The Super Bowl in Minneapolis is a little over a month-and-a-half away. The Vikings are 10-3 and have at least a reasonable chance of being the first team to host a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
With that as a backdrop, the Vikings’ 2018 quarterback plans are pretty far down on the organization’s list of priorities. That said, what happens between now and the Feb. 4 Super Bowl could at least have some influence over the answer to the organization’s QB conundrum in 2018 and beyond.
Let’s play out a few “what-if?” scenarios as we try to sort out how the coming weeks might shape the Vikings’ plans. Remember: Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford will all be free agents in 2018:
What if Keenum keeps playing well and makes a deep playoff run?
When the Vikings were 6-2 and coming off their bye week with Bridgewater added to the active roster and Bradford headed to injured reserve, Keenum was playing good but not great. He’s ramped up his game since then, keeping Bridgewater’s return to a starting role this season — which at one point was starting to feel close to inevitable — from happening.
The assumption from most, at the very least, was that even if Keenum kept playing well he was still just keeping the seat warm for Bridgewater long-term. That narrative might be changing.
ESPN (Insider) quoted an anonymous source in a recent piece about 2018 QB situations, coming to the conclusion that the most likely outcome is that the Vikings try to sign Keenum for 2018 as their starter. The quote: “I think they will keep Keenum, … Keenum looks like he can do more, but they will use the next three to four games to evaluate him.”
If Keenum gets the Vikings into the playoffs with a first-round bye and gets them at least as far as the NFC title game while playing well, he could be the guy. If he makes the Super Bowl — and certainly if he wins it — the likelihood increases.
Keenum turns 30 in February and should hold up physically for several more years. One mitigating circumstance could be the fate of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. He’s been credited with some of Keenum’s success, and we’ve seen QBs struggle to adapt to new coordinators in the past both league-wide and with the Vikings (particularly Daunte Culpepper after Scott Linehan left). If Shurmur gets a head coaching job this offseason, that could change things.
What if Keenum falters but we don’t see Bridgewater this year?
Let’s say the Vikings stumble a little on their way into the playoffs and then lose their first playoff game, with Keenum playing somewhere between mediocre and poor in the postseason.
My hunch then is the Vikings would go into the offseason planning to make Bridgewater their 2018 starter. They would have seen enough in practice, combined with his body of work pre-injury to feel confident enough to move in that direction. In a perfect world they might be able to keep both Bridgewater and Keenum, but both could command starting QB money and both could want a chance to be the clear-cut starter.
What if Keenum falters and the Vikings turn to Teddy this year?
Let’s say Keenum stinks against the Bengals in a loss on Sunday and Mike Zimmer decides that even though it’s late in the year he’s going to roll with Bridgewater for the final two regular-season games and the playoffs.
That would be a clear signal that the Vikings intend to try to sign Bridgewater for 2018 and beyond.
They would be rewarded if Teddy played well the rest of this year. It would make their future decision that much easier.
That said, what if Bridgewater also struggles — or worse, what if he gets reinjured?
In the short-term, Bradford is actually eligible to play starting Week 1 of the playoffs. I have no idea if he’s healthy, but he could at least be in play for the postseason. His knee issues, though, make it unlikely the Vikings would commit to him in 2018 and beyond.
The worst-case scenario, both short-term and long-term, is Keenum plays poorly and is replaced by Teddy, who also either plays poorly or is injured.
That would likely doom the Vikings this season and throw their confusing 2018 QB decision into utter chaos. In that case, their 2018 QB might not be on the roster right now.
I still think the Vikings’ most likely scenario is that Bridgewater opens 2018 as the starting QB. But if Keenum takes this team to a Super Bowl or plays well while getting close, things could change.