyman quarterback bouncing around from team to team and finally finding his perfect fit is the stuff Disney movies are made of. Even if the Vikings were concerned about Keenum being a “one-year wonder,” franchising him would have avoided a long-term commitment and allowed him to prove that 2017 wasn’t an anomaly.

I thought Matthew Coller of 1500 ESPN did an excellent job why the Vikings may have been hesitant to give Keenum the franchise tag. Despite the amazing run to the NFC Championship Game, there were still enough red flags to prevent the team from locking him up long-term.

I’m guessing that the Vikings could still offer Keenum a decent contract, but I don’t think it will compete with what other quarterback-hungry teams will offer him. Someone like the Broncos, Cardinals, or Jets seems like a logical landing spot for Keenum, especially for the teams that miss out on the Cousins Sweepstakes.

Speaking of whom...

Kirk Cousins

Fire up Ye Olde Rumor Mill, because Minnesota Vikings/Kirk Cousins Courtship Season (#CourtshipSZN) is officially underway. Cousins is the consensus crown jewel and lead domino of the 2018 free agency period. No price appears to be too high for the coveted veteran signal caller. Teams like the Jets have been reported to be prepared to spend $60 million on Cousins...in the first year. John Elway seems poised to move heaven and earth to land Cousins on the Broncos after whiffing on his last couple QB choices. Yet one team keeps on resurfacing in the mix, especially this week: our very own Minnesota Vikings.

With the Vikings passing on franchising Keenum and Bridgewater becoming a free agent, all signs currently seem to be pointing to Cousins and Vikings playing footsie under the table until free agency opens. Numerous national writers and insiders appear to believe the Vikings are the current leader in the clubhouse to land Cousins’ services.

Of all the major players involved, it’s hard to imagine a better situation than Minnesota for Cousins football-wise. The Vikings were on the doorstep of the Super Bowl and they have a stacked roster that’s poised to have the vast majority of its key players back in 2018. And oh yeah, Dalvin Cook is coming back too. If Cousins wants to win now, the Vikings are clearly his best option.

But is Cousins the best option for the Vikings? That answer is much murkier, especially when you consider the potential contract numbers. Most pundits think Cousins will sign a deal that easily eclipses the monster contract that Jimmy Garoppolo just agreed to with the 49ers. Cousins is a very good quarterback, and he is definitely the most known variable in this crazy quarterback equation. He hasn’t missed a game in the past three years. In each of those three years, he eclipsed 4,000 yards passing, threw at least 25 touchdowns, and had an interception percentage under 2.5%. For comparison, the Vikings have had three such seasons in their 57 years of being an NFL franchise.

If you’re going to give a quarterback the kind of money that’s being discussed, you better hope he’s on the level of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees. Cousins simply isn’t there yet. Yes, he’s only turning 30 in August and was usually in a bad situation with the notoriously dysfunctional Redskins. The thought of Cousins bombing passes downfield to Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph is certainly tantalizing. But the thought of paying Cousins upwards of $30 million per year to do so is decidedly less alluring.

I believe that while Cousins is probably the best bet of the quarterbacks currently in the mix for the Vikings, he isn’t significantly better in a way that would justify the encumbrance of a gigantic contract. Giving him a long-term deal that pays him like the league’s elite while he performs only above average could have debilitating ramifications on the team. Unless the Vikings think Cousins is close to that Rodgers/Brees/Brady level—and there are plenty of examples showing that he isn’t there yet—they shouldn’t pay him like he is.

However, if Cousins is serious about winning instead of simply going for the highest bidder, that’s where things could get very intriguing. If the yearly number is closer to the aforementioned franchise tag salary than some of the rumored sky-high prices, I could be convinced that Cousins is the way to go. It would give the Vikings a great chance to win now without mortgaging their future with other key players due for their next big contract.

So in summary, I’m on board with Cousins only if the price is right.

That’s a huge “if.” But not nearly as big as the largest “if” of them all...

Teddy Bridgewater

We already discussed how it can be difficult to separate emotion from analysis when talking about Case Keenum.

When talking about Bridgewater, separating emotion from analysis can be damn near impossible.

Through no fault of his own, Teddy has become one of the single most polarizing athletes in the history of the Minnesota sports landscape. Few players have evoked such extreme praise and vitriol from such a small sample size. He’s the Rorschach test of football.

We won’t delve into the prospective pros and cons of Teddy here; you guys do already that in the comments section of nearly every article we publish. Instead, I’m just going to give my two cents on the situation and move on.

It’s no secret that I like Teddy Bridgewater, both as a player and as a person. I think he’s a unique blend of leadership and talent that has a chance to be a special player in the NFL. I still feel that way despite the fact that he has missed nearly all of the past two seasons of football.

However, I fully acknowledge that going forward with Bridgewater is a risky proposition. There aren’t many examples of athletes coming back and flourishing from such a severe injury. Bridgewater will likely come a lot cheaper than most of the other options, but he’ll also come with more question marks.

The bottom line for me: if the Vikings think that Bridgewater will return to how he played in 2015, then they should part ways with him. No, this isn’t the typical “HURR DURR 14 TDS” crutch that Teddy detractors constantly use. It’s simply pointing out that Bridgewater still had lots to improve upon back then. If that’s his ceiling after the injury, I’m not interested in him being the long-term answer for the franchise.

But if the Vikings think Bridgewater could still return to what we saw unfolding right before his injury, I’m all in. Feel free to dismiss me as a “Ted Head,” but I was there in person during that 2016 Training Camp in Mankato. I saw the respect that he commanded from his teammates. I saw his accurate passes all over the field with noticeably more zip. I saw flashes of greatness in those preseason games. Like everything with Bridgewater’s career, the sample size was small, but I saw a quarterback that was poised to take “the leap.”

If Teddy does end up leaving in free agency and flourishes on his new team, I’ll be happy for him on a personal level. But it will be hard for me to avoid agonizing over what could have been in Minnesota. I still believe that Teddy and the Vikings can and should work out an incentive-laden deal and give him every chance to earn the starting job in Eagan this summer.

Of course, they should probably have a fairly reliable backup plan in place too. Unfortunately, our next player doesn’t fit that bill.

Sam Bradford

Poor Sam. Poor incredibly rich, yet incredibly unlucky Sam. Just when it seemed like he had finally found his ideal football situation, his knee betrayed him after a brief one-game glimpse into what might have been in 2017. He definitely wants to keep playing, but it might have to be somewhere else. Re-signing Bradford seems like the longest shot of all the major options out there. The case can be made that Bradford is the best passer out of the entire group, but it’s hard to trust his health.

Unfortunately, I can’t trust Bradford’s health either. This might sound crazy, but I trust Bridgewater’s knee a lot more than Bradford’s going forward. Teddy continues to show progress even though his injury was much more severe. Bradford’s malady appears to be more chronic. Nobody really explained how or when the knee was hurt—only that it mysteriously wasn’t getting any better until the very end of the season. Bradford could very well have a few good seasons left in the tank. However, unlike Bridgewater, I don’t see the risk outweighing the reward.

AJ McCarron

People keep throwing his name around as a possibility. My thoughts?

AJ McCarron is also an NFL quarterback.

And that concludes my opinion of AJ McCarron.

Drafting a quarterback

Look—I’m not a draft guru and I don’t want to be here all day. The incoming class of quarterbacks is just as confusing and divisive as the group we have been talking about.

(But I am secretly kind of rooting for starting Bridgewater and drafting Lamar Jackson just to watch Vikings Twitter burn to the ground. BRING ME ALL THE POLARIZING LOUISVILLE QUARTERBACKS!)

Final thoughts

As Mike Florio pointed out, it’s kind of fun to have all these options, but it’s also horrifying. If the Vikings end up making the wrong choice and their quarterback play hamstrings the potential of an otherwise loaded roster, the front office will never hear the end of it.

But I trust Rick Spielman and the Vikings front office. More often than not, the Minnesota brass has made the right decisions when doling out contracts. Their track record with quarterbacks is spotty compared to other positions, but much of the misfortune can be attributed to bad luck with injuries.

I also trust that the Vikings hired John DeFilippo to give valuable feedback on the person he’ll be coaching in Minnesota. Seeing what DeFilippo accomplished with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles in Philadelphia should have Minnesotans giddy about the possibilities in 2018. With no clear-cut answer at the moment, it’s comforting to know that the people in charge generally have a better track record than all the people yelling at each other on Twitter.

So in short, this article is basically a 2,500-word ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Nobody is 100% sure of what’s going to happen for the Vikings at quarterback in 2018. And yes, that’s OK. For now. No matter who ends up under center come September, we’re all going to root for him and the rest of the team to make it one step further than they did in 2017.

It should be a very interesting few weeks for Vikings fans. Buckle up.