A closer look at the case for Keenum to be Rams' QB in 2016

If nothing else, QB Case Keenum has done enough for the Rams to extend a tender offer to keep him around in 2016. AP Photo/Stephen Brashear

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams know that Case Keenum will be their starting quarterback when they play the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's 2015 season finale.

Beyond that, the Rams' 2016 starting quarterback goes by the initials T.B.D. -- as in, to be determined. But before we can dive into what the Rams might do to improve at the game's most important position this offseason, we'll get one last chance to look at Keenum as the Rams' starter.

Although the sample size is still relatively small, Keenum has done well enough that some wonder if he's earned the starting job beyond this season. It's an important question not only for the Rams' future but also for Keenum's as he heads toward an offseason in which he'll be a restricted free agent.

“When we decided to go with Case, which was the Baltimore game, we were a play away in regulation from winning that game. Then he suffered a concussion and he missed two and then came back," coach Jeff Fisher said. "So, he’s technically 3-1 as a starter, very close to being 4-0 as a starter, so I’d say he’s done a really good job for us.”

But doing a really good job stepping in for Nick Foles in a lost season isn't the same as being a long-term solution. Or even a short-term one. Keenum deserves credit for the job he's done since taking over for Foles, offering a bit of a spark with his ability to maneuver in the pocket and make enough timely plays to help the Rams win three of those four starts.

Asked if he thinks he's made a good impression, Keenum demurred.

"It's not for me to say," Keenum said. "That's not my job. My job in grading myself, I grade myself in wins and losses and how we did that game. Obviously, I want to play well. I want to lead the team. I want to be the best quarterback I can be, and I think that's putting the team with the best possible chance to win. When you're doing that, I think that's being successful."

In his four starts, Keenum has thrown for 597 yards and four touchdowns while completing 61.4 percent of his passes. Those totals are nothing to write home about, but there are two key numbers that illustrate why the change to Keenum has been beneficial for the Rams. He has just one interception and his 6.78 yards per attempt represent an upgrade over Foles' 10 interceptions and 6.1 yards per attempt. In the time since Keenum became the starter, his 91.9 passer rating is 16th among all quarterbacks, the type of middle-of-the-road performance that can work if the Rams' running game is succeeding as well.

Beyond the basic numbers, Keenum has also been a hit in the locker room, earning the respect of teammates for his leadership style.

"He’s a natural leader," offensive coordinator Rob Boras said. "Guys like playing for him. He’s got a grasp of what we’re trying to do. I think just continuing along that same path. It’s not going to change. I don’t see the formula for us changing a whole lot. It’s him finding a way to get the completions and take the shots when they’re there for us, but really just playing the game that he’s been playing.”

All of that said, Keenum also has his share of limitations, and handing him the starting job without investigating outside opportunities would be foolish for a team that needs more from the quarterback and the offense as a whole to take the next step.

While Keenum has enough arm to make most throws, his isn't one of the stronger arms among starters in the league. He lacks the size and physical attributes of most of the top starting signal callers.

If nothing else, Keenum has done enough for the Rams to extend a tender offer to keep him around in 2016. Perhaps even enough to compete for the starting job. But the Rams would be remiss if they simply handed Keenum the job without exploring other options.

Of course, exploring other options and actually finding a good one are separate issues. At 7-8, the Rams won't be in position to choose one of the top two quarterbacks unless they make a bold move via trade to get closer to the top of the draft. The free-agent market might have some intriguing options, but there's not a team in the league that is going to let a true franchise quarterback go, so those options would likely fall into the short-term category.

The Rams also are in a bit of a bind because if they bring Keenum back, they would have Foles and rookie Sean Mannion returning as well, leaving no obvious spot for a quarterback to step in. They could cut Foles, though that would accelerate an additional $1 million in signing bonus proration to next year's salary cap and ultimately leave the Rams losing money and cap space.

Quarterback conundrums are nothing new for the Rams, who have been searching for a legitimate, healthy starter since Marc Bulger was in his prime. Could Keenum be the guy to solve the issue? Probably not, but he's not afraid to give it another try on Sunday.

"Any time the lights come on or any time we step on the field in between the white lines and the film is on, that film goes around to everybody," Keenum said. "It's not just the TV copy, they see everything from a lot of different views. In the NFL, that's what your resume is. It's what you put on tape. So, I want to put everything on tape the best I can. I want to keep getting better every time I show up."