Falcons Were Interested In Top Defensive FAs; More On Kirk Cousins’ Decision

On the day before the 2024 league year opened, the Falcons agreed to a four-year, $180MM deal with former Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, a deal that will pay the 35-year-old passer (36 in August) $50MM in guaranteed money. Even if Atlanta had not signed Cousins, the club was still prepared to make a major free agent splash.

Albert Breer of SI.com, in a piece that is well-worth a read for fans of the Falcons and Vikings in particular, explores in considerable detail how Cousins came to sign with Atlanta, beginning with the February 2022 meeting between the quarterback, his agent, and Minnesota head coach Kevin O’Connell, whom the Vikes had just hired. While most of Breer’s writing focuses on the discussions, both football and contractual, between Cousins’ camp and Vikings brass and then between Cousins’ camp and Falcons brass, he does note that Atlanta had interest in top defensive free agents Danielle Hunter — another long-time member of the Vikings — and Christian Wilkins.

Per Breer, if the Falcons had not been successful in their pursuit of Cousins or another high-priced FA signal-caller like Baker Mayfield, they would have spent their money on defense, with Hunter and Wilkins named as potential targets. Mayfield had agreed to a new contract with the Bucs while Cousins was still in limbo, so Atlanta GM Terry Fontenot spoke with the agents for Hunter and Wilkins in case he would have to address his QB position via a trade for a player like Justin Fields or via the draft. He was told that both players would fetch at least $25MM per year, which turned out to be pretty accurate. Fontenot also explored the possibility of trading up into the top-three of the draft to land a blue-chip collegiate quarterback, though the teams holding those selections (the Bears, Commanders, and Patriots) were not interested in dealing, at least not that early in the process.

Ultimately, Cousins chose to sign with the Falcons, and Atlanta subsequently bolstered his pass-catching contingent by authorizing a notable contract for wide receiver Darnell Mooney and sending displaced quarterback Desmond Ridder to the Cardinals in exchange for slot man Rondale Moore. Without a high-end QB contract on their books, it was the Vikings who pivoted to the defensive side of the ball, adding Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Blake Cashman in quick succession while bidding farewell to Hunter.

Shortly after Cousins decided to make the move to Atlanta, he said the team simply seemed more prepared than Minnesota to commit to him on a long-term basis. Indeed, Breer reports that while the Vikings did improve their offer to Cousins as negotiations went on by putting more guaranteed money on the table, it was the structure of those guarantees that swung the pendulum in the Falcons’ favor. The Vikings’ proposals always gave them the ability to part ways with Cousins in 2025 without many financial ramifications, and Cousins ultimately felt he was being viewed as a bridge to a passer that the team would select in next month’s draft.

The Falcons’ deal, on the other hand, guarantees all of Cousins’ 2025 base salary of $27.5MM, effectively tethering player and team to each other for the next two seasons. Atlanta can realistically get out of the deal in 2026, at which point Cousins’ cap number skyrockets to $57.5MM. Still, he will at least have an NFL home beyond the upcoming campaign, which was clearly a top priority for him.

Having devoted so many resources to their offense, Fontenot & Co. will have to turn their attention to the draft to address a defense that finished 24th in DVOA and 21st in sacks in 2023. To that end, the team has scheduled a predraft visit with Alabama edge defender Dallas Turner, as Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports. The Vikings and Bears will also visit with Turner, who could be the first defensive player off the board.

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