INDIANAPOLIS – Rick Spielman came to this year’s annual NFL scouting combine with a quarterback quandary.
He has two first-round draft picks trying to recover from injuries and a third-stringer, who led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC championship game.
Now, instead of reaping the benefits of his smart moves and abundant riches, Spielman faces one of the most challenging decisions a general manager can with all three set to become free agents in less than two weeks.
“I believe in Case Keenum,” Spielman said Wednesday, the first full day of activity in Indianapolis. “He did a phenomenal job and he has a knack for making big plays. We’re very excited about what he was able to accomplish.”
The more telling question might be how eager others around the league to sign Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford?
Spielman is running short on time as the carousel spins. He says he won’t make any decisions until he returns to Minneapolis next week.
Meanwhile, the offseason has started with a bang.
Alex Smith was traded from Kansas City to Washington, essentially assuring Kirk Cousins becomes a free agent. Blake Bortles and Jimmy Garoppolo each signed contract extensions with Garoppolo getting a reported five-year, $137.5 million deal. Garoppolo won his first five starts in San Francisco after a midseason trade from New England and is now 7-0 as a starter.
The new deals have Green Bay contemplating a new deal for Aaron Rodgers. New general manager Brian Gutekunst acknowledged “it’s not going to be inexpensive.”
But this could be just the start to a wild and wooly offseason.
The free agent market opens March 14 and Keenum, Bridgewater and Bradford could all be attractive options for quarterback-needy teams.
Keenum seemed to find a home last year after spending two-plus seasons in Houston and two-plus seasons with the Rams.
Bridgewater was considered the Vikings’ next big star until he tore the ACL and dislocated his knee in August 2016. He made it back briefly late last season and now the Vikings await a ruling that could force Bridgewater to stick around one more season before hitting free agency.
Spielman doesn’t sound hopeful about Minnesota’s chances.
“I don’t personally believe, with what I know today, that his contract will toll,” he said.
One big advantage the Vikings have: They know Bridgewater’s prognosis and exactly where he stands in the rehab process.
Bradford, the 2010 NFL offensive rookie of the year, missed all but two games last season with a knee injury and there are long-term questions about the stability of his left knee. The 30-year-old has a long history of injuries but a needy team might be willing to take a calculated risk on the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner and top pick in the 2010 draft.
Other prominent names could be on the move, too.
Cousins and Mike Glennon are expected to be available after the Bears announced Wednesday they would release Glennon, and 39-year-old Drew Brees will be a free agent if he doesn’t re-sign with the Saints in the next two weeks. The conventional wisdom suggests Brees will remain in New Orleans.
Then there’s the trade market.
Coach Sean McDermott said Buffalo does not intend to cut Tyrod Taylor but could trade him. And if the New York Giants decide to rebuild with a young quarterback, 37-year-old Eli Manning could hear his name bandied about.
One team that seemed to take itself out of the discussion is reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia.
Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman appears to be in no hurry to change anything with starter Carson Wentz recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee, especially after backup Nick Foles led the Eagles to their first NFL title since 1960.
“We’re trying to keep as many good players as we can,” Roseman said. “That room is exactly what we want it to be. We have a franchise quarterback, a Super Bowl MVP and we have a young quarterback (Nate Sudfeld) who we like.”