Vikings celebrate Cousins capture as AFC lags behind in NFL 'arms' race
Watching last season's NFL playoffs, you would have been forgiven for being taken in by the mystique of postseason success enjoyed by Philadelphia Eagles backup and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, journeyman Case Keenum and the much-derided Blake Bortles, and perhaps left believing that a top-tier quarterback is not necessary to challenge for a Lombardi Trophy.
But the Minnesota Vikings, the team Keenum lead to within a game of contesting the Super Bowl in their home stadium, debunked that theory on Thursday, signing Kirk Cousins to a groundbreaking three-year, $84million contract.
Cousins' deal is unprecedented in that the $84million is fully guaranteed, and he could earn a further $6million in incentives, taking the total value of the contract to $90m.
For Washington Redskins fans continually frustrated by Cousins' propensity for turnovers in the biggest moments, it is a deal that will raise eyebrows.
However, with the Vikings possessing undoubtedly one of the best defenses in the NFL as well as a plethora of talent at the offensive skill positions, there can be little question that a quarterback who has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons should help them remain contenders for a long time.
The problem facing Cousins and the Vikings is that they are competing in a NFC loaded with quarterback talent.
Presuming he makes a full recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in December, Carson Wentz should be able to reproduce his MVP calibre play of last season and put the Eagles in contention to defend their title. Their NFC East rivals the Dallas Cowboys will be hoping for a resurgence from Dak Prescott, who guided them to Divisional Round of the playoffs two seasons ago, while in their own NFC North division the Vikings must contend with future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers and rocket-armed Detroit Lions passer Matthew Stafford.
Two of the last three MVPs reside in the NFC South in Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, who have the seemingly ageless Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints for company.
The NFC West looks similarly imposing, with Russell Wilson dealt the unenviable task of elevating a disintegrating Seattle Seahawks team to a level where they can hold off the division champion Los Angeles Rams and the resurgent San Francisco 49ers, who have the benefit of perhaps the two brightest offensive minds in the game in Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan and two of the league's best young quarterbacks.
Jared Goff was transformed under McVay's tutelage while it was tough to find any observer who would not have picked the Niners to beat the majority of last year's playoff field after Jimmy Garoppolo went 5-0 as a starter to finish the season.
The stage is set for an extremely intriguing 2018 season in the NFC, the state of which is in stark contrast to an AFC suffering from a dearth of star quality at the game's most important position, as illustrated by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' continued rule of the conference.
Bortles is the only quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning to legitimately challenge Brady in the last five seasons, but the cold hard truth remains that his Jacksonville Jaguars only came close to beating the Patriots in the AFC title game due to the excellent gameplan of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, which significantly minimised his deficiencies.
Like Prescott, Derek Carr will be eyeing a bounce-back year with the Oakland Raiders, but both Carr and Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans are yet to make the strides expected of them after promising starts to their careers.
A troublesome shoulder has kept Indianapolis Colts star Andrew Luck on the shelf for over a year and there is no indication as to whether he will be able to transform a talent-poor team back into contenders.
Philip Rivers has always looked capable of dethroning the Patriots if the Los Angeles Chargers are ever able to break their infuriating habit of late-game meltdowns, while the Kansas City Chiefs are hoping their considerable investment in young gunslinger Patrick Mahomes pays off and keeps them atop the Chargers and Raiders in an AFC West featuring a Broncos team that has failed to replace Manning and now turned to Keenum.
Brady and Roethlisberger aside, the AFC is a conference full of 'ifs' and 'maybes' at the quarterback position. There is an arms race going on in the NFL, and the AFC is lagging behind a much stronger conference.