Atlanta Falcons 2024 NFL offseason primer: Kirk Cousins answers the biggest question

Atlanta Falcons' 2023 season: 7-10, missed playoffs

Overview: The 2023 Falcons offseason was most notable for their refusal to entertain courting Lamar Jackson, who was in a contract standoff with the Baltimore Ravens. Oops.

The Falcons didn't make that mistake again, aggressively making a deal to add veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins on the first day they could legally negotiate a deal. The biggest issue for the team last year was QB, and now the team has it's answer.

The Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the regular season as they were unable to capture the extremely winnable NFC South. That cost head coach Arthur Smith his job, as management believed the team was equipped to be in the postseason, particularly offensively with young stars in the making in Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts.

Now it's Cousin's job to unlock all that talent.

(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)
(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

Key free agents

DE Calais Campbell
RB Cordarrelle Patterson
EDGE Bud Dupree
CB Jeff Okudah
WR Van Jefferson

Who's in/out: GM Terry Fontenot told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he wants Campbell, 37, to return but a new coaching regime might have the defensive standout looking elsewhere to finish his career. There might not be enough carries for Patterson (50 rushing attempts this season) with Robinson and Tyler Allgeier anchoring the backfield. Okudah is likely another exit candidate after not living up to his high draft pick potential after getting dealt out of Detroit. Dupree said he'd consider returning after his one-year deal, The Athletic reported. The same can be said of Jefferson, who could reunite with OC Zac Robinson, his former coach with the Los Angeles Rams.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - DECEMBER 31: Injured quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings is seen on the sideline prior to a game against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 31, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Kirk Cousins arrives in Atlanta to take over an offense already stocked with talent. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Key free agent needs

Edge rusher

Why the holes? Quarterback can be crossed off this list due to the aforementioned Cousins deal. Defensively, Atlanta might look to upgrade a line whose top two producers — Campbell and Dupree — totaled 13 sacks. The Falcons finished 21st in the league in sacks with 42 overall. As for the secondary, the Falcons took a low-risk gamble in trading for Okudah and didn't get much flash on their return for the former No. 3 overall draft pick. It would be a surprise if he returned on a new deal.

Do they have the money?

The Falcons had $41.4 million in salary-cap space before the Cousins deal, according to Spotrac. That number will surely go down, but Atlanta is totally fine with that.

Potential notable cuts

QB Taylor Heinicke

Why they might be gone: Cutting tight end Jonnu Smith saved the Falcons $6.5 million in cap space. As for Heinicke, it remains to be seen if Atlanta will keep him in house as a backup. He's scheduled to count $8.5 million against the cap, according to Spotrac.

Jonnu Smith headshot
Jonnu Smith
TE - MIA - #9
2023 - 2024 season
Taylor Heinicke headshot
Taylor Heinicke
QB - ATL - #4
2023 - 2024 season
Comp Pct

2023 NFLPA report card

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

Draft picks

1st round: No. 8
2nd round: No. 43
3rd round: No. 74
3rd round: No. 79 (from Jaguars)
4th round: No. 108
5th round: No. 142
6th round: No. 196 (from Browns)

Good draft fit

Dallas Turner, EDGE, Alabama

Why them? Turner is a frontrunner to be one of the first defensive players to come off the board. Perhaps Morris, lauded for his work as a defensive coordinator before landing the Falcons' head-coaching job, will look to go defense first with the eighth overall draft selection. In his draft analysis of Turner for Yahoo Sports, Nate Tice wrote: "Turner can create pressure as a pocket pusher or with his athleticism, and he is still improving his pass-rush tool set. He is a positive-play generator against the run or pass, and will fit into any defensive scheme with his flexibility as a player, even opening possibilities as a spy or coverage player."

What can move the fantasy football needle this offseason?

The Falcons have thrown major draft capital at the offensive skill spots, specifically Pitts, Robinson and London. But for this offense to sing, Kirk Cousins will have to be the answer. If Cousins is a hit under center, the rest of the offense has enormous upside. — Scott Pianowski