Kirk Cousins, Falcons have chance to rewrite their narratives together

Cousins and Atlanta can rewrite long legacies of underachievement with a strong 2024 season.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — This will not shock you, but Kirk Cousins takes family vacations to Disney World. Cousins — one of the league’s most statistically productive quarterbacks, and until Wednesday one of its most prized free agents — was at Disney’s Epcot, in line for the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster. A text from an unfamiliar number came through, and Cousins read it, knowing exactly what it meant.

What’s up Kirko, this is Kyle Pitts, Cousins recalled the text from the Falcons’ tight end reading. We’re ready for you to take us to the promised land.

That recruitment, combined with Cousins’ longtime familiarity with Atlanta — and $100 million in guaranteed money — was enough to get the longtime Vikings quarterback to leave Minnesota for a new opportunity at what he hopes will be his final NFL stop.

“In Minnesota in the last couple of offseasons, it was trending somewhat toward being year to year, and as we talked to Atlanta, it felt like this was a place that if I play to the level I expect to play, I can retire a Falcon,” Cousins said at his introductory news conference Wednesday evening. “That was something that really excited me, and that’s the goal. You have to earn the right to do that, but it was exciting to feel like I had the opportunity to do that here.”

As an Atlanta Falcon, Kirk Cousins has a whole lot of franchise history weighing on his shoulders. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Put aside — for now — the question of whether Pitts was violating the NFL’s tampering rules, which the league is indeed investigating, Yahoo Sports' Jori Epstein confirmed. (If he started the recruiting on his own, no problem. If he did it on the advice of, or with the knowledge of, the Falcons, problem.) Cousins and the Falcons are now linked by a nine-figure contract, and both team and player have a wide-open opportunity to change the narrative that looms over them.

“When the owner, general manager, head coach and quarterback are on the same page, that’s when you really have a chance to go win a Super Bowl,” Cousins said. “As I looked at the Atlanta Falcons, I believed strongly that the owner [Arthur Blank], general manager [Terry Fontenot], head coach [Raheem Morris] and quarterback can all be on the same page. That’s exciting for me and why I’m thrilled to be here.”

Let the record show that at his first official appearance as an Atlanta Falcon, Cousins didn’t flash any chains. These days, he’s got something a whole lot heavier around his neck: the responsibility for remaking the reputation of an entire NFL franchise. It’s a challenge Cousins is embracing.

“Quarterbacks will always be evaluated not just from September to December, but for January and February,” he said. “That’s where you want to get to. And once you get there, you want to have meaningful wins.”

Cousins — who became famous in Minnesota for his incongruous shirtless, jewelry-laden dances— gives the entire Atlanta organization a shot of hope, a proven commodity at quarterback for a franchise and a fan base that has just endured three straight sub-mediocre 7-10 seasons.

Looking like a cleaned-up Bradley Cooper, Cousins — sporting not just a shirt, but a Falcon-red tie and a sharp ash-gray suit — gives Atlanta instant credibility at quarterback. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler who ranks fifth among active QBs (and 24th all-time) in passing yardage. Most notably for the Falcons, who have a tendency to surrender late leads, Cousins shares, with Matthew Stafford, the NFL’s all-time record for game-winning drives and fourth-quarter comebacks (eight for both) in a season.

Cousins arrives at a crucial time for a Falcons organization desperate for on-field leadership. Last year, the team threw second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder into the fire, and he melted down in spectacular, season-tanking fashion. Well-traveled Taylor Heinicke couldn’t stop the bleeding either. Atlanta let a winnable division slip out of its grasp and squandered a year’s worth of prime talent on offense.

That talent — including Pitts, receiver Drake London, and the hammer-and-lightning backfield of Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier — returns this season, along with newcomer Darnell Mooney, giving Cousins substantial weapons right from the jump. The division remains winnable, as Tampa Bay rides a Baker Mayfield hot streak, New Orleans stays one step ahead of the salary cap with Derek Carr, and Carolina starts over again with Bryce Young.

The key question is how much Cousins, who turns 36 in August, still has to offer, and that comes down to two key factors: the strength of his surgically repaired Achilles tendon and the date on his birth certificate. Cousins noted that the surgery to repair the injury that ended his season last year was his first as a professional, and he expressed optimism about his prognosis.

“I am optimistic that I can be full speed at practice before we break for the summer, and that’s kind of the goal I have set for myself,” he said. “I can take drops. I can play the quarterback position throwing the football. The minute I would have to leave the pocket is where you would say, ‘Yeah, he’s still recovering from an Achilles,’ but taking drops and making throws is no problem at this point.”

Cousins is one of the oldest quarterbacks in the league. He’s five years older than Matt Ryan was when Ryan led Atlanta to the Super Bowl in the 2016 season, the franchise’s last real high mark. Cousins is also nine years older than Lamar Jackson, whom the Falcons opted not to pursue last year because of injury concerns … only to watch Jackson win the MVP.

Given that this is the Falcons, and this is Cousins, two entities with a substantial record of underachievement, there’s reason for skepticism. Since the 2017 season, the Falcons have not even been to the playoffs; Cousins has been only twice, and won a single game, his only postseason victory. His prime-time record: a cringeworthy 12-19. (The jokes write themselves: Cousins’ terrible record in prime-time games isn’t a problem, the Falcons never play in prime time.)

Still, Atlanta is coming into the season with more hope and promise than it’s had in years. This is the best realistic quarterback situation for the Falcons, and a massive opportunity for Cousins. The road is wide open for both of them, and now both quarterback and team have to see it through all the way to the end.