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John Elway says Case Keenum was his main man all along

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

By ARNIE STAPLETON

AP Pro Football Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Kirk Cousins was the unequivocal jewel of this year's free agent quarterback class in just about everyone's mind but John Elway's.

"We got our guy," the Denver Broncos general manager said Friday at Case Keenum's introductory news conference. "We got the guy that was our target."

Even though Keenum was No. 1 in Elway's eyes, he was viewed over the last several weeks as something of a runner-up even in the Broncos locker room.

Several stars such as Von Miller, Brandon Marshall and Emmanuel Sanders campaigned for Cousins, issuing public pleas for the ex-Washington QB who ultimately signed a three-year, $84 million deal with Minnesota.

Keenum, who led the Vikings to the NFC championship game after replacing an injured Sam Bradford and going 11-3, said his phone has "been blowing up" with congratulatory texts from his new teammates - Miller's was the first - and he brushed aside all that cajoling of Cousins, too.

"I applaud those guys for wanting to make their team better," Keenum said after signing his two-year, $36 million deal that includes $25 million in guarantees. "I want guys that want their team to be great, that want to do everything they can to help the team. So, no, it's not awkward to me at all."

Neither will it be clumsy, Keenum insisted, if Elway decides to use the fifth overall pick in next month's NFL draft on another quarterback.

This year's class is unusually deep at quarterback with as many as six teams expected to use first-round picks on passers, and Elway has a high draft pick for the first time since selecting Miller at No. 2 in 2011.

"I've been around long enough to know that anything is a possibility in this league. I was a starting quarterback when a team drafted somebody No. 1 overall and traded a bunch of draft picks. I know how that goes," Keenum said, recalling when the Rams selected Jared Goff in 2016.

"I know that my teammates, my coaches and the front office - everyone - is doing everything they possibly can to be the best Denver Broncos that we can possibly be. For me, it doesn't change my mindset. It really doesn't."

Elway spent the week scoping out QB prospects Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen during their pro days and issued invitations to Sam Darnold and Mayfield for interviews at team headquarters in the coming weeks.

Yet, landing Keenum gives Elway the flexibility to draft a blue chip prospect such as Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb should there be an early run on quarterbacks.

That would give Keenum a premier pick to help him rather than his eventual replacement to fend off as long as he can.

"We have a lot of opportunities at five now," Elway said.

The Broncos are coming off a 5-11 season in which they cycled through Elway's former draft picks Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler at quarterback. They're sending Siemian to Minnesota. Osweiler is a free agent and Lynch is now Keenum's backup. He also won't have the chance to earn the starting job in training camp like he had the last two summers.

Coach Vance Joseph welcomes the lack of another quarterback competition, saying it's good for players and coaches to just focus on building an offensive scheme rather than wondering who will be running it.

Elway lauded Keenum's renowned work ethic, his leadership and his success after going undrafted out of the University of Houston but building a strong resume with the Texans, Rams and Vikings.

"As far as leadership qualities, the grit that he has, the way that he plays the game, the way that he competes, he was the perfect fit for us," Elway said.

The Broncos' crush on Keenum goes way back, too.

Senior personnel adviser Gary Kubiak gave him his start in the NFL and coached him in Houston for two years when Joseph was on the Texans' staff.

The Broncos even tried to pry Keenum away from the Rams after Peyton Manning retired two years ago only to be rebuffed.

Keenum, who only had one scholarship offer after high school, isn't used to such fawning.

"To have a team pursue me, and like John said, to be their guy, that instills a lot of confidence in me and I am ready to be that guy," Keenum said. "I know I am, and I'm excited to be the Denver Broncos' quarterback."

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Updated March 16, 2018

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