PFR Originals

PFR Glossary: Contract Incentives

With the offseason just around the corner, we wanted to give a refresher on contract incentives and their various forms. Signing bonuses can sweeten the pot for free agents and are largely self-explanatory, but incentives are a bit trickier.

At the most basic level, contract incentives are designed to reward a player for his performance — in some cases, these financial rewards are linked to individual or team production, while other incentives can be earned simply by the player earning a spot on his team’s active roster from week to week. These incentives are divided into two categories: Likely to be earned (LTBE) and not likely to be earned (NLTBE).

Under the NFL’s definition, a likely to be earned incentive is generally one that was achieved the year before. So if a running back racked up 1,300 yards on the ground in 2017 and has an incentive in his contract that would reward him for surpassing 1,200 yards in 2018, that incentive is viewed as likely to be earned and counts against his cap hit from the start of the year. On the other hand, a back who has never surpassed 700 rushing yards in a season could have an incentive on his deal for 2014 that would reward him for rushing for 800 yards — such a bonus would be considered not likely to be earned, and wouldn’t count against the player’s cap number.

Because the player’s or team’s performance in a given season dictates whether or not the incentive is actually earned, the player’s cap number is sometimes altered after the fact. For instance, there’d be no change if a player met the criteria for a $50K LTBE incentive, but if he failed to earn that incentive, his team would be credited with $50K in cap room for the following season. Similarly, if a $50K NLTBE incentive isn’t reached, nothing changes, but if a player does earn that incentive, his club’s cap space for the following season is reduced by $50K.

A simple incentive linked to yardage or touchdown totals in a season isn’t too hard to track, but there are more convoluted forms of bonuses. Let’s say a player coming off an injury that limited him to six games played signs a contract that would pay him $500K in per-game roster bonuses. That player would be considered likely to appear in six games, but unlikely to appear in more beyond that. So, of his $500K in roster bonuses, $187,500 would initially count against the cap, as the LTBE portion.

Here are a few more notes on contract incentives and how they work:

  • Any incentive that is considered to be in the player’s sole control, such as weight bonuses, or his presence at workouts, is considered likely to be earned.
  • Any incentive in the first year of a rookie contract is considered likely to be earned.
  • Individual performance incentives can be linked to most basic statistical categories, such as yardage, yards per attempt, and touchdowns. However, more obscure stat categories typically aren’t allowed for individual incentives. For instance, a receiver couldn’t have an incentive tied to receptions of 20+ yards. Meanwhile, a defender could have an incentive linked to sacks or interceptions, but not to tackles for a loss.
  • In some cases, individual performances can also dictate the value of traded draft picks. For example, the Jaguars making the playoffs this year altered their trade for Marcell Dareus. The Bills received a conditional 2018 sixth-round pick for Dareus in the parties’ October trade, but that pick became a fifth-rounder when the Jags reached the postseason.

Note: This is a PFR Glossary entry, modified from an earlier entry by editor emeritus Luke Adams. Our glossary posts will explain specific rules relating to free agency, trades, or other aspects of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Information from Russell Street ReportOver The Cap, and Salary Cap 101 was used in the creation of this post.

Top 3 Offseason Needs: New York Jets

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the New York Jets, who were more competitive than expected in 2017.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE: $20,000,000
  2. Kelvin Beachum, T: $9,500,000
  3. Buster Skrine, CB: $8,500,000
  4. Brian Winters, G: $7,000,000
  5. James Carpenter, G: $6,805,000
  6. Ben Ijalana, T: $6,000,000
  7. Leonard Williams, DT: $5,928,004
  8. Jamal Adams, S: $5,058,820
  9. Jermaine Kearse, WR: $5,000,000
  10. Bilal Powell, RB: $4,883,334

Other:

  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $74,579,406
  • Sixth pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for DT Leonard Williams

Three Needs:

Identify their next starting quarterback: Josh McCown did a solid job last year, but his contract expires in March and his 39th birthday is coming in July. Meanwhile, backups Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg stand as the Jets’ only QBs under contract. Petty, a Baylor product who was selected in Mike Maccagnan‘s first draft as GM, completed less than 50% of his passes upon taking over for McCown at the end of the season. Hackenberg, a second round pick in 2016, has yet to play a down of real NFL football.

It is possible that the Jets will look to re-sign McCown as their Week 1 starter after he turned in a handful of brilliant performances last year. In each of the Jets’ five wins, McCown completed more than 70% of his passes. He also helped Gang Green get out to a 14-0 lead over the Patriots in October before Tom Brady & Co. came roaring back to win by a final of 24-17. Still, that’s only a viable scenario if the Jets draft a promising but raw QB in April. Otherwise, the Jets will only consider keeping McCown as a high-priced backup, provided that he would be willing to serve in that capacity and the Jets can justify spending ~$7MM on a reserve.

The good news for the Jets is that this year’s potential free agent QB crop has a handful of quality options. With tons of cap room (though, not as much as some other teams have), you can expect the Jets to make a run at Kirk Cousins if he becomes available. The Redskins reserve the right to hit him with a third consecutive franchise tag or this could be the offseason that they finally give him the lucrative long-term contract that he’s looking for. But, if the Redskins allow him to test the open market or even the restricted market, the Jets won’t hesitate to get in on the bidding. This past season was not Cousins’ finest, but he has shown that he can be a backend top-10 signal caller when surrounded with the right personnel. If he reaches free agency, he’ll be the best QB up for grabs in years. 

The Chiefs are expected to move on from Alex Smith this year and if they can’t find a viable trade for him, they might release him outright. Adding Smith wouldn’t be as sexy of a move as signing Cousins, but Smith did lead the Chiefs to the postseason when many expected him to crash and make way for Patrick Mahomes. You also might be surprised to learn that Smith graded out as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best quarterback of the season, tying him with Russell Wilson and putting him ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford.

Case Keenum, PFF’s No. 8 ranked QB, shocked the world with his performance this year and he just might help the Vikings reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1976. It’s hard to imagine Minnesota letting him get away at this point, but if he’s out there, the Jets will at least put feelers out for him. Of course, the clear downside with Keenum is that he accomplished very little before this season. Has Keenum, almost 30, finally come into his own? Or was his success the product of Pat Shurmur‘s system? On the plus side, Keenum looks the part of a postseason winner in this limited sample, something that could not necessarily be said for Smith. Smith is 2-5 in his playoff career with his last postseason W coming in 2015.

Beyond those three, there are some intriguing, yet risky, QBs who could be available. Teddy Bridgewater looked the part of a rising star in his first two NFL seasons, but he has not seen real playing time since the end of the 2015 campaign. Tyrod Taylor, at times, has looked the part of a legitimate NFL starter, but he would be more of a bridge option than anything for the Jets. Ditto for Bridgewater’s teammate, Sam Bradford, who is also scheduled to reach free agency in March.

Although he’s largely untested, QB-needy teams like the Jets will be keeping an eye A.J. McCarron‘s grievance case. If he wins, the Bengals QB will go from an restricted free agent to a UFA, allowing him to finally cash in and get his opportunity as a starter. It’s unclear how the Jets’ decision makers feel about McCarron, but the Browns’ old regime was willing to part with a second-round pick and a third-round pick to land him before the trade deadline.

Technically speaking, Drew Brees is also slated to be a part of this group, but he is widely expected to remain with New Orleans. Other big names like Eli Manning might become available, but the Jets have gotten an up close look at the two-time Super Bowl champ and are certainly aware of his sharp decline. There’s no scenario in which the Jets would sign Manning to be their starter for multiple seasons, nor is there a scenario in which Manning agrees to groom a top draft pick only to step out of the way during the season.

Sam Darnold (Featured)Armed with the No. 6 pick, the Jets will have a crack at this year’s best quarterbacks, though they would have to get ahead of the Giants at No. 2 in order to have their pick of the litter. Despite their hiccups in 2017, USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen remain the top arms in this year’s class with Darnold representing the perceived safer choice and Rosen possibly having the higher ceiling. If the Jets stay at No. 6 and miss out on both, they could entertain the likes of Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson.

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Top 3 Offseason Needs: Cincinnati Bengals

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll begin this year’s series with the Cincinnati Bengals, who posted a 7-9 record and finished third in the AFC North a season ago.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Andy Dalton, QB: $16,300,000
  2. A.J. Green, WR: $13,750,000
  3. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB: $9,600,000
  4. Geno Atkins, DT: $9,550,000
  5. Vontaze Burfict, LB: $9,510,000
  6. Darqueze Dennard, CB: $8,526,000
  7. Carlos Dunlap, DE: $7,300,000
  8. Adam Jones, CB: $6,666,668
  9. George Iloka, S: $6,200,000
  10. Michael Johnson, DE: $6,125,000

Other:

  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $37,436,799
  • 12th pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for T Cedric Ogbuehi

Three Needs:

1) Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line: The Bengals’ recent dip in performance — the club made five consecutive postseason appearances from 2011-15 before slipping below .500 in each of the past two years — was presaged during the 2015 draft, when Cincinnati used its first two selections on a pair of offensive linemen: Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Given that starting linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler were scheduled to hit free agency after the 2016 campaign, the Bengals were planning ahead by envisioning a future starting five full of youth.Cedric Ogbuehi (Vertical)

That scheme has failed spectacularly: Ogbuehi has graded as a bottom-10 tackle in each of his two years as a starter, per Pro Football Focus, while Fisher hasn’t played more than 38% of Cincinnati’s offensive snaps in any of his three pro seasons. Russell Bodine continued his run as one of the worst starting centers in the NFL, Clint Boling settled in as a league-average left guard, and the Bengals relied on Andre Smith — in his second stint with the club — to play more than half their snaps. Cincinnati bottomed out in Football Outsiders‘ offensive line rankings, finishing 20th in adjusted sack rate and 24th in adjusted line yards.

Revamping an offensive line in a single offseason seems like a daunting task, but other clubs have managed the feat in the recent past. The Rams signed Whitworth and fellow aged veteran John Sullivan last spring and instantly fielded one of the the best front fives in the league. Same goes for the Vikings, who inked tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and drafted center Pat Elflein. As a condition of his return as head coach, Marvin Lewis indicated owner Mike Brown is open to spending in free agency — something the Bengals rarely do — so additions could be on the horizon.

The free agent crop of offensive tackles is barren, however, meaning Cincinnati isn’t likely to find a blindside protector on the open market. Nate Solder is the clear No. 1 option available among free agent tackles, and two other Patriots — Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle — comprise the next best choices among an uninspiring group. Fleming, still just 25 years old and a consistent blocker over the past two seasons, could be an intriguing solution for the Bengals, but a draft choice seems like a more palatable route as the club seeks front five patches.

Drafting another first-round offensive tackle would represent an admission that the Ogbuehi selection has been a failure, and it’s time for Cincinnati to cop to that mistake. Texas’ Connor Williams is considered the top tackle available in 2018, according to Scouts Inc. (ESPN Insider subscription required), while Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey or Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown could also be in consideration. In his first mock draft of the year, Todd McShay of ESPN.com sent Williams to the Bengals in the first round.

Justin Pugh (vertical)While the Bengals may not be able to find a suitable tackle during the free agent period, there are a number of interesting interior offensive linemen with expiring contracts. Giants lineman Justin Pugh would seem to be a perfect match for Cincinnati, as the former first-round pick can handle either tackle or guard, giving the Bengals flexibility as they sort out their front unit. Pugh will be expensive (he’ll likely earn in excess of $10MM annually), as will the Panthers’ Andrew Norwell, the top guard available. Pugh’s New York teammate, center Weston Richburg, could also be on the Bengals’ radar if they want a massive upgrade over Bodine.

If Cincinnati wants to spend in the middle of the market as opposed to the top, it could target a few ex-Cowboys, especially given that it just hired former Dallas offensive line coach Frank Pollack. Like Pugh, veteran Byron Bell has the ability to play tackle and guard, while interior lineman Jonathan Cooper also has recent experience with Pollack. Other mid-tier free agent options could include Ryan Jensen (Ravens), Josh Kline (Titans), Daniel Kilgore (49ers), Alex Boone (Cardinals), and Matt Slauson (Chargers).

Restricted free agency is a rarely-used player acquisition avenue for NFL teams (just three RFAs signed offer sheets in 2017), but the Bengals would do well to assess the RFA market in the coming weeks. Broncos center Matt Paradis is hitting restricted free agency after three solid seasons in Denver, but general manager John Elway will likely use at least a second-round tender on Paradis, making him cost prohibitive. Titans guard Quinton Spain, however, has been quietly competent as a starter from 2016-17, and isn’t certain to require anything more than an original round tender, making him a potential Cincinnati target.

2) Bring back Tyler Eifert, or find a new tight end: Eifert has long been referred to as “Rob Gronkowski Lite,” as the two share a penchant for red zone touchdowns, wear similar arm braces, and — unfortunately — struggle to deal with injuries. Through five NFL seasons, Eifert has appeared in less than 50% of the Bengals’ games (39 of 80) and has never played a full 16-game slate. In 2017, Eifert underwent back surgery and was placed on injured reserve after just two contests, so a long-term deal is likely out of the question given his recent injury history.Tyler Eifert (Vertical)

If the Bengals do re-sign Eifert, it will likely be a one- or two-year deal that is heavily laden with per-game roster bonuses, meaning Eifert would have a significant amount of money riding on his health. For that reason, I’d expect Eifert to land elsewhere and sign with a club that will insert performance-based incentive language into his next contract (something Cincinnati typically won’t do). As a last-ditch option, the Bengals could consider deploying the franchise tag on Eifert, but that would require a commitment north of $10MM.

With Eifert sidelined, backup tight end Tyler Kroft posted the best season of his three-year career by managing 42 receptions for 404 yards and seven touchdowns (the latter figure was good for sixth among NFL tight ends). The Bengals could certainly head into the 2018 campaign with Kroft as their starting tight end, but it’s not out of the question that the club pursues an upgrade. Depth behind Kroft is also an issue, as C.J. Uzomah, Cethan Carter, FB/TE hybrid Ryan Hewitt, and rookie Mason Schreck combined to play just 368 snaps in 2017.

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Important 2018 NFL Offseason Dates

Even with the NFL in the midst of the postseason, the offseason is already underway, as head coaching and general manager vacancies are quickly being fgilled. As such, it’s worth looking ahead to the NFL’s offseason calendar for an idea of which dates will be more important during the next several weeks and months. With teams filling out their coaching staffs and preparing to make changes to rosters, there are plenty of days to circle on the calendar.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the NFL’s key offseason dates and deadlines:

January

  • January 15
    • Deadline for college underclassmen to declare for the 2017 NFL draft.
  • January 27
    • Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
  • January 28
    • Assistant coaches for teams in the Super Bowl – who have previously interviewed for a head coaching job – can interview a second time with the club no later than the Sunday before the Super Bowl.

February

  • February 5
    • 2018 waiver system begins.
  • February 13
    • Teams may sign CFL players whose 2017 contracts have expired.
  • February 20

    • First day for teams to designate a franchise or transition player.
  • February 27-March 5
    • The NFL scouting combine will be held in Indianapolis.

March

  • March 6
    • As of 3pm CT, teams can no longer designate a franchise or transition player.
  • March 12-14
    • Team may contact agents and negotiate contracts for players who will become unrestricted free agents on March 14. Free agent contracts can’t be signed yet, but informal agreements can be reached.
  • March 14
    • The 2018 league year begins, and free agency opens. By 3pm CT, teams must make decisions on player options, submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents, submit minimum tenders to exclusive rights free agents, and be under the 2018 salary cap. Trades can be made and free agents can be signed after 3pm CT.
  • March 25-28
    • The NFL owners meetings will be held in Phoenix, Arizona.

April

  • April 20
    • Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
  • April 25
    • Deadline for previous club to exercise right of first refusal (ie. match offer sheets) on restricted free agents.
  • April 26-28
    • The NFL draft will be held in Arlington, Texas.

May

  • May 3
    • Teams exercising fifth-year options on 2015 first-round picks must do so prior to May 3.

July

  • July 16
    • Deadline for teams to work out multi-year contracts with free agents designated as franchise players.

PFR Originals: 12/31/17 – 1/7/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

  • With the 2017 regular season in the rearview mirror, coaching and front office news figures to dominate the NFL landscape for the next several weeks. With that in mind, PFR has published three tracks to keep track of each change:
    • 2018 NFL Head Coaching Tracker: We’ll post information about the remaining open jobs in Arizona, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, and New York. A number of candidates have been linked to each position, and thus far, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, and Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks are among the most popular interviewees.
    • 2018 NFL General Manager Tracker: The Packers have already found their replacement for Ted Thompson, as they promoted incumbent director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst earlier today. Use this list to see each of the candidates linked to Green Bay prior to Gutekunst’s promotion, as well as to keep track of the goings-on in Houston.
    • 2018 NFL Offensive/Defensive Coordinator Tracker: This tracker will be see many changes in the next few weeks, as new head coaches opt to bring in their own staff. For now, we’re tracking alterations in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, and Oakland.

2018 Offensive/Defensive Coordinator Tracker

While at least six NFL teams are making head coaching changes this offseason, the number of clubs replacing offensive and/or defensive coordinators figures to be much higher than that. In addition to all those teams hiring new head coaches, who may want to bring in their own assistants, several clubs also figure to make changes on one side of the ball or the other after getting disappointing results in 2017. And, of course, the teams whose coordinators landed head coaching jobs will need to replace them.

With reports circulating on potential candidates, interview requests, and actual meetings, we’ll use the space below to keep tabs on all the latest updates on teams hiring new offensive and/or defensive coordinators. This post, which will be updated daily, can be found under the “PFR Features” menu on the right-hand side of the site.

Updated 1-17-18 (6:25pm CT)

Offensive Coordinators

Buffalo Bills (Out: Rick Dennison)

Carolina Panthers (Out: Mike Shula)

  • Norv Turner, former offensive coordinator (Vikings): Hired

Chicago Bears (Out: Dowell Loggains)

  • Mark Helfrich, former head coach (Oregon): Hired

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Bill Lazor, interim offensive coordinator (Bengals): Retained

Cleveland Browns (vacant)

Denver Broncos

  • Bill Musgrave, interim offensive coordinator (Broncos): Retained

Green Bay Packers (Out: Edgar Bennett)

Indianapolis Colts (Out: Rob Chudzinski)

Kansas City Chiefs (Out: Matt Nagy)

  • Eric Bieniemy, running backs coach (Chiefs): Promoted

Miami Dolphins (Out: Clyde Christensen)

  • Dowell Loggains, former offensive coordinator (Bears): Hired

New York Giants (Out: Mike Sullivan)

New York Jets (Out: John Morton)

Oakland Raiders (Out: Todd Downing)

Pittsburgh Steelers (Out: Todd Haley)

Seattle Seahawks (Out: Darrell Bevell)

Defensive Coordinators

Baltimore Ravens (Out: Dean Pees)

Chicago Bears

  • Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator (Bears): Retained

Cincinnati Bengals (Out: Paul Guenther)

Green Bay Packers (Out: Dom Capers)

Indianapolis Colts (Out: Ted Monachino)

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Gus Bradley, defensive coordinator (Chargers): Retained

Oakland Raiders (Out: John Pagano)

  • Paul Guenther, defensive coordinator (Bengals): Hired

Seattle Seahawks (Out: Kris Richard)

  • Ken Norton Jr., defensive coordinator (Raiders): Hired

2018 NFL General Manager Search Tracker

Two clubs — the Packers and Texans — are now looking for new general managers. We’ll keep track of all developments related to those two vacancies in this post. It can be found on the right-hand sidebar under “PFR Features.”

[RELATED: 2018 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker]

Listed below are the GM candidates that have been linked to Green Bay and Houston, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make general manager changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here’s the current breakdown:

Updated 1-10-18 (3:39pm CT)

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

2018 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker

Several NFL teams are currently hunting for a new head coach, and amidst reports about interview requests and potential candidates, it’s easy to lose track of the latest updates in the shuffle. So we’ll use this space – which will be updated until every team has hired a new head coach – to keep track of the most recent news and rumors. It can be found on the right-hand sidebar under “PFR Features.”

Listed below are the head coaching candidates that have been linked to each of the teams with vacancies, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make head coaching changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here’s the current breakdown:

Updated 1-19-18 (10:25pm CT)

Arizona Cardinals

Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Indianapolis Colts

New York Giants

Oakland Raiders

  • Jon Gruden, ESPN commentator: Hired
  • Bobby Johnson, tight ends coach (Raiders): Interviewed
  • Tee Martin, offensive coordinator (USC): Interviewed

Tennessee Titans

PFR Originals: 12/10/17 – 12/17/17

  • The Vikings are dominating the NFC North and appear likely to secure a first-round playoff bye, but they don’t have a plan at quarterback for the 2018 season. If Minnesota wants to continue its reign next year, it will need to choose a signal-caller from among the available internal options — including Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Bradford — or several free agent/trade candidates. I examined the top options available to general manager Rick Spielman & Co. for 2018, noting each player’s fit with next season’s Vikings roster.
  • While the Giants figure to roll with Eli Manning under center for the rest of the 2017 campaign, there’s no guarantee the veteran quarterback will return to New York next season. With changes coming to Big Blue’s front office and coaching staff, Manning could soon become a free agent or trade candidate, leading Sam Robinson to ask PFR readers where Manning will be playing in 2018. The Jaguars, who employ former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin in their front office, are the favorite with nearly 40% of the vote.

The Vikings Need A Quarterback In 2018

Currently boasting a 10-3 record and holding the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff picture, the Vikings are the best NFL team without a clear quarterback plan for 2018. Sure, the Jaguars and Bills could be making changes under center this offseason, but neither of those clubs have the overall talent — at running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, and on the defensive side of the ball — that does Minnesota.

The Vikings have excelled with Case Keenum and (for a one game) Sam Bradford throwing the ball, but both of those signal-callers — and the now-recovered Teddy Bridgewater — are free agents in 2018. Complicating matters is that incumbent offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is expected to draw head coaching interest during next year’s hiring cycle, and if Minnesota is forced to bring in a new play-caller, he may want to choose his own quarterback.

Whether or not Shurmur returns, the Vikings are going to have several difficult decisions to make over the next few months. Let’s take a look at the club’s options at quarterback, beginning with the players currently on their roster:

Internal Options

Case Keenum: A journeyman who’d posted a quarterback rating of just 78.4 during his first five years in the NFL, Keenum is in the midst of his best season as a pro. His passer rating of 96.2 ranks ninth in the league, while he’s seventh among QBs with 6.99 adjusted net yards per attempt. Keenum has only taken 15 sacks on the year (fewest among quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts), which speaks not only to improvements along the Vikings’ offensive line, but Keenum’s ability to evade pressure.Case Keenum (vertical)

Keenum, who is playing on a one-year, $2MM contract, appears poised to cash in this offseason, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise if he garners a deal that approaches $18MM annually, especially given the number of teams looking for quarterback help. That figure won’t be a problem for the Vikings, who rank sixth in available 2018 cap space, but it’s unclear if Minnesota views Keenum as a long-term option. The Vikings reportedly haven’t begun extension negotiations with Keenum or any other their quarterbacks, and don’t plan to do so until the 2017 concludes.

That Minnesota hasn’t started contract talks with Keenum is a bit odd, if only because the club will likely face competition to retain Keenum if he hits the open market. The Broncos, Jaguars, Bills, Jets, Browns, and Cardinals are among the teams who could be searching for a quarterback this offseason, so the Vikings may want to take advantage of their exclusive negotiating window. While Minnesota will have the option of deploying the franchise tag on Keenum, the steep price tag (~$23M) makes that course of action unlikely.

Teddy Bridgewater: One of the more inspiring stories in the NFL this year, Bridgewater has valiantly worked his way back from a knee injury suffered prior to the 2016 season. Bridgewater, a first-round pick in 2014, hasn’t played a single snap this season after being activated in early November, but he’s serving as Keenum’s direct backup. It’s fair to wonder if the Vikings will attempt to get a look at Bridgewater in live action over the last three games of the regular season, but the club’s fight for playoff seeding could preclude them from removing Keenum from any of the next three contests.

While the Vikings clearly have a soft spot for Bridgewater (they were “tempted” to start him last month), it’s important to remember that the 25-year-old didn’t exactly light it up from 2014-15. Among the 30 quarterbacks who attempted at least 500 passes in those two seasons, Bridgewater ranked 22nd in passer rating, 25th in adjusted net yards per attempt, and 29th in touchdown percentage. Bridgewater didn’t have the benefit of Minnesota’s current weapons (Adam Thielen was a special teams player until 2016), but it’s difficult to argue there isn’t any risk in relying on Bridgewater.Sam Bradford (Vertical)

Sam Bradford: Bradford did what he could as the Vikings’ starter in 2016: while playing behind arguably the league’s worst offensive line, Bradford set an NFL record for completion percentage but struggled to get the ball down the field, finishing just 23rd in air yards. An excellent 2017 season opener (346 yards, three touchdowns against the Saints) offered hope for the current campaign, but recurring knee issues limited Bradford to only one more half of play before he was placed on injured reserve in November.

Given his injury risk, Bradford may have to accept a one-year, incentive-laden deal this offseason. Depending on the price, such a contract could potentially interest the Vikings, especially if they also re-sign Bridgewater or another low-cost quarterback. Bradford, 30, should have a market, but with a number of enticing options available as free agents this offseason, his knee problems will likely limit his overall earning power.

Free Agents

Drew Brees: Brees’ contract with the Saints will void on the final day of the 2017 league year, and if New Orleans doesn’t reach an extension with its franchise quarterback, he’ll count for $18MM in dead money on the club’s 2018 salary cap. Recent reports have indicated no negotiations have occurred between the two sides, but it’s frankly odd to consider Brees playing for any other club, especially since the Saints have added several exciting young players and improved their defense.

If Brees does consider other teams, though, the Vikings would immediately jump to the top of list. In some ways, Minnesota and New Orleans have similar roster makeups that include solid offensive lines, effective running games, multiple pass-catching weapons, and playmaking defenses. Again, Brees returning to the Saints seems like a near-lock, but the Vikings and their win-now roster would make for a possible fit if he leaves.Kirk Cousins (Vertical)

Kirk Cousins: Washington’s decision to not extend Cousins looks worse and worse as the season progresses, as the club has now paid its quarterback nearly $44MM over the past two years. A third consecutive franchise tag for Cousins would cost the Redskins $34.5MM in 2018, and the team is reportedly no longer considering the cheaper transition tag, a tender which would make it easier for rival teams to make Cousins offers. Cousins will require the largest and longest contract of any contract on this list, but he’d solve the Vikings’ quarterback question for years to come.

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