Falcons need Cousins – But $180 Million Signing Comes With Questions

The Atlanta Falcons – after years of having Lucy pull the ball away – have caught a big fish at the quarterback


Kirk Cousins agrees to deal with Falcons


Atlanta agreed to sign former Minnesota Vikings signal caller Kirk Cousins to a four-year contract Monday,

bringing an end to the quarterback carousel that encapsulated former Falcons head coach Arthur Smith’s final two

seasons. Cousins, a four-time Pro Bowler, brings Atlanta precisely what it wanted under center – a strong leader, an

accurate passer and an established player capable of taking the organization back to the postseason. The Falcons are

in the midst of a six-year playoff drought. They’ve won 7 games five times in that spell, including each of the last

three. Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Raheem Morris believed they were a quarterback

away from contention – and decided to bet on Cousins. It’s an expensive bet, as Atlanta’s giving Cousins a four-year,

$180 million contract that includes $50 million to sign, $90 million fully guaranteed over the next two years, and

$100 million guaranteed overall. With an average annual value of $45 million, Cousins is tied with Kansas City

Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes for the seventh-largest salary among NFL signal callers. While steep, the Falcons had

few other options. Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8)

throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium.Credit: Jeffrey

Becker-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports Last season, starting quarterbacks

Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke combined to complete 61.4 percent of their attempts for 3,726 yards, 17

touchdowns and 16 interceptions. At the NFL Combine, Morris said he may not have his job had the Falcons received

better quarterback play. He’s not wrong – Atlanta went 7-10 in spite of its signal callers. Cousins arrives in Flowery

Branch surrounded by familiarity. The scheme he’ll be playing in under offensive coordinator Zac Robinson should

mirror that of Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell, as both come from the Sean McVay school of offense. As such,

the concepts, ideas and terminology will be similar. Further, Cousins already knows Morris, as the two were together

with the now-Washington Commanders from 2012 to 2014. Morris was the team’s defensive backs coach while

Cousins was the backup signal caller. Cousins’ wife, Julie, is from Hampton, Georgia, and the couple has a home in

the Atlanta area. Making the move won’t be overly challenging. On the field, Cousins gives the Falcons the best and

most accomplished quarterback in the NFC South and is a substantial upgrade over Ridder and Heinicke. Falcons

owner Arthur Blank wants to win – the division, the conference, the Super Bowl. Cousins joins a roster ready-made to

win, and he’s expected to help Blank satisfy his dreams. But is Cousins capable of elevating the Falcons above the San

Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles or any other NFC contenders? To date, Cousins hasn’t proven

consistently capable. In eight full years as a starter, his teams have finished either at or within a game of .500 on five

occasions. He went 7-9 in one year, 9-7 in another, and a pair of double-digit-win seasons with a 10-5 mark in 2019

and 13-4 record in 2022. Beyond that, Cousins has struggled against good teams and under the playoff lights. He

holds a career record of 14-43 when facing teams above .500 is only 1-3 as a starter in the postseason. Consider

further that Cousins, who turns 36 in August, is coming off a torn right Achilles suffered Oct. 29, and there are

several questions surrounding his acquisition. When the Falcons parted ways with Matt Ryan in March 2022, they

did so because of cap space. Ryan was occupying nearly 25 percent of Atlanta’s books, which Blank viewed as a direct

prohibition to success. “It had reached a point where, to remind everybody who may be aware of this or not, but in

the last 20 years in the Super Bowl, there has never been a quarterback who’s been more than 17 percent of a team’s

cap,” Blank said Jan. 8. “We all signed up for it … but at some point, you have to make a transition.” For Blank,

Ryan’s sizable contract derailed the Falcons from building a strong, deep roster. “I think, unfortunately, it got us to a

point where the salary cap situation was so burdensome that we couldn’t build the kind of franchise, the kind of

roster that we needed to have going forward,” Blank said. “It’s not a criticism of anybody. It’s just the reality of the

National Football League.” Cousins’ cap hit hasn’t yet been revealed, but it likely will be less than the $45 million

average annual value his deal suggests. If it were, with the NFL’s $255 million salary cap, Cousins would make up

17.6 percent of Atlanta’s money. It’s more likely he’s in the 10 to 14 percent range. Still, Cousins isn’t cheap – but he

has the pedigree to unlock Atlanta’s offense, which ranked No. 26 league-wide in scoring last season. Tight end Kyle

Pitts had 1,026 yards in his rookie season, when he caught passes from Ryan. Pitts has 1,023 receiving yards over 27

games in the past two years combined. Pitts is merely one example of the young talent in the Falcons’ weaponry, as

receiver Drake London and running backs Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier also factor into the equation. Cousins’

aerial success will not only direct impact Pitts and London as pass catchers but can lighten boxes for Robinson and

Allgeier. Last season, the Rams – where Robinson’s offensive ideologies were developed – ran play action nearly 20

percent of the time, something Cousins is comfortable with. He’s also proven well-suited in the clutch, leading 28

game-winning drives. He’s led the league in the category twice in the past seven years. And so, be it his late-game

prowess, veteran leadership, consistent production or mere stability, Cousins is what the Falcons wanted – and

needed – under center. There’s little doubt Atlanta’s much better off with Cousins than without. Missing on the

veteran passer meant either one of two things: trading up in the draft or making a move for Chicago Bears

quarterback Justin Fields. The draft route is uncertain. Each of the teams picking in the top three need quarterbacks

, and the cost to move from No. 8 into No. 3 isn’t cheap. Further, the return of investment is much more boom-or-bus

t compared to the proven Cousins, and after years of uncertainty, one can hardly blame Fontenot for preferring the

veteran avenue. As for Fields, the Falcons did their homework, going as far as meeting with the Bears at the NFL

Combine – but Fields was a secondary option. Cousins checked the boxes the Falcons wanted. There are several

others, at least from the outside, that are cause for concern.


Kirk Cousins will leave the Vikings, agreeing to terms with the Falcons

There’s a real chance Cousins brings Atlanta back to the

playoffs, back to national relevancy and back to where the 81-year-old Blank needs to see his franchise. Related: Is

Kirk Worth ‘Mahomes Money’? Falcons QB Contract Details But there’s also the reality the Falcons continually come

up short once they make the postseason and don’t fully maximize their playoff window, which appears to be multiple

years wide with several foundational players – both offensive and defensive – under contract for at least the next two

years. And yet, without Cousins, there may be no window – and Fontenot, Morris and Robinson now have a chance to fulfill Blank’s greatest wish in 2024.


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