In intro to Atlanta, Cousins says he hopes to retire with Falcons

Over nearly a half-hour in front of Atlanta reporters in his introductory news conference with the Falcons on Wednesday night, Kirk Cousins seasoned his remarks with stories about a city he said he's come to regard as a second home.

He recalled his first date with his wife, Julie, at Stone Mountain Park outside Atlanta; their wedding in Roswell, Ga.; and the birth of their younger son, Turner, at a downtown Atlanta hospital on Ted Turner Drive. Cousins attended the Falcons' last two playoff wins in the Georgia Dome on the way to an NFC title in 2016, he said, and sat on the couch during bye-week trips to Georgia, watching his father-in-law "borderline out-loud praying" for Falcons victories. The night before he was introduced as the Falcons' next quarterback, Cousins said, he slept in the basement of his wife's parents' house, just as he had in annual trips there over the past six offseasons.

The detail he shared about why he'd picked the Falcons over the Vikings fit the story line neatly.

"I think in Minnesota, it was trending over the last couple of seasons to being somewhat year to year," he said. "As we talked with Atlanta, it felt like this was a place where, if I play at the level I expect to play, I can retire a Falcon. That was something that really excited me. Certainly that's the goal, and you've got to earn the right to do that. But that was exciting to feel like I got that opportunity here."

The financial benefits of Cousins' four-year, $180 million deal with Atlanta are too estimable to be glossed over; if the quarterback plays on the deal as written, he will have earned more than $400 million in his NFL career. The implications of the contract, though, seemed to matter to Cousins, too: The Falcons were giving him a deal that said they want him as their quarterback for the foreseeable future.

He had said similar things about wanting to retire in Minnesota at various points over his six years with the Vikings, and when Cousins woke up on the first day of the NFL's negotiating window on Monday, he said both Atlanta and Minnesota were still options in his mind. But when he was leaving an appointment with bodywork specialist Chad Cook on Monday, his agent Mike McCartney called to say a deal with the Falcons was all but complete and only needed Cousins' approval. In short, the offer McCartney had negotiated with the Falcons would make Cousins a fixture of the franchise for years.

The Vikings, with an eye toward taking a quarterback in this spring's draft, were unlikely to give Cousins the same commitment, less than six months after he tore his right Achilles tendon and less than six months before his 36th birthday. It's believed the team took a similar approach to their 2024 negotiations with Cousins that it did in 2023, offering full guarantees for 2024 but not 2025. The Falcons offered a deal with two guaranteed seasons, as well as a $10 million roster bonus in 2026 that becomes fully guaranteed in March 2025. Cousins had said in his final Vikings news conference that his next deal was "not about the dollars; it's about what the dollars represent," and the contract he signed with Atlanta carried the messages he was looking for.

In his news conference, he talked about tight end Kyle Pitts, with whom Cousins had played in the Pro Bowl, and who had texted him while he was at Walt Disney World in February to begin recruiting him to Atlanta. He recalled how new Falcons coach Raheem Morris used to attend quarterback meetings when he was a defensive backs coach in Washington, learning from future NFL head coaches like Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and Mike McDaniel who'd worked with Cousins there. He praised owner Arthur Blank, General Manager Terry Fontenot and Morris, recalling how a coach in Washington had told him, "When the owner, GM, head coach and quarterback are on the same page, that's when you really have a chance to go win the Super Bowl.

"As I looked at the Atlanta Falcons, I believe strongly that the owner, head coach, general manager and quarterback can all be on the same page, and that's exciting for me."

That certainly wasn't always the case during Cousins' first four seasons in Minnesota, and from a financial perspective, it was no longer the case at the end of his time with the Vikings.

His eyes appeared misty in a video farewell to Minnesota he posted on his social media pages Wednesday, and in a statement the Vikings released Wednesday afternoon, owners Zygi and Mark Wilf thanked Cousins for his competitiveness, leadership and charitable commitments to the Twin Cities.

"We are grateful to the Cousins family and look forward to watching them continue to have professional and personal success," the Wilfs said in their statement.

Cousins gets one more shot to be the centerpiece of a franchise in Atlanta, with another lucrative contract and its attendant expectations. The Falcons presented him with a chain that said "Dirty Birds," perhaps a sly reference to the team that stunned the 15-1 Vikings at the Metrodome in the NFC Championship Game after the 1998 season.

Cousins, who won his only playoff game during the 2019 season with the Vikings, will have a final chance to justify the off-field fuss with on-field success.

"You've got to win," he said. "Chains aren't very funny when you're losing. So you've got to win football games. But if you win football games, I expect this city to see the fullness of our personality, the full force of my personality when we win. I think our team, and in my history, the teams I've played on, will feed off that. It will be great energy. But you've got to win to do that. You don't just force that without earning it on the field."