Atlanta Falcons forfeit 5th-round pick, fined for tampering with Kirk Cousins

The Falcons and Cousins agreed on a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed shortly after the league’s 52-hour legal tampering window opened.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kirk Cousins speaks during a news conference
Posted at 6:15 PM, Jun 13, 2024

The Atlanta Falcons were stripped of a fifth-round pick in next year's draft on Thursday for violating the NFL’s anti-tampering rules prior to signing quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Charlie Woerner in free agency in March.

The NFL also fined the team $250,000, while general manager Terry Fontenot has been fined $50,000.

The Falcons and Cousins agreed on a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed shortly after the league’s 52-hour legal tampering window opened on March 11. Woerner agreed on a $12 million, three-year deal later that day and Mooney agreed on a $39 million, three-year deal a day later.

The league didn’t penalize the Philadelphia Eagles for having impermissible contact with running back Saquon Barkley, saying its investigation “did not discover sufficient evidence to support a finding that the anti-tampering policy was violated."

It’s normal for teams and players to reach agreements quickly and there were other players who agreed to deals even before Cousins. But Cousins’ comments at his introductory news conference raised questions that led to the NFL’s investigation.

Cousins, who is returning from a torn right Achilles tendon that ended his 2023 season after eight games, indicated he spoke to the team’s medical staff before they were permitted to have contact.

“There’s great people here,” Cousins said. “And it’s not just the football team. I mean, I’m looking at the support staff. Meeting — calling, yesterday, calling our head athletic trainer, talking to our head of PR. I’m thinking, we got good people here. And that’s exciting to be a part of.”

Teams are allowed to talk directly with agents — but not the players — during that two-day negotiation period unless the player represents himself.

“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,” the league said in a statement. “This includes discussion of travel arrangements or other logistical matters, which the club acknowledges took place with regard to these three players.”

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Barkley bolted the New York Giants for division rival Philadelphia, agreeing on a three-year, $37.75 million deal with $26 million guaranteed, a couple hours into the legal tampering period. Comments by Penn State coach James Franklin sparked the league’s investigation.

Franklin, who coached Barkley for three seasons, indicated that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and Barkley had a phone conversation.

“For him now to come back and be able to play within the state in Philadelphia, [Barkley] said that was one of the first things Howie [Roseman] said to him on the phone as part of his sales pitch to him,” Franklin said. “Not only the Philadelphia Eagles but obviously the connection with Penn State and the fan bases as well.”

The league says it reviewed phone logs, text messages and other documents related to Philadelphia’s free agency strategy and decision to sign Barkley. The NFL also interviewed several members of the organization, including Roseman and coach Nick Sirianni, along with Barkley and Franklin.

“As with every review, should new evidence be uncovered, the league may reopen the investigation,” the NFL's statement said.

The league has cracked down on tampering in the past with the Miami Dolphins receiving the most severe penalty in 2022.

The Dolphins forfeited a first-round pick and a third-round selection for tampering with Tom Brady and coach Sean Payton. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross also received a suspension and was fined $1.5 million and executive Bruce Beal was fined $500,000.

In 2016, the Kansas City Chiefs forfeited third and sixth-round picks for tampering with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The team was also fined $250,000 while coach Andy Reid was fined $75,000, and then-general manager John Dorsey was fined $25,000.

The New York Jets were fined $100,000 in 2015 for tampering with New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis before signing him.