Case Keenum says Minnesota’s NFC title game loss to Philadelphia last season left “a considerably big-sized hole in me that left me hungry.”
When it comes to filling their own void at quarterback, the Broncos are starving.
Both sides must now feed off each other to get what they want — the Lombardi Trophy. Shortly after Keenum inked his new two-year, $36 million contract, Broncos football czar John Elway proclaimed, “We got our guy” during an introductory Friday news conference.
Yes and no.
The Broncos initially had strong interest in Kirk Cousins, but as the odds of signing him diminished, Denver quickly turned its focus toward securing what many feel was the second-best option on the free-agent market. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, considering the huge gamble Minnesota took by signing Cousins to an unprecedented three-year, $84 million deal.
Elway also was wise to quickly change gears: Keenum told co-host Mark Dominik and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio that “there were honestly a few teams” showing interest.
“We got with our agents and went through the options of what teams might be looking for quarterbacks,” Keenum said. “Denver was on the list and far-and-away, as we did our homework, emerged as the top one. Not only the team, organization, city, but the players, coaches, all the staff here.”
That includes one of the biggest factors in Keenum’s arrival: his former head coach, who now has Elway’s ear when it comes to building rosters.
Keenum spent his first two NFL seasons in 2012 and '13 in Houston under Gary Kubiak, who was added to the personnel department in January. Keenum acknowledged Kubiak “obviously gave me my shot in this league so I owe him a lot.” Kubiak, though, isn’t the only familiar face from Keenum’s days with the Texans. Broncos coach Vance Joseph was in charge of Houston’s secondary during Keenum’s two seasons there.
“His meeting room was right across from us in the quarterback room,” said Keenum, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent despite setting the all-time FBS records for career passing yards (19,217), completions (1,546) and passing touchdowns (155) while playing for the Houston Cougars.
“We had some great conversations that really helped me quite a bit as a young guy trying to lead a team," Keenum said. "I’m excited to work with him.”
If his 2017 season is an indication rather than outlier, the Broncos will soon be ecstatic with Keenum after two uninspiring years under center in the aftermath of Peyton Manning’s retirement.
Mind you, that's a big “if.”
Keenum may very well have turned the corner in his journeyman career after last year’s unexpected success in Minnesota. He was far better in every major statistical category — completion percentage (67.6), touchdowns (22), interceptions (seven), passing yards (236.5 per game) and quarterback rating (98.3) — than in six previous seasons when starting for Houston and the Rams.
More importantly, Keenum won games. He enjoyed an 11-3 starting record and led the Vikings into the postseason after replacing an injured Sam Bradford. His previous career mark was 9-15.
“Everybody wanted to know, ‘Why were we winning? What was clicking for us?’” Keenum said. “It’s a lot of things.
“I think, at the heart of it, it’s the people. We had great people in our locker room. We had great people on the coaching staff. And it just clicked.”
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Still, it’s obvious the Vikings felt they could do better by pursuing Cousins. That means Elway better be seeing something in the 30-year-old Keenum that Minnesota didn’t.
Elway’s failure to adequately address the position put the Broncos in position where this sort of risk was necessary. The two high draft choices Elway used at quarterback during his previous seven years running the team, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch, failed to pan out and forced Denver into going the free agent route this offseason. The Broncos still have to evaluate whether to use the No. 5 pick in April on a quarterback.
Such misses have raised questions about whether Elway can effectively scout the position, despite having been one of the greatest to ever play it.
Elway’s on-field legacy with the Broncos and success in his first four seasons as general manager — Denver went 50-14, won a Super Bowl and reached another — have bought him time to try and reverse a two-year downward cycle. But the past can only go so far if the Broncos don’t start thriving again in the future.
Keenum is anxious to prove Elway knows what he’s doing.
“I’ve been a fan of Elway and the Broncos for a long time,” he said, “So this is a childhood dream come true.”
Now let’s see if Keenum can end Denver’s quarterback nightmare.