DENVER — Hey, check out the Broncos, acting all smart at the — all together now, sports fans — quarterback position.
If reports are right, Case Keenum is two years and $36-40 million well spent. Short and sweet. The Broncos left themselves an out. Case can make his case.
Keenum turned 30 on Feb. 17 and is not a better quarterback than Kirk Cousins, 31. He is, however, a better quarterback fit for the Broncos. Follow the (less) money. Cousins reportedly will assume Keenum's starting spot in Minnesota for $84 million — all of it guaranteed. Can you even imagine?
The Broncos have more potholes than Cheyenne Boulevard that must be filled. Now they can.
The next moves — plural — were always going to be just as important. Teams that lose by 26 to the flippin’ Dolphins, 13 to the Giants, 28 to anyone (even the Super Bowl champion Eagles) are not one player away from Super Bowl contention. The Broncos remain a work in progress. It was learned in domed Minnesota that Keenum, who helped the Vikings to the NFC title game, is good enough to win big with the right players around him.
Now the Broncos must find the right players to put around him. They saved money by going Case over Kirk. (Why would Cousins come here? A disastrous debut by Vance Joseph precluded it.) They still need help at right tackle (for sure), tight end (please), linebacker, running back and defensive back. The Broncos cut money (Aqib Talib) to spend money (Case and Co.) and shouldn’t stop now. Elway reportedly will attend Oklahoma’s Pro Day to scout Baker Mayfield and UCLA’s Pro Day to scout Josh Rosen. Hope it’s a smokescreen.
I’m sold on Mayfield as an NFL star, but the Broncos should not use the No. 5 pick on a quarterback. Not in this case. If winning now is still the goal, their attention should turn to the best players in the entire draft, Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and North Carolina State pass-rusher Bradley Chubb. But methinks the Broncos now can wheel and deal with teams who need quarterbacks — there’s a bunch! — in a quarterback-strong draft class. Trading down in the draft would help the Broncos move up in the standings.
Yes, every John, Gary and Wade knows the surest path to a Super Bowl is paved by a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. Was Tom Brady available and I missed it? Just this year backup quarterback Nick Foles won the Super Bowl. Keenum played in one conference title game, Blake Bortles in another. But the Eagles, Vikes and Jags had enough stellar athletes around their quarterbacks to overcome any QB limitations. When the Broncos played at Philly, the two teams looked like two different levels of football. The Eagles had so many quality players they later withstood the loss of their starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, to win it all.
There’s your blueprint.
It comes with Gary Kubiak’s fingerprints. There’s always a history with these Broncos. They trust what and who they know. There’s the Elway-Kubiak thing, and Kubiak’s back, and when Joseph was hired as coach, he listed Kubiak as his top influence. Great to see the Broncos read The Gazette: in November I lobbied for Kubiak to return to the Broncos as a personnel guy. It was Kubiak’s (and Joseph’s) Texans who signed Keenum as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Houston in 2012. For Kubiak, looks like winning Super Bowl 50 came with a prominent voice to go with a sweet ring.
Since the start of the 2015 season, the Broncos have changed starting quarterbacks seven times. Baby diapers have less turnover.
The AFC West these days is one smart operation. The Chiefs recognized you can’t win big with me-minded knuckleheads like star cornerback Marcus Peters, no matter how gifted they are. He gone. The Chiefs and Raiders appear to have drafted franchise quarterbacks. The Chargers are loading up for Philip Rivers’ sunset stroll.
Now the Broncos will sign a quarterback, a still-unknown in Keenum, while giving themselves plenty of room to mix and match and maneuver with all the other holes that anyone can see. It’s a relief they recognize they have those holes.
"It speaks volumes that not a single former teammate of Case's has a negative thing to say about him," Super Bowl 50 champion lineman Ryan Harris, a former Keenum teammate, told me on Tuesday. "At the Super Bowl you had guys from his Texans, Rams, Vikings days chatting with him about everything from fishing to seeing him on the field next year. The Broncos need that type of guy on their team."
The 2018 quarterback battery should be Keenum, a devout Christian and avid outdoorsman ("He's from Texas," Wade Phillips would say), and mystery man Chad “Swag” Kelly. They left room to grow the roster.