DENVER -- This time, there will be a Plan B.
When the Broncos pursued Peyton Manning in free agency, they pushed their chips to the center of the table. It was Manning or nothing. They hit the jackpot. Six years later, the Broncos will be more versatile.
They would love to land Kirk Cousins, the belle of the free agent ball. They can say with a straight face they possess a strong chance of signing him. But Monday the likelihood of pulling it off decreased slightly with the NFL Network report that Minnesota will not place the franchise tag on Case Keenum. It leaves the Vikings poised and capable of wooing Cousins with a compelling argument that he can lead them to the Super Bowl in his first season.
The Broncos cannot say that after a 5-11 campaign, one of their most forgettable in 50 years. The Jets cannot say that given their lack of playoff success since Joe Namath exited the building.
The Vikings will have money and a need, ramping up speculation they will aggressively chase Cousins, something I have been writing about for weeks.
Where does this leave Denver?
The Broncos do have a Plan B. From everything I have been told by sources, they like Cousins. He is durable, dependable and brings an identity that would be welcomed by an offense that has all the personality of khaki Dockers. Still, they crunch the numbers. They know Cousins has fumbled 31 times over the last three seasons, losing 11. And he will throw the occasional interception. He is good, but if the price tag reaches $30 million per season it's hard to see the Broncos rationalizing that figure given their multiple roster needs. It makes no sense to pay Cousins, then not surround him with good players.
If the figure is closer to $25 million, Denver would have wiggle room to address deficiencies.
The Broncos will not travel to Indianapolis in the Family Truckster with a "Cousins or Bust!" placard in the rearview window. They will have viable alternatives, including the draft.
The second tier of free agent quarterbacks brings a lower price tag and greater risk. Denver will have interest in Keenum. But where is the line in the sand? He was 9-15 as a starter prior to his magical performance in Minnesota in 2017. Is he the NFL's "Macarena" -- a one-year wonder?
Keenum figures to receive at least $20 million per season, if not $23 to $24 million. Think of the Brock Osweiler contract. No way Keenum receives less than Osweiler. It would be a prudent deal if Keenum's performance could be trusted. Broncos advisor Gary Kubiak knows Keenum well, and that should help in any evaluation.
Keenum went 11-3 during the regular season, completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns and seven picks. Cousins, who has not missed a start in three seasons, posted a 9-7 record, connecting on 69.8 percent of his passes for 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Keenum was sacked 22 times compared to 26 for Cousins.
By any measure, Keenum delivered. But can he duplicate it with a new offensive coordinator and fewer weapons? It's a fair concern.
If not Keenum, A.J. McCarron's name will surface. The risk increases given his lack of resume. He has made three career starts, going 2-1. To sign him would likely mean drafting a quarterback in the second or third round.
Twitter can serve as an echo chamber. However, my Twitter village brings valuable Broncos' insights. And the question emerged quickly with the Keenum news: Would the Broncos be better off drafting their franchise quarterback with the fifth overall pick?
This, too, makes sense. However, the team's posture this offseason shows no signs of the type of patience required for starting a rookie. At the NFL combine this week, the Broncos will receive a better look and additional interviews with prospects Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield. They also figure to get a handle on what it will take to sign Cousins, if not Keenum. (And begin determining the trade market for cornerback Aqib Talib).
There will be no shortage of quarterback options. And unlike with Manning, the Broncos will need to be prepared to explore many of them.