5 Years Ago Today — The Decision That Changed Vikings History

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Five years ago right now, the Minnesota Vikings were “one piece away” from the Promised Land. That was the working theory, anyway.

The team had just fired up a 13-3 season in 2017 with a backup quarterback and running back, led by a devilishly-good defense that ranked tops in the business via every meaningful statistical metric. The team fell short of a home Super Bowl thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles, so the 2018 offseason was peppered with “we were so close” enthusiasm.

5 Years Ago Today — The Decision That Changed Vikings History

And five years ago today — February 26th, 2018 — news broke that the team would not retain quarterback Case Keenum, as the front office evidently believed his 2017 campaign was quintessential flash-in-the-pan stuff. If they did not think that, then-GM Rick Spielman would’ve re-signed Keenum for cheap. But he did not.

5 Years Ago Today
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So, what happened next?

Kirk Cousins Arrives

San Francisco Newspaper
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The final piece to the puzzle, as theorized by Spielman, was quarterback Kirk Cousins, a free agent from the Washington Commanders.

Cousins joined the Vikings on a humongous guaranteed contract, and the rest is history. He’s led the Vikings for five seasons in varying degrees of success, stabilizing the Vikings QB1 spot for the first time since Daunte Culpepper.

Since joining the club, Cousins ranks fourth in the NFL in touchdown passes — which is precisely what the Vikings wanted when they signed him, stability and production — while taking Minnesota postseason only twice.

Cousins became possible because Spielman said “no” to Keenum.

Keenum Struggles — Mightily

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

Keenum has been a trainwreck as a starting quarterback since leaving the Vikings. He ranks 40th out of 43 QBs via efficiency [EPA+CPOE (min. 900 plays)]. Out of 39 quarterbacks with at least 900 passing attempts since 2018, Keenum has the NFL’s fourth-worst per passing rating (84.1).

And to top it all off, teams led by Keenum are 9-17 (.346), a win-loss record that ranks fourth-worst in the NFL during the timeframe.

Keenum has traveled to the Denver Broncos, Washington Commanders, Cleveland Browns, and Buffalo Bills since. As of 2020 — just two years removed from his Vikings exit — no team will employ him as a solution at QB1. He’s back to what he was before the Vikings 2017 experiment — a decent QB2.

The Vikings = Vindicated. But for What?

Wild Kirk Cousins Stat
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Based on Keenum’s performance from 2018 to present, Minnesota emphatically made the right call. He hasn’t played well since 2017. Plain and simple. If you try to twist the narrative otherwise, you’re making stuff up. Put bluntly, Keenum left the Vikings and rapidly devolved into one of the league’s worst starting quarterbacks, which is exactly what Spielman feared in the spring of 2018.

The Vikings were vindicated, but how much did it matter? Without Keenum and with Cousins, Minnesota own the 12th-best win-loss percentage since 2018. They’ve won one playoff game. Thankfully for their sake, the Vikings won the NFC North in 2022 with a first-year head coach and are trending upward with Kevin O’Connell’s tutelage.

The simple measuring stick? The Vikings are 46-35-1 (.567) with Cousins, and other teams are 9-17 (.346) with Keenum. Which do you prefer?

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.