NFL sanctions Falcons for tampering with Kirk Cousins, clears Eagles in Saquon Barkley case

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kirk Cousins (18) attempts a pass during minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Camp on May 14, in Flowery Branch, GA. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

The Atlanta Falcons are being sanctioned by the NFL for improper contact with then free agents quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Charlie Woerner, the league announced Thursday. In addition, the league won’t penalize the Philadelphia Eagles of tampering after its investigation into the franchise’s signing of Saquon Barkley.

Atlanta will forfeit its original fifth-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft and pay a $250,000 fine. General manager Terry Fontenot also received a $50,000 fine for violating the anti-tampering policy.


In a statement surrounding the Falcons’ penalties, the league said, “While the policy permits clubs to engage with and negotiate all aspects of an NFL player contract with the certified agent of any prospective unrestricted free agent during the two-day negotiating period, any direct contact between the player and an employee or representative of the club is prohibited. This includes discussion of travel arrangements or other logistical matters, which the club acknowledges took place with regard to these three players.”

The Falcons released a statement after the league’s announcement saying, ”We are pleased this review is complete. We cooperated fully with the league and its review, and appreciate the NFL’s thoroughness. As we do with every process, we will review how we operate and look for ways to improve.”

As for the Eagles, the league stated it “did not discover sufficient evidence to support a finding that the anti-tampering policy was violated.”

Cousins agreed to terms with the Falcons on March 11, the first day of the legal negotiating period, after spending the past six seasons of his 12-year career with the Minnesota Vikings. Atlanta announced the deal two days later, on the first day a player with an expiring contract with one team could sign with another team.

He told reporters on March 13 that when he woke up on the first day of the legal negotiating period, he wasn’t sure where he’d play the 2024 season. That afternoon, he received a phone call from his agent Mike McCartney.

“I was getting out of a bodywork appointment, and he called and said, ‘The I’s have been dotted, T’s have been crossed.’ He was ready to put it on social media and just wanted one last check-in with me,” Cousins said. “And I said, ‘I’ve been a passenger of this process to this point. I’m going to be passive here. I trust you, Mike. If you’re ready, I’m ready.’”

Cousins was introduced at the team’s training facility later that week, shortly after signing a four-year contract that could pay him up to $180 million, making it the largest total value free-agent contract in NFL history, according to Spotrac.

The Vikings made Cousins an offer for more than one year that included guaranteed money in year two, according to league sources. Ultimately, the Falcons’ offer exceeded how far Minnesota was willing to go.

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After six seasons with the New York Giants, Barkley agreed to terms with the Eagles on the first day of the legal negotiating period on March 11. Philadelphia announced the deal on March 13, the first day a player with an expiring contract with one team could sign with another team.

Speculation around the Eagles’ potential tampering began after Barkley’s college coach, Penn State’s James Franklin, implied that Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman spoke directly with Barkley, rather than his agent, during the negotiating window.

“For (Barkley) now to come back and be able to play within the state, in Philadelphia, he said that was one of the first things that Howie said to him on the phone as part of his sales pitch to him, was not only the Philadelphia Eagles and that, but obviously the connection with Penn State and the fan base as well,” Franklin said during Penn State’s spring media day.

An Eagles spokesperson said at the time that all recruiting is facilitated through the player’s agent.

The NFL announced that as part of its investigation that it spoke to Franklin along with Barkley, Eagles GM Howie Roseman and coach Nick Sirianni.

Cousins himself seemed to kick off the league’s tampering investigation in Atlanta when he mentioned during his introductory press conference that he spoke with team medical personnel while driving from Minnesota with his family to sign the already agreed upon contract.

“If I said anything at the press conference, it’s because it was so innocent,” Cousins later said.

According to the NFL’s statement, there also were premature logistical conversations with Mooney and Woerner as well.

Atlanta’s history of recent fifth-round picks has been mixed with the highlight coming in 2022, when the Falcons drafted running back Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round. Allgeier went on to set the franchise’s rookie rushing record (1,035 yards).

Since 2017, Atlanta has drafted cornerback Damontae Kazee, running back Brian Hill, tight end Eric Saubert, running back Qadree Ollison, cornerback Jordan Miller, defensive tackles Ta’Quon Graham and Ade Ogundeji, cornerback Avery Williams, Allgeier and linebacker JD Bertrand in the fifth round. — Josh Kendall, Falcons beat writer

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