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Broncos pick Case Keenum, leaving battle for Kirk Cousins between Vikings, Jets and Cards

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

The first quarterback domino fell in NFL free agency on Monday night. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Kirk Cousins.

Case Keenum became the first quarterback to come off the board, verbally coming to terms with the Denver Broncos on a deal that will be signed when free agency officially kicks off Wednesday. According to a team source, two factors solidified Denver’s pursuit of Keenum: The strong support of Broncos senior personnel adviser Gary Kubiak, and a player-friendly contract structure that is being pursued by Kirk Cousins. Those two realities made Keenum the more attractive choice for the Broncos – creating an aggressive push to get a deal hammered out on Monday afternoon.

Case Keenum’s agreeable contract demands and his familiarity with Broncos adviser Gary Kubiak were big factors in why Denver will sign the quarterback. (AP)

It’s a tide that is believed to have begun shifting at the NFL scouting combine, as word circulated around the league that Cousins could open the free-agent negotiating period looking to secure a shorter-term, fully guaranteed contract. That kind of structure was expected to cause some attrition amongst the teams expected to pursue Cousins – and it ultimately became a reality when Denver began laying plans for the first day of free agency. Conversely, word spread around the combine that Keenum would not necessarily wait for a Cousins deal to find an NFL suitor, choosing instead to strike quickly in the process.

The Broncos ultimately decided not to make Cousins an offer on Monday, a team source said.

Kubiak gave Keenum his start in the NFL, signing him to the Houston Texans’ practice squad after he went undrafted in 2012.

The Keenum deal officially removes a suitor for Cousins, although as of Monday afternoon it appeared the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets would be making the strongest push to land the former Washington Redskins starter. The Arizona Cardinals also remain in the mix for Cousins, although financial implications could continue to complicate their pursuit.

Of that trio, the Vikings are the favorites to land Cousins.

Kirk Cousins won’t be a Bronco. The remaining teams in the derby for his services: Cardinals, Vikings and Jets. (Getty Images)

In what could end up tipping the current state of negotiations, Cousins posted a farewell letter to Redskins fans on his website Monday that was initially hash-tagged with two NFL teams: the Jets and Vikings. Those tags were eventually removed from the post, but not before it had made the rounds on social media. And not before many had noticed the Broncos were not among the teams to get the initial shout-out.

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