An unprecedented championship weekend results in two borderline unparalleled decisions for the Minnesota Vikings and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
We may go another three decades before we see another championship weekend in the NFL which features three quarterbacks in the ilk of Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Nick Foles. What’s even less likely is a championship weekend featuring two quarterbacks who could play for a new team the following season.
We may get both this season, depending on what the Vikings and Jaguars decide to do with Keenum and Bortles.
In the NFL, starting at quarterback for the majority of the season and leading your team to championship weekend tends to be the magic elixir for any issues that may have appeared throughout the regular season.
This probably won’t be, or should be the case for Bortles or Keenum.
Before I get into that, I would like to take a look at how rare it is for us to see a situation like this. In the last 20 years, we’ve watched quarterbacks like Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Jay Cutler, Rex Grossman and Jake Plummer lead their respective teams to championship weekend.
Each and every one of them returned to that same team the following season. For years, this has been less of a trend and more of a mandate: If you start the majority of the season, and you lead your team to the conference title game, you get another season to prove your worth.
It makes sense. If you’re good enough to lead your team to the championship game, why wouldn’t the team bring you back?
In the last 20 years there has been one quarterback who started the majority of his team’s regular season games, led the team to a conference championship game, and did not return in any capacity the following season.
His name is Trent Dilfer.
Dilfer started eight regular season games for the Ravens in 2000, seeing action in 11. He had arguably the best defense in the history of the NFL. He was “good enough” to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. His payoff for the team’s success was a one-year contract to back up Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle.
It’s the only example I could find of such a situation taking place in the last 20 years. Kurt Warner didn’t return to the Cardinals after he led Arizona to the NFC Championship game in 2009, but that was his own decision – he decided to retire.
Brett Favre played for the Jets in 2008 after leading the Packers to the 2007 NFC Championship Game, but he was pushed out the door after he told the Packers he planned to retire. Not quite the same situation we’re seeing with Bortles or Keenum.
It’s easy to say the Jaguars and Vikings are in a unique position this offseason, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story. This isn’t unique. It’s an unfathomable position to be in. Never before has a quarterback been as valuable as it is in 2018. If your quarterback is good enough to lead you to the AFC or NFC Championship Game, of course you bring him back. That kind of player is typically labeled a “winner,” or a “game manager.”
Those labels probably won’t quite stick with Keenum or Bortles.
Keenum and Bortles had solid years this season. Better than you believe, probably, but they were also in the perfect situations. Both the Vikings and Jaguars had incredible defenses. Both teams stayed about as healthy as you possibly could over a 16-game regular season grind. And both teams were able to invest heavily around the quarterback.
Those same situations may not exist in 2018. The Vikings are changing offensive coordinators and their defense is about to be among the highest-paid in football. The Jaguars’ salary cap is shot, and they’re going to have to start making difficult decisions on who to let go. Those decisions are a little easier without bringing Bortles back at his $19 million cap figure if they were to pick up his 2018 option.
The Vikings and Jaguars should both move on. Keenum and Bortles gave their respective fanbases a season to remember. But the likelihood either team is playing on championship weekend in a season with full quarterback health and another year of roster churning seems slim to none – and those chances would seemingly improve with improved quarterback play.
This is an offseason unlike any we’ve seen in the NFL in 20 years. Two teams who reached championship weekend with less than stellar quarterbacks could very well go into the following season with a new signal caller. This isn’t unique. It’s borderline historic. And it’s the perfect way to cap off a season none of us saw coming.