The Vikings’ newly-assembled brain trust on offense hits the ground running. Coordinator John DeFilippo and senior assistant Todd Downing, hired 10 days apart this month, will help craft their new team’s approach to finding a starting quarterback.
One device is at the Vikings’ disposal as of Tuesday: the franchise/transition tag.
Starting Tuesday, NFL teams have a two-week window to prevent one of their pending free agents from hitting the open market with a one-year contract. The Vikings’ front office has recently been proactive in re-signing coveted players the summer before they reach this point. But they’re now in uncharted waters with perhaps the most unique quarterback situation in the NFL.
All three experienced quarterbacks are set to become free agents with two caveats: 1) Teddy Bridgewater’s contract may ‘toll,’ or roll into 2018, depending on whether Bridgewater and the NFLPA can prove he was medically able to play before Week 6. 2) An extension can be reached at anytime, or the tag can be used to keep a quarterback like the healthy Case Keenum.
The deadline to apply a franchise or transition tag is 3 p.m. on March 6.
The Vikings have never used the tag, which began in 1993, on a quarterback. Only twice has the organization slapped a one-year tender on a player, and not since Chad Greenway in 2011. Tight end Jim Kleinsasser was tagged in 2003.
Earlier this month, general manager Rick Spielman said “nothing has been decided” when asked if the tag was an option for any of his quarterbacks.
Keenum is the most likely candidate between he, Sam Bradford and Bridgewater, but at a hefty cost.
A breakout season surprised almost everybody as Keenum parlayed a one-year, $2 million journeyman deal with the Vikings into his eventual career-altering payday this spring. He won 13 games under center, including the franchise’s first playoff win since 2009 through the ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ against the Saints.
Keenum had a career year in nearly every statistical measure under the direction of Pat Shurmur, now the New York Giants head coach. His sixth NFL season saw career highs in completion percentage (67.6%), yardage (3,547), touchdowns (22) and passer rating (98.3). He also had five of the 10 best individual passer ratings of his NFL career.
Pinning him down right now would cost $21 or $23 million via a transition or franchise tag, according to former player agent Joel Corry who analyzes contracts for CBS Sports. If the Vikings go the quickest route to keep Keenum with a tag, he’d nearly quadruple his NFL career earnings overnight (when signed; teams can rescind tags until signed.) They would then have until July 16 to negotiate a long-term extension before the upcoming season.
Teams can place two kinds of franchise tags – exclusive and non-exclusive – on a player. The non-exclusive (more common) gives an agent the ability to negotiate with other teams while the current team gets right of first refusal or two first-round picks if the player is signed away. The exclusive tag (uncommon, slightly more expensive) prevents negotiations with other teams. Transition tags are the cheapest of the three options and don’t provide any compensation if a player is signed away.
That’s one option.
The Vikings hold a few more. The two sides could work out a long-term deal at any point before Keenum hits the open market March 14. Keenum could command a deal roughly in the three-year, $54 million range with the first year and change guaranteed, according to ESPN.com’s Mike Sando. The Vikings and Keenum will also have to consider 31 other potential bidders, who can all legally begin negotiations with the quarterback on March 12.
As much as a long-term quarterback solution is sought, the Vikings haven’t publicly bestowed that kind of confidence in Keenum. Head coach Mike Zimmer praised Keenum’s intestinal fortitude throughout the season. DeFilippo also stressed the need for an athletic quarterback this month during his introductory conference call with Twin Cities reporters.
The Vikings could also let Keenum test the market. A day after the Vikings’ NFC title game loss in Philadelphia, Keenum said he hadn’t discussed his future with Vikings brass. Free agency is a two-way street, so Keenum may leave and never look back. However, his relationships in Minnesota may be strong enough for him to allow the Vikings to match any potential offers he gets around the league.
Or the Vikings could let him walk. They’d then need to replace him with another one of their own free agents, others (Kirk Cousins, A.J. McCarron, Josh McCown) or the draft where they’re currently slotted at pick No. 30.