Trades cannot be announced officially until the new league year starts Wednesday, but Washington will want to complete the deal before talking to other teams’ free agents Monday. One person with knowledge of the situation said Keenum also must pass a physical before the trade can be completed.
Keenum is not the big-name quarterback many expected the Redskins to chase this spring, but with the team not expecting franchise quarterback Alex Smith to play in 2019 — or perhaps ever again — after a compound fracture in his leg and multiple surgeries for infection, Washington needs someone to compete with Colt McCoy for the starting job. By trading for a quarterback who has started 54 games in his career, the Redskins get a one-year rental at a bargain price, freeing them to take a quarterback in next month’s draft who can be developed while Keenum or McCoy start.
The Redskins are projected to have $18.7 million of salary cap space available, according to the website Over The Cap, but with Keenum making just $3.5 million, the team won’t have to dedicate too much extra cap room to one position. Washington is expected to free up more cap room by releasing some players or signing others, such as guard Brandon Scherff, to extensions.
Keenum, 31, has been an NFL journeyman, playing for four teams in seven years following a collegiate career that saw him throw for more than 5,000 yards three times at the University of Houston. His best season was in 2017, when he threw for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions for Minnesota, leading the Vikings to the NFC championship game. He probably is remembered best for the game-winning touchdown pass he threw to Stefon Diggs with 10 seconds remaining in a playoff victory over New Orleans.
He signed a two-year, $36 million contract with the Broncos last winter and threw for 3,890 yards but had just 18 touchdown passes and was intercepted 15 times. His 81.2 passer rating was 29th in the NFL —. one place below Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, for whom the Broncos traded a fourth-round draft pick to acquire last month, essentially replacing Keenum.
Multiple people with knowledge of the situation said the Redskins attempted to trade for Flacco, forcing the Broncos to move quickly to make a deal with Baltimore. Washington President Bruce Allen has said the team did not try to acquire Flacco. Keenum was replaced in Minnesota by former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who signed an $84 million deal with the Vikings after Washington traded for Smith.
Redskins Coach Jay Gruden is fond of McCoy and always has felt the quarterback had the ability to be an excellent starter in the NFL. But injuries have derailed several of McCoy’s starting opportunities, the most recent coming in November before he broke his leg in his second start after Smith’s injury. McCoy is expected to be ready for offseason workouts and minicamps.
We are "always looking for competition, for sure,” Gruden said at the NFL Scouting Combine last week when asked about bringing in another quarterback. “Colt had a great opportunity last year when Alex went down. Unfortunately, he got hurt. Everybody knows that the organization feels good about Colt if he’s the starter, but competition is very good, especially at the quarterback position.”
The Redskins pick 15th in next month’s draft, which is expected to be too low to select Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray or Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, the top two rated passers in the draft. Most of the other top prospects are seen as at last a year away from starting. With McCoy and Keenum on the roster, Washington has time to develop a young quarterback while remaining competitive.
Keenum was undrafted despite his gaudy numbers at Houston, signing a deal with the Houston Texans in 2012. He started 10 games over two years with the Texans before being traded to the Rams in 2015. He was the Rams starter for parts of two seasons as the team moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles, eventually losing his job to Jared Goff, who was the top pick of the 2016 draft.
His breakthrough season came in 2017 in Minnesota when he replaced an injured Sam Bradford in Week 2 and led the Vikings to a 13-3 record. His coach in Minnesota, Mike Zimmer, worked with Gruden when the two were coordinators in Cincinnati.
The NFL Network was the first to report the Keenum trade, and Mike Klis of Denver 9 was the first to report the salary details.
Mark Maske contributed to this report.