Why the Vikings' marriage with Case Keenum really was never going to be more than a short-term fling

He wasn’t expected to be the first domino to fall, but as the quarterback market began unfolding right here in Minnesota, Case Keenum's time with the Vikings is over.

As ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported early Tuesday morning, Keenum is expected to sign with the Denver Broncos when the free agency period opens at 4 p.m. ET on March 14.

The element of surprise is absent from this story, whether you believe it should be or not. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots from a season’s worth of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback, despite how well he played, in determining that Keenum’s run in Minneapolis was going to be short-lived.

The affirmation is clear. The Vikings think there are better quarterbacks than Keenum out there to help them win a Super Bowl, with all signs pointing to that person being Kirk Cousins.

Keenum was a major reason the Vikings were able to halt their playoff woes and reach the NFC Championship Game after posting an 11-3 record as a starter in 2017. But he was never going to be the permanent solution to a long line of quarterback instability in Minnesota. At least not from the Vikings' perspective.

It was a temporary marriage, one in which both parties saw mutual benefit before parting ways. Keenum fell into the perfect system under former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, surrounded by a ton of weapons on offense, an offensive line that allowed him the freedom to extend plays with his legs and with the support of the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

Minnesota helped Keenum resurrect his career, going from a journeyman backup to NFL starter in one season. Keenum threw for 3,547 yards and set career bests in completion percentage (67.6), touchdown-to-interception ratio (22-7) and passer rating (98.3), which was 22 points higher than he had the year before. What the Vikings got on their end from this deal was short-term stability rooted in a quarterback who filled in admirably for an injured Sam Bradford and did more than just right the ship.

But despite all the good that came with Keenum, he never provided the Vikings with a sense of security, and the clues were everywhere.

Mike Zimmer treaded carefully every step of the way in 2017, refusing to put all his eggs into Keenum’s basket despite the uncertainty with Bradford’s knee injury and questions of whether Teddy Bridgewater would be the same quarterback he was before his own devastating knee injury. Despite leading the Vikings on an eight-game win streak that started when Keenum humbly slid back into his role as Bradford’s backup -- only to get thrown into the fire at Soldier Field, a place where the Vikings had come away with one win in nine meetings prior dating back to 2008 -- Zimmer’s approach was to evaluate Keenum on a week-to-week basis. Agree with that or not, it was his prerogative as head coach.

No one can take away how well Keenum performed throughout the season, from his career day against the Bucs, a nearly perfect second-half performance in Atlanta and then being enshrined forever as one part of the Minneapolis Miracle, but his lightning in a bottle began to dim at the worst time.

Keenum was the best quarterback when pressured in the regular season. In the playoffs, his completion percentage dipped to 31, with no touchdowns, two interceptions and three turnovers.

Not all of that is his fault, given the injuries on the offensive line and the disappearance of the defense in Philadelphia. But the stakes were too high this offseason for Minnesota to take a chance on someone they were likely to spend around $18-20 million a year on when their window to solve quarterback longevity hangs in the balance.

Could John DeFilippo have worked wonders with Keenum the way he did with Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, etc? There’s all the reason in the world to think he could he have taken his game to the next level through the style he brings to Minneapolis predicated on West Coast concepts, play-action and run-pass option.

Keenum always bet on himself, and the Vikings were better for it last season. The stakes were just too high for them to do it again.