Case Keenum probably won’t save the Redskins. Then again, the Redskins likely aren’t expecting him to carry them to the NFC East title they thought they were going to win before Alex Smith was injured in November. He might not start at all this coming season.
As a one-year rental at $3.5 million, Keenum buys Washington time to find its quarterback of the future while giving management freedom to strengthen the team in free agency and via the draft.
“We need to upgrade our entire roster,” Coach Jay Gruden said at last week’s NFL scouting combine, after running through a list of holes that touched on nearly every position save for running back and defensive line.
While Gruden and others in the front office continue to say the team is close to making the playoffs, their actions say they consider themselves more than a player or two away from being a real postseason threat. Trading for Keenum may not excite the fans who continue to lose interest and he is not the face the Redskins can put on a ticket-selling campaign, but his presence allows them to spend efficiently in the next few weeks — if they choose to do so.
By inexpensively compensating for the $20.4 million salary cap hit that Smith will cost them in the near-certainty he does not play this season (or ever again, as some in the organization fear), Washington doesn’t have to make a panic move at quarterback, saving money for other moves. Perhaps the most telling thing Gruden said last week is how much the team needs to have better competition for starting jobs all over the roster.
“That’s what’s going to make us good,” Gruden said. “We have a core nucleus of players I feel great about, without a doubt, but adding players to every position is critical to your franchise’s success.”
After weeks of speculation, it appears the Redskins aren’t going to lunge for the splashy star. They are less likely to trade up for Kyler Murray or jump all-in on a trade for Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, even if the Keenum deal, from a financial perspective, doesn’t rule out the latter. It seems they are going to add depth that might leave them less vulnerable than they have been the last two seasons, after injuries knocked out many of their key starters.
The Redskins head toward next week’s free agency with $16.9 million of salary cap room, according to the website Over The Cap. That number can quickly rise to nearly $40 million when guard Brandon Scherff gets an expected extension in the next few days and several other veterans are released or agree to rework their deals.
A likely target in free agency is Giants safety Landon Collins, whom many around the league — including former Redskins executive and now ESPN analyst Louis Riddick — expect the team to sign. Collins, just 25, was a team captain in New York who also led the team in tackles in the past four seasons. He isn’t the wide-ranging safety some might value, but he is a dependable, hard-hitting player who went to Alabama — something the Redskins like.
The cost savings Keenum provides also could allow Washington to attempt to re-sign its own free agents, such as receiver Jamison Crowder and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, if their markets turn out to be modest. Running back Adrian Peterson appears likely to come back, though other teams have started to express interest.
Redskins President Bruce Allen said repeatedly last week that he wants to get somewhere between nine and 12 players from next month’s draft who will be on the opening day roster. That could include undrafted free agents, but the team has been placing an emphasis in the past two years on collecting draft picks, not chasing as many high-priced free agents and letting its own free agents go in hopes of adding more supplemental draft choices.
The Keenum trade points to a similar approach. He and McCoy will likely fight for the starting quarterback job, with McCoy getting the first chance to prove he can seize it. Washington can then find its next quarterback in the draft — or still trade for Arizona’s Josh Rosen, if he is available — without the pressure of playing that quarterback immediately.
For all the hype about players such as Missouri’s Drew Lock or Duke’s Daniel Jones, it is likely that both those quarterbacks (who could be available when the Redskins pick at No. 15 in the first round) are going to need a season to develop — as will most of the quarterbacks in this draft. Keenum, with his 54 career starts, is a cheap insurance plan that gives Washington a chance to add depth to a roster that proved thin when injuries piled up late last year.
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