DENVER -- It is easier to Spotify than to spot and find a franchise quarterback.
The NFL divides into two categories: those teams with good quarterbacks and those without. For more than two decades of John Elway, Peyton Manning, a dose of Jake Plummer and a breathtaking cameo by Tim Tebow, the Broncos lived among the uppercrust. They won AFC West titles, conference championships and three Super Bowls.
Then, Manning retired following the 2015 season. The Broncos have not reached the playoffs since, or won an AFC West road game. The Broncos' business model remains under renovation. The plan to repeat the 2015 success with a gnarly defense and just-good-enough offense no longer applies. The Broncos need an effective starting quarterback.
Elway plans to explore all options, beginning with the soft launch of free agency a week from today. A veteran remains the preference to execute a rebound. As Elway admitted last week at the NFL combine, "Life is too short to rebuild."
Kirk Cousins will be pursued. The Broncos will attempt to sign him until they can't. Poll the players, and it's easy to find support for bringing in Cousins from Von Miller and Aqib Talib to Brandon Marshall and C.J. Anderson. No guarantee exists he chooses Denver, not with Minnesota, the slight favorite, Jets and Arizona all firmly in the mix.
So let's play the hypothetical game. The Broncos miss on Cousins. Then what? As I have said repeatedly, Denver has interest in Case Keenum. He changed his entire resume last season. Owning a career 9-15 record as a starter, Keenum posted a 12-4 mark in 2017, counting the postseason. He ranked second in completion percentage at 67.6, second to New Orleans' Drew Brees. His seven interceptions ranked 24th.
In brief, he was accurate, efficient and won. And yet, understandable trepidation remains. Is he the biggest one-hit wonder since James Blunt's "You're Beautiful"? The Vikings thought so little of him they signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract last season. And it seems curious the Vikings never committed to Keenum -- and still haven't -- despite his excellence.
Keenum brings an edge and attitude that would be welcomed at Dove Valley. He has been proving critics wrong since high school, where he won a state title. He has been proving critics wrong since college at Houston, where he threw nine touchdowns in a single game. And, given a chance to start nearly a full season, Keenum directed a team into the playoffs, a remarkable journey for a practice squader for Gary Kubiak's Houston Texans.
So what's the problem? Keenum's past lingers, and the price tag. Keenum earned the right to ask for $20 million per season, more than Brock Osweiler and Mike Glennon, quarterbacks in similar situations who hit the free agent market the past two seasons. Those two set the bar. However, they also provide healthy reason for pause. They failed dramatically.
Can Keenum play as well in a new system with new coaches and fewer weapons? He made plays last season to suggest his transformation has roots. He also made throws that drew cringes, and showed why the coaching staff, while loving his iron gut, never stopped considering playing Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford.
Keenum will be an option for the Broncos if Cousins goes elsewhere. He would represent an upgrade over the trio of Trevor Siemian-Osweiler-Paxton Lynch. But how much? And would Denver consider drafting a quarterback with the fifth overall pick if they sign Keenum? An argument can made for it. However, Elway wants to rebound now. Not in 2019 or 2020. So can the Broncos afford to take a quarterback who, in an ideal scenario, will not play next season while so many issues exist across the roster?
It makes more sense to draft Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson to pair with Keenum, and sign a tackle to solidify the offensive line.
Keenum is a fair fallback plan. He commands the room. He can lead an offense. But it all comes down to the cost. If his price tag approaches $20 million, he is not a bridge quarterback. More like a London Bridge quarterback.
Would the Broncos be better off passing, and signing a temp solution like Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown or Sam Bradford, and drafting the quarterback of the future?
The Broncos are on the clock. And only their entire offseason centers on making the right choice at quarterback. In the NFL, either you have one or you don't.