While the Vikings still have more than two weeks to work out a deal with quarterback Case Keenum before he becomes a free agent, they apparently don't plan to use their simplest method to retain Keenum's services for the 2018 season.
NFL Media reported Monday that the Vikings don't plan to use the franchise tag on Keenum, which would make him a free agent on March 14 after leading the team to the NFC Championship Game. The Vikings have until March 6 to tag Keenum; if they do, he would receive a one-year contract worth the average of the league's five highest-paid QBs over the past five years.
The Vikings have used the franchise tag twice in their history — on Chad Greenway in 2011 and on Jim Kleinsasser in 2003 — and placing the tag on Keenum likely would mean paying him more than $24 million for the 2018 season. Kirk Cousins, who could be a Vikings target in free agency, made $23.943 million on the tag last year.
But while a more reasonable long-term deal might remain a viable (and more prudent) course of action, it's fair to wonder about Keenum's prospects to return if the Vikings have given his agents an indication they are free to test the market at the NFL combine in Indianapolis this week.
The 30-year-old threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017, posting the best numbers of his career after taking over for Sam Bradford in Week 2. The Vikings, though, remained noncommittal about Keenum's long-term future, and the addition of new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo could lead them in a different direction. If Keenum does hit free agency, he could be one of the league's top quarterback targets behind Cousins.
Keenum, Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater are all scheduled to become free agents at the start of the new league year, though Bridgewater's situation adds another wrinkle to the Vikings' quarterback puzzle. The 25-year-old could return for 2018 if the NFL Management Council decides his 2017 contract should toll based on the time he spent on the physically-unable-to-perform list last season. NFL Players Association communications director Carl Francis said last week the union is watching Bridgewater's situation "very closely," and has been in touch with the quarterback's representatives.
The Bridgewater issue could hinge, as NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said at the Super Bowl, on whether the union can prove Bridgewater was healthy enough to practice before he was officially cleared on Oct. 16. Bridgewater said on Oct. 19 he thought he had been ready to practice for "a couple of weeks" before he was actually eligible to return.