Like all NFL quarterbacks, Kirk Cousins is looking to build on his previous success. Statistically, Kirk hung around with the best of the best last year, and he could be in line for an MVP year next season. That’s right, I see a way for Cousins to be the league MVP. Let me explain.
Cousins’ MVP path has cleared, at least in the NFC. Drew Brees has retired, Aaron Rodgers appears to be pushing his way out of Green Bay, and Russell Wilson was disgruntled with his situation this offseason, leaving Tom Brady as the frontrunner for the award.
The AFC is a different story with Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen all in the running. But Cousins should benefit from playing in a relatively weak division — depending on if Rodgers leaves Green Bay and if/how Justin Fields plays in his first year — and a conference with fewer established quarterbacks.
The Vikings have retooled their offense this offseason, giving Cousins a better opportunity to earn some hardware. In his final evaluation this season, PFF’s Anthony Treash ranked Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen as the No. 2 and No. 6 wideouts, respectively, making Cousins the only quarterback with two top-10 receivers on his team.
Not only that, but he will be playing behind an enhanced offensive line. Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis should provide improved pass protection and interior line depth. Cousins was sacked 39 times last year, good for sixth-most in the league. Cousins was also the sixth-most hurried QB last season with 56 hurried throws. If the new members of the Minnesota o-line show up in any meaningful way, Cousins can perform much better next year.
Think of 2016: Sam Bradford, the injury-prone former No. 1 pick, led the league in completion percentage and threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns behind a much-improved offensive line in Minnesota. Cousins should be in line for a similar jump, given the improvement across the offensive line and the consistency he has found with Jefferson, Thielen, and Dalvin Cook. The additions on the offensive line should help change the narrative for Cousins, specifically, and for Minnesota’s passing game as a whole.
Even while getting pressured on his dropbacks and playing in a run-first offense, Cousins still threw for nearly 4,300 yards and had 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Given the tumultuous situations with the other big-name QBs in the conference, Kirk could potentially compete with Tom Brady for the MVP award in the NFC. Brady nearly edged out Cousins statistically last year with 300 more yards passing and five more touchdowns.
In addition to them being statistically close, Cousins has better receivers. Brady’s best receiver last year was Antonio Brown, who was 11th on PFF’s list. No one is saying that Kirk Cousins is better than Tom Brady, but this may be the last opportunity Cousins has to be in the MVP conversation.
Given that the Vikings drafted Kellen Mond, Cousins’ opportunity to be a franchise quarterback may be coming to a close sooner than later. This may be one of the few seasons he has left before becoming an NFL journeyman like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith, or Nick Foles.
Cousins finished eighth in passing yardage and sixth in passing touchdowns a season ago. Even with an o-line plagued with inconsistency and poor play, Cousins still managed to be top 10 in TDs and yardage while also being top 10 in hurries and sacks. Among the QBs in the NFC North and across the conference, Kirk will be on one of the most improved teams entering the season.
Of course, Brady, the seven-time Super Bowl champion and three-time league MVP, is expected to beat out Cousins and run away with the MVP award. Or another NFC QB previously mentioned will overcome the environment around him and take the league by storm. But the expectation is for the Vikings to depend on the running game and the defense to win them between 10-12 games, and Cousins continues to be the guy under center handing the ball off to Dalvin Cook, sometimes using play-action to deliver deep balls.
However, the table is set for Kirk Cousins to capitalize on Minnesota’s improvement as well as the QB situation in his division and across the NFC. He’s set up to have a season for the ages.