Woody Paige: In signing Keenum, Elway stops his so-far fruitless search for another Elway

DENVER -- John Elway made a positive public pronouncement Friday that Mike Zimmer would not utter last season.

Elway introduced Casey Austin Keenum as the “Broncos’ starting quarterback” on Friday morning in the team’s Fieldhouse.

Incredibly, Zimmer, the Minnesota coach, never did acknowledge Keenum as his starter – even weeks after Case took over as the Vikings’ quarterback as starter in Game 3 and didn’t relinquish the role though the NFC Championship.

Zimmer even bristled when the starter subject was broached. In mid-November, the coach told a local beat writer not to bring up the matter again. “We have a plan in place,” he said.

The Vikings signed Keenum as an afterthought last season because of the horrific injury to Teddy Bridgewater in 2016, and because of the injury issues starter Sam Bradford had suffered throughout his career.

The Vikings even signed Kyle Sloter, who was released by the Broncos.

Keenum replaced an injured Bradford in the second-game defeat to the Steelers.

Keenum won 12 of 15 starts and drove the Vikings to a miraculous comeback victory over the Saints with a 61-yard touchdown pass connection to wide-receiver Stefon Diggs on the last play of the game.  Actually, Keenum’s last play in Minnesota with the Vikings was a kneel-down on the final extra point.

The next day, Zimmer still wouldn’t commit to Keenum as the starter in Philadelphia.

Ironically, Keenum had been acquired by the Rams (in St. Louis) in 2015 on the same day Bradford was traded to the Eagles for Nick Foles.  Keep up with this.  Then, during the season, Keenum replaced Foles as the starter. Keenum was displaced as the starter late the next season by the Los Angeles Rams’ No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff.

And castoffs Keenum and Foles started against each other in the NFC title game. The Eagles won easily.

Zimmer, in keeping with his tone, wouldn’t pledge in late January and again on March 1 that Keenum would be the starter in 2018 – despite the record, the division championship, the advancement to the NFC Championship, 3,547 yards passing, 22 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions, and a 98.3 quarterback rating.

“Is he the guy who played for the Rams and Houston, or is he the guy who played for us?” the coach said without a hint of confidence.

Last season Zimmer’s most compelling comment about Keenum was that “the thing I like about him is he’s big (testicles) . . . He’s not afraid . . . He’s going to pull the trigger.”

(Elway told me before a Broncos’ playoff game against the Steelers that he wanted Tim Tebow to “pull the trigger.” The Broncos’ Boss obviously is happy about Keenum in more ways than one.)

The Vikings didn’t make an effort to keep Keenum.

Meanwhile, at the media conference on Friday, Elway said he and staff examined every unrestricted veteran free agent quarterback available, and did background and personality checks, and Keenum was the right fit for the Broncos. Elway didn’t address reports (in limited time of questioning; he even checked his clock after a few answers) that the Broncos made a bid to trade for Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Keenum called his signing with the Broncos “the dream of a lifetime.”

He also used that same phrase when Gary Kubiak, coach of the Texans, signed him as a college free agent in 2012 after 11 quarterbacks, including Kirk Cousins and Brock Osweiler, were drafted, and he wasn’t. The University of Houston was the only school to offer him a scholarship, and the Texans were the only team to offer him a chance to compete (and he later would start 10 games).

Part of the dream must be earning at least $27 million guaranteed of a contract signed (for two years and $36 mil). Everybody else is making a big deal of Keenum reuniting with Gary Kubiak and Vance Joseph. But he never really was in meeting rooms with Joseph, a defensive backfield coach in Houston. And Kubiak is no longer a coach and only occasionally will show up at Broncos’ practices.

But, to most people, Keenum is a bridge to a younger quarterback. (Keenum wants to finish his career in Denver, he said.)  Elway brought up Paxton Lynch again Friday, and he and Kubiak, Joseph and what seems like a horde of Broncos have been all over Baker Mayfield, like flies to a cow, at the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine, the pseudo-Oklahoma Pro Day (which was a Mayfield party), and he has been invited to Broncos headquarters for pre-draft meetings and a tour. Where there’s smoke . . .

Elway has shifted interest from 6-foot-7 quarterbacks to two who are barely over 6 feet.

I tell this story Elway told me on his 50th birthday. After retiring as a player, John studied college scouting with his dad Jack, a former long-time college head coach, then the Broncos’ director of player personnel for many years.

The younger Elway looked at tapes of Purdue quarterback Drew Brees and dismissed him as too short at 6 feet. His father explained to John that he had to search deeper into a player’s heart, desire and determination to succeed. John said to me that Brees proved that a 6-footer can become a (Hall of Fame) player.

It seems as if John Elway has stopped searching for another John Elway and is trying to find another Drew Brees.

Case Keenum won a state championship with the Wylie (Texas) Bulldogs.

The Broncos have signed a Bulldog underdog. 

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