What will Falcons' punishment for tampering with Kirk Cousins be?

The question is in the headline. The answer is here: Whatever the NFL wants to do.

That's one of the most basic realities of a league that makes decisions on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise known as making it up as they go.

Most recently, Arizona's tampering with Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon resulted in the two teams swapping third-round picks (66 for 94) and the Cardinals getting a fifth-round pick in 2024 from Philadelphia in a deal announced literally minutes before the draft began. Before that, the Dolphins lost a first-round pick for tampering with both Saints coach Sean Payton and Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. (The two teams victimized by the tampering got nothing.)

Then, in 2016, the Chiefs lost a third-round pick (and fines were levied) for the Chiefs communicating directly with Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin during the negotiating window.

Before gauging a potential punishment for the Falcons, it's important to know the infractions. Kirk Cousins already has said that he spoke to the Falcons' head athletic trainer during the window that permitted communications between the Falcons and agent Mike McCartney only. Cousins also might have spoken to Falcons director of player Ryan Pace during the negotiating window. Cousins likewise participated in the recruitment of Bears receiver Darnell Mooney during the negotiating window; that surely didn't happen spontaneously. And Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts spent multiple weeks recruiting Cousins. If Pitts did so at the direction or with the knowledge of the Falcons, that's another violation.

That's just the stuff we know about. Cousins might have met with Atlanta's trainer. He might have met with others. He might have spoken with others. The Falcons might have secured information about Cousins's torn Achilles tendon before they should have.

If the Falcons get whacked for Cousins talking to the head athletic trainer, a third-round pick would be the punishment — if precedent means anything. If the Falcons are punished for all violations, it could stack into a far more significant punishment.

Again, it all comes down to what the league wants to do. Did they investigate aggressively? Will they seize upon the evidence hiding in plain sight? Will they just brush multiple instances of rules violations under the rug and move on? Will Rich McKay's role on the Competition Committee get the Falcons better treatment.

We could find out the answer as soon as Thursday. What it is, it will be whatever the NFL chooses to do, with precedent being coincidental at best.