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Commentary: Risky, but chasing Kirk Cousins, letting Case Keenum go, is Vikings’ best move

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) walks down the tunnel to the field prior to the Redskins' game against the Denver Broncos at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 27-11. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For as good as they were last season, the Vikings are in something of a bind at quarterback, which seems counterintuitive when considering they could slap a franchise tag on Case Keenum and start 2018 with the guy who led them to the NFC title game.

But if we’re to believe a report from NFL.com’s Ian Rapaport, the Vikings are ready to take their chances on free agency, placing them in a deliciously precarious position because there really are only two good quarterbacks realistically available in this year’s free agent class and one of them is Keenum.

In other words, if the Vikings whiff on luring Kirk Cousins to Minnesota next month, they could go into their most promising season in years without a proven quarterback. Imagine it: The Vikings fall one game short of their first Super Bowl since 1977 with Keenum at the helm, then let him walk for privilege of outbidding several other teams for Cousins’ services.

The Vikings have until March 6 to tag Keenum, which would tie him to the organization for at least another year at a salary no less than the average of the top five paid players at his position, in this case around $23 million, while leaving open the opportunity for a long-term deal.

Not tagging Keenum does not spell his end in Minnesota; heck, considering Keenum’s up-and-down career, he’s better off with a chance to search the market on a long-term deal. But it would indicate that he is not the Vikings’ first choice, and that’s something of a high-wire act.

By NFL rules, the Vikings aren’t allowed to even look longingly across the room at Cousins until March 12, at which time Keenum’s inbox will be flooded, too. By March 14, the day free agents can sign contracts, both will be committed somewhere but not necessarily Minnesota.

It’s a bold move, to be sure, but it’s the right move.

The window to win a Super Bowl is usually much smaller than it at first appears, and the Vikings are poised. Most important, they will return the NFL’s top-rated defense more or less intact, but they also have one of the league’s best receiving tandems (Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen), a solid, versatile offensive line and a potential 1,000-yard rusher in Dalvin Cook, who was terrific as a rookie before tearing a knee ligament on Oct. 1.

Why not add the best possible quarterback?

Drew Brees is still out there, but he’s 39 and seems intent on finishing his career in New Orleans, where he has been since 2006 and won a Super Bowl in 2009. He would provide the Vikings with an attractive Brett Favre scenario, but that seems unlikely.

Cousins, 29, is the one: a 6-foot-3 passer who has averaged 4,392 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions since becoming the Redskins’ starter in 2015. Keenum, 30, was good last season — 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions – but not quite that good, especially in the postseason — 53 of 88 for 589 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Was that Keenum’s career year? One could argue it won’t be. He’s an accurate passer who has an uncanny knack for avoiding pressure and can throw on the run. And while he was never as good anywhere else, he had never played for a team as good as the Vikings were last season.

But Cousins, man, how do you not wonder? He passed for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions but missed the playoffs because Washington gave up 24.3 points a game last season. That’s roughly nine points more than the Vikings’ top-ranked defense averaged.

What does Cousins do on the best team he’s ever played on? The Vikings, who can afford it with more than $50 million available under the cap, owe it to themselves and their fans to find out.

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