How the AFC West stacks up now with Case Keenum in Denver
Case Keenum is expected to sign with the Denver Broncos when free agency officially opens Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET. Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold, Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher, Oakland Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Los Angeles Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams break down how the AFC West will look with a new starting quarterback in it.
Gutierrez: Let's go with a solid third behind Old Man Rivers, who is a potential future Hall of Famer, and Carr, who finished tied for third in NFL MVP voting as recently as 2016. But Keenum would be ahead of the unproven Mahomes, who might have the most explosive weapons in the AFC West in Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce. Keenum's best attribute might be his new defense.
Legwold: If it's the Keenum of 2017 and the Carr of 2017 -- the Vikings went 11-3 in Keenum's 14 starts -- you could put Keenum second in the division behind Rivers. But if coach Jon Gruden can kick-start the Raiders' offense (and Carr's play along with it), Keenum could slip to No. 3. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders give Keenum a chance to flourish.
Teicher: At the bottom. Remember, Keenum is going into a new system with a different team. There's some transition with Mahomes taking over as the starter in Kansas City and Carr getting a new coaching staff in Oakland, but they're not starting from scratch like Keenum. Another question about Keenum: If he's capable of carrying a team to a title, why did the Vikings let him get away?
Williams: I would rank him third, behind Rivers and Carr and ahead of Mahomes. Keenum had one good season last year with the Minnesota Vikings, but still has a career 86.0 passer rating and has to prove that 2017 was not the exception, but the norm for how he will play in the NFL.
Are the Broncos now the favorites to win the AFC West?
Gutierrez: Um, no. Not quite. The Chargers should lead the pack, followed by a rejuvenated Raiders team with Gruden lighting fires under certain players, and then, perhaps the Broncos, but mostly because of their defense. While the Chiefs seem to be in total rebuild on defense, they do present a formidable offense. If nothing else, Keenum provides another reason to expect offensive fireworks in the AFC West.
Legwold: The Broncos still have plenty of questions to answer on offense, given they don't know who the five starters will be on the offensive line, or if they will trade running back C.J. Anderson, or who will be a viable No. 3 target in the passing game. Both the Chiefs (with Watkins and despite defensive shortcomings) and Broncos may find the Chargers, if they play the same way they closed out 2017, to be the most balanced team in the division. But if the Broncos stay healthy on defense and Keenum is who they hope he can be, they can compete for the division title.
Teicher: No. They still have ground to cover. Every team still has issues to resolve before it can be declared better than the others. Denver may still have the best defense in the division but offensively there isn't enough around Keenum yet to say the Broncos are going to be markedly improved on offense.
Williams: Denver is better, but still has several areas to address in free agency and the draft, including inconsistent offensive line play, its need for more playmakers on offense, and an aging defense. The Chargers and Chiefs have more talented rosters at this point and are better set up to compete for a division crown.
Are the Broncos better off with Keenum than they would have been with Kirk Cousins?
Gutierrez: Hmmm, is this a trick question? Before last season's breakthrough in Minnesota, Keenum's career record was a pedestrian 9-15. Cousins, meanwhile, is 26-30-1. And yet ... Cousins' skill set looked more developed as a full-time starter over the past three seasons, throwing for at least 4,000 yards and 25 TDs and completing at least 64.3 percent of his passes each year during that span. Keenum? He had a career year last season with 3,547 passing yards, 22 TDs and a 67.6 completion rate in 2017. Cousins is the more polished product at this time.
Legwold: Against the salary cap, yes. For their draft flexibility, yes. But Cousins is more of a known commodity as a quarterback, overall, with three consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons. The Broncos believe Keenum is an ascending player who has found himself after his performance last season for the Vikings. If they're right, and they use the extra cap space to add more to the offense as well as snag one of the draft's best players with the No. 5 overall pick, then Keenum's signing will be a win-win.
Teicher: That the Vikings would so willingly give up on Keenum gives me pause here. Washington moved on from Cousins, but only after it became clear he wasn't going to sign long term and they had secured his replacement in Alex Smith. The Vikings weren't the first team to give up on Keenum, either.
Williams: Keenum is a great fit for what the Broncos want to do on offense because of his ability to throw and make plays outside the pocket. By signing Keenum to a more team-friendly contract, it will allow the Broncos to pursue other pieces to improve the roster's overall talent. Keenum also is a good locker-room guy and should mesh well with the team.