<
>

Taylor Heinicke makes a strong case to stay with Vikings

Taylor Heinicke has done enough in the preseason to merit a roster spot. Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- Back in May, the Minnesota Vikings decided to concentrate their rookie free agent bonus money on a handful of players, giving themselves a better chance of landing players they thought could make their roster. Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke got a $10,000 bonus from the Vikings, matching the largest signing bonus they gave to any player, as the Vikings gave the 6-foot-1 passer a chance to win their third quarterback spot.

After the Vikings waived Mike Kafka earlier this week, Heinicke's only challenge was to convince the Vikings' decision-makers they should use a roster spot on him instead of trying to keep two quarterbacks and saving the spot for another position. After what Heinicke did Thursday night against the Tennessee Titans -- throwing for 279 yards and a pair of touchdowns after the Vikings let him play the entire game -- it's hard to imagine the Vikings letting him go.

Coach Mike Zimmer has said he expected the team would keep three quarterbacks, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner has said "I think long-term, you're better off having three." Following last Saturday's game in Dallas, when Heinicke hit all 11 of his passes, it seemed liklier than ever he'd stay in the organization. But at this point, it's possible he's got too good of a resume for the Vikings to risk putting him on the practice squad.

If the Vikings tried to get Heinicke to their 10-man practice squad, they'd have to expose him to waivers on Saturday. That seems like a dicey proposition, after Heinicke hit 27 of his 41 passes for 279 yards and a pair of TDs while playing behind a leaky offensive line Thursday. And it's unlikely the Vikings would have allowed him to put that much of his work on tape for other teams if they didn't intend on keeping him.

With 35-year-old Shaun Hill signed through next season, the time seems right for the Vikings to develop a young quarterback, either as a long-term backup for Teddy Bridgewater or an eventual trade chip. Heinicke showed his mobility on Thursday night, running for 21 yards, and made a handful of solid throws with a defender in his face. He was hit five times, but wasn't sacked.

"There was a lot of things that happened throughout the course of the game where he showed that he’s got something to him," coach Mike Zimmer told reporters after the game.

That's probably enough for the Vikings to invest more time in Heinicke. And for them to do that, it seems increasingly likely they'll have to keep him on their 53-man roster.