The team most closely tied to a veteran QB upgrade going into free agency, the Falcons appear readier to come out of this offseason with a more experienced passer than Justin Fields.
Although a recent odds update placed the Falcons atop the list for Fields, some around the league believe the Rams-influenced scheme OC Zac Robinson will implement in Atlanta will lead the team toward pass-first options like Kirk Cousins or Baker Mayfield. If the Vikings or Buccaneers cannot keep their starters off the market, the Falcons appear poised to make a run.
Connected already to being interested in both passers, the Falcons indeed have done work on the veterans. The Vikings are “loosely bracing” for Cousins to remain unsigned by the March 11 legal tampering period and test the market, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler indicates. This would open the door for the Falcons to talk to the free agent-to-be, with Fowler adding the team has done plenty of work on Cousins, Fields and Mayfield.
Mayfield has some ties to the new Falcons staff, with Robinson being his position coach during his brief Rams stint and Raheem Morris in place as Los Angeles’ DC at that point. The team has some degree of interest here. Fields is a Georgia native, and while the Falcons passed on the Ohio State product in 2021, some buzz has pointed the Bears QB to his home-state team. As it stands, the Falcons appear in good position to come away with one of these QBs this offseason, per Fowler.
Cousins may be the team’s top target. A Saturday report indicated the Falcons would compete for Cousins, and ESPN’s Dan Graziano takes it a step further by adding the team should be expected to make a strong pursuit of the six-year Vikings starter if he is unsigned by the tampering period. The Vikings and Cousins are still talking, but no Minnesota offer has satisfied the 35-year-old QB yet. The Vikings and Cousins have come to terms on three contracts — in 2018, 2020 and 2022 — but could not agree on a fourth deal last year. Guarantees stood as the sticking point there, and the Vikings are in crunch time with the rehabbing passer now.
Minnesota failing to reach an agreement with Cousins by the start of the 2024 league year (March 13) would bring $28.5MM in dead money onto its 2024 cap. Void years added as part of last year’s restructure will lead to that outcome. The Vikings ate some void years-driven dead money for losing Dalvin Tomlinson last year, but the Cousins figure would obviously bring more trouble by comparison.
Fields may well be taking a backseat to Cousins for Atlanta, per Graziano. This would be a pricier proposition for the Falcons, as Cousins — he of $231MM-plus in career earnings — is quite adept at maximizing his value. Fields also can be kept on a rookie salary this season, as his fifth-year option number — a decision due in May — would affect 2025. But Cousins has certainly been the more dependable passer. Though, if alternate invites are excluded, the ex-Washington draftee has one career Pro Bowl nod. Fields is 11 years younger, at 24, but has not shown himself to be a stable option as a passer just yet.
The Falcons are eager to upgrade on Desmond Ridder, and two years after widely believed to have finished second for Deshaun Watson, the team appears prepared to spend to acquire such help. One of the above-referenced trio should probably be expected to become Atlanta’s starter next season. Which one will end up in Georgia?