<
>

NFC East awards: Kirk Cousins the no-doubt MVP pick

Kirk Cousins got the reins to himself and rode weapons such as Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson to the NFC East title. Rich Schultz /Getty Images

NFL Nation reporters from the NFC East -- Phil Sheridan, Dan Graziano, John Keim and Todd Archer -- have crunched the numbers, ran through the analysis, double-checked their notes and gone with some gut feelings.

This week, they are offering up their NFC East Awards.

The Rookie of the Year went to Washington’s Preston Smith, Coach of the Year to Washington’s Jay Gruden, Defensive Player of the Year to Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox andOffensive Player of the Year to Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants.

For the division’s Most Valuable Player Award there was a clean sweep: Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Cousins wasn’t the starter coming into training camp and had to overcome a pedestrian start to the season with eight interceptions and just six touchdown passes, but he raised his level of play so much that the Redskins were able to win the division.

He finished the season with 4,166 yards passing, a single-season franchise record to go with 29 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.

“It’s gratifying,” Cousins said after beating the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale, “but it’s a reflection of our entire offense. You couldn’t put up a statistic like that without phenomenal play-calling, preparation, coaches' game-planning, really talented weapons to throw to and getting the protection I got from the offensive line.

“I’m at the mercy of the guys around me. The fact we could get a little record like that speaks volumes of the environment I’m in.”

Cousins’ timing could not have been better since he will be a free agent in March. The Redskins could use the franchise tag on him to keep him off the market, but both sides hope for a long-term deal.

Here is why our writers voted the way they did:

Phil Sheridan – Cousins made his first major statement of the year against the Eagles in October. He led his team on a game-winning, 90-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. In December, Cousins simply took the Eagles apart with the division title on the line. Time will tell if he can repeat his 2015 performance and give Washington a legitimate franchise QB. But 2015 belonged to Cousins

Todd Archer – The NFL is all about quarterback play, and Cousins not only was able to raise his level of play when it mattered most but he brought his teammates along with him. A quarterback’s numbers matter, but it was easy to see just how valuable Cousins was to that team. Washington had been a seriously dysfunctional place to play in recent years, but Cousins brought stability to the offense and the team. Now, can he do it again in 2016?

Dan Graziano - Washington's biggest preseason question mark turned out to be its greatest in-season strength. Cousins' precision and patience as a passer and a leader made the difference for Washington and elevated his team above a weak division field. The biggest questions facing him entering the season were whether he could be a more responsible downfield decision-maker and whether he could maintain week-to-week consistency in his performance. He answered both and likely earned a big contract as a result.

John Keim – This really should be an award for the entire Redskins’ passing game, starting with tight end Jordan Reed and receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Reed and Jackson in particular draw heavy attention, and the Redskins could play off that to hurt teams with others. But one player had to direct this group and without Cousins developing the way he did, it wouldn’t have mattered. They had the same talent last season, don’t forget, and it led them nowhere. Cousins, in his first full season as the starter, finished the regular season with 29 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. He made better decisions with the ball, cutting down on the picks (he threw just three in his last 10 regular-season games). The next step without a doubt for Cousins and the Redskins is to beat winning teams and then a playoff game. But to deny him credit for how he played this season would be silly. The Redskins’ offense evolved because of his growth at quarterback. Cousins wisely took advantage of the talent around him.