Go ahead. You tell John Elway he stinks at picking quarterbacks. I’m afraid to do it.
So let’s keep this just between us: Did the Broncos make a $10 million mistake by refusing to spend what it took to sign Kirk Cousins as a free agent? Was it penny wise and pound foolish to hire Case Keenum?
Cousins is a more gifted quarterback than Keenum. Period.
If Cousins’ superiority over Keenum wasn’t immediate obvious Saturday night, when Denver played Minnesota, then why do they charge admission to these exhibition games?
It took only a single series for Cousins to lead a touchdown drive against Denver. Four passes, four completions, 150.0 quarterback rating. Easy. Peasy. Cousins demonstrated elite arm talent that can cause a helpless defender to mutter to himself in frustration on a 28-yard throw to Stefon Diggs.
Keenum looked like a journeyman. Yes, he played only six snaps. But the Broncos went nowhere. The chains never moved. One completion in four attempts. A misfire on third down to Courtland Sutton.
In a sideline interview with KUSA-TV, Keenum said he wanted one more chance in his debut with the Broncos. Know what? If Vance Joseph were truly a changed man, the coach would have demanded that Keenum and the No. 1 offense get back out there to get it right.
When it came to throwing the football, Elway was a Hall of Famer. But when it comes to picking quarterbacks? Elway’s not so hot. Prime example: Paxton Lynch.
The hapless first-round pick from the 2016 draft got booed off the field by Denver fans at halftime. Lynch’s first throw of the night was an interception. He was badly outplayed by Trevor Siemian, traded to Minnesota by Elway. To think Lynch has a job in the NFL and Colin Kaepernick does not is an insult to the game. How soon before the Broncos begin making calls to find a viable veteran backup to Keenum?
If Elway really, truly believed the Broncos were one QB away from Super Bowl contention, it’s hard to fathom him choosing Keenum over Cousins.
Game knows game. There’s a reason linebacker Von Miller lobbied the Broncos to pursue Cousins, after he dropped touchdown passes on Denver in December. And there’s a reason the Vikings allowed Keenum to walk as a free agent, because despite the “Minnesota Miracle” touchdown pass, his play was subpar during the playoffs, with a 73.5 quarterback rating.
But there’s more to this equation than comparing the touchdown-to-interception ratios of Keenum and Cousins. The Vikings are spending $28 million this season on Cousins, while Keenum is costing the Broncos “only” $18 million.
One of the most common mistakes we all make is to view pro sports as being governed by the rules we remember on the playground. Minnesota picked Cousins over Keenum, so that must have been a slap to the journeyman quarterback who stepped in last season and led the Vikings to the NFC championship game.
“No, I love those guys,” Keenum said last week, when asked if he harbored any animosity toward the Vikings.
And you know what? He should love the Vikings. They made it possible for a quarterback who had never been able to hold a steady job to strike it rich on the eve of his 30th birthday. Elway is paying Keenum nine times what he earned last year in Minnesota.
What Keenum firmly established before taking the first snap of the exhibition season was that Miller and his teammates on the defensive side of the football now have a quarterback they can work with rather than a quarterback they must try to overcome.
What Keenum has yet to prove is if he can inspire the confidence to move Denver away from the painfully conservative offensive scheme the Broncos used to win Super Bowl 50. If the offensive line can be trusted to protect Keenum, then Demaryius Thomas, Courtland Sutton, Emmanuel Sanders and Jake Butt give Denver the weapons to think pass first.
The 30 points per game recently predicted by cornerback Chris Harris is a pipe dream, but if the Broncos can average 25 per game with Keenum, they will almost certainly win the AFC West.
The Broncos could go from 5-11 to the playoffs with Keenum as their quarterback. That’s good.
The Vikings could get fitted with Super Bowl rings with Cousins as their quarterback. That’s as good as it gets.
You get what you pay for.