Matthew Coller is a published author and football writer who covers the Vikings. He also writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, in addition to hosting a livestream on the Bring Me The News YouTube and Facebook pages every Tuesday. You can find more of his work at Purple Insider.
How weird was Thursday Night Football?
Case Keenum in a Browns jersey. Teddy Bridgewater in a Broncos jersey. Kevin Stefanski on one side, Pat Shurmur on the other. And assorted former Vikings like Shamar Stephen, Johnny Stanton and Chase McLaughlin spread about the squads.
Neither Case or Teddy played particularly well. Combined they didn’t produce a stat line or point total that would have made Dak Prescott or Josh Allen proud. The game had 2017 nostalgia but played like it was 1995.
Naturally, many Minnesota viewers watched with the thought buzzing in their minds that either of these classy QBs could have been picked to lead the Vikings in 2018.
After Keenum’s miracle season, the Vikings let him become a free agent and sign with the Broncos. They figured his magic would fade, and it did. They let Teddy sign with the Jets because they were concerned he would never become the QB he was trending toward being pre-injury, and he hasn’t.
Bridgewater still starting at all is a miracle in itself considering he nearly lost his leg — and you still see flashes of Teddy Two Gloves when he’s playing for the Broncos but it isn’t the same. Keenum still flutters risky passes and struggles to fire the ball into tight windows as the NFL’s franchise QBs do.
At the same time Kirk Cousins, the QB the Vikings picked out of the lineup of available QBs in the 2018 offseason, has had a strong start to the season. He’s rated highly by PFF and has the seventh most yards and ninth most touchdowns in the league. Cousins is coming off an explosive game against Carolina in which he led a game-winning drive on a brilliant throw to KJ Osborn.
“I guess they made the right decision, huh?”
There’s no doubt that Cousins is more gifted. No debating that his statistics are better. Anyone who has even casually watched sports could pick out Cousins’ throws traveling more nicely through the air.
But the problem with using the present versions of Bridgewater and Keenum to declare Mission Accomplished on the 2018 choice to go with Cousins is that the NFL doesn’t make rings on them that say, “picked out the better quarterback a few years ago.”
There’s no trophy ceremony for selecting the guy with a higher quarterback rating.
Since the 2018 decision, the Vikings have won 29, lost 27 and tied once (including playoffs). When they play the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football next week, it’ll be their first chance to get over .500 since they walked off the field in San Francisco in the 2019 playoffs.
They have zero division titles, one playoff win. There’s been non-stop talk of job statuses and the team called about trading up for a first-round QB in the last draft and then picked one in the third with hopes he could be a steal.
Picking the best of the possible quarterbacks may have been less successful than picking out the worst. Had they kept Keenum, the door would have been wide open to drafting a first-round quarterback in 2018. You know, that draft that had a league MVP QB taken right after cornerback Mike Hughes.
There’s a lot of value in not being locked in to an expensive quarterback. Had the Broncos, who signed Keenum after 2018, not been numbskulls, they would have Justin Fields right now and feel like the sky was the ceiling. Same goes for the Panthers, who signed Teddy last year and could have easily picked their next franchise guy, had they not chosen to trade for one of the biggest busts of the century.
Neither Keenum or Bridgewater would have been expensive either. Want to add that one extra veteran guard? Well, they coulda swung it with those guys.
That’s not to say that better rosters and two elite receivers would have guaranteed Keenum or Bridgewater would be raising Lombardi, it’s only to say that the NFL’s salary cap system punishes expensive QBs so harshly that the Vikings probably could have built .500 teams around two mediocre/cheap QBs just as they have with a pricy/good QB.
And they would have had the chance at a golden ticket, which is having a good QB on a rookie contract.
Of course, the book on The Decision isn’t written yet for Cousins. While it was clear from that yuck-fest on Thursday night that Teddy and Case aren’t taking their teams anywhere, Cousins has a chance to shrug off those .500 teams of the past and take a 3–3 squad through a ringer of an upcoming schedule and come out of the other side as a legitimate contender.
The Vikings have 11 weeks to make the choice to sign (and re-sign) Cousins a success story.
Because if they miss the postseason and come short of the playoffs in three of four years with him as their QB, it’ll be impossible to say they made the right call, even if he’s been very good overall.