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Kirk Cousins free agency news is all about leverage

At the NFL Scouting Combine a little over a week ago, Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell said the quiet part out loud when talking to NFL Network about the Kirk Cousins' status.

"The combine gave everybody else an opportunity, whether they're supposed to be or not, to maybe have some conversations," O'Connell said.

The upshot: Teams could start officially negotiating with free agents on Monday, but informal dialogue started a while ago. That's why the start of Monday's two-day negotiating window is dubbed "legal tampering" — to differentiate it from the not-so-legal stuff that happens nonetheless.

What we learned even before Monday arrived set the stage for decision time on Cousins — as Patrick Reusse and I talked about on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast.

As always, negotiations are all about leverage. All of the jockeying before Monday — and even some of the actual news — either hurt or helped someone. Here is the journey as I see it so far:

*At the combine, the conversation shifted from Atlanta's top priority being a Justin Fields trade to the Falcons preparing to target Cousins if he reached free agency.

Leverage impact: It certainly helped Cousins because it established that another team was preparing to bid for him beyond the Vikings. It hurt the Vikings because it potentially meant they wouldn't be able to retain Cousins on their terms. And it gave Atlanta a jump on landing Cousins this week if that is really their intent.

*Much of last week was a series of alternating reports: The Falcons are interesting in Cousins, but the Vikings are still in the mix. That continued into Sunday.

Leverage impact: Again, it helps Cousins. While it's not exactly a bidding war if Atlanta's eventual offer is more than the Vikings are willing to commit, all it takes is two teams to make a market. Cousins' camp can play both sides off each other. The Vikings need to say they're still interested in case the market falls apart and they can retain him at their price. The Falcons need to say they're interested to make Cousins feel wanted.

*Sunday brought three pieces of real news: 1) The Broncos reportedly were not going to go after Cousins. 2) Baker Mayfield is re-signing with Tampa Bay on a three-year deal worth as much as $115 million but which in reality is a two-year, $50 million deal if we just focus on guarantees. 3) Russell Wilson is signing with the Steelers.

Leverage impact: The Broncos' non-pursuit, though not terribly surprising, was bad news for Cousins. That's one less team for his camp to engage in the market. Wilson and Mayfield were a mixed bag. Their signing gives Atlanta (and the Vikings) fewer QB options, helping Cousins. But Mayfield's deal was smaller than some were suggesting in regard to guaranteed money, which could impact the market for Cousins.

This week will give us clarity, of course. How much money Cousins ends up getting — and from which team — will tell us a lot about who had the most leverage in the end.

Here are four more things to know today:

*If you missed the Academy Awards on Sunday, please at least watch this one-minute clip of John Mulaney riffing on "Field of Dreams."

*Perhaps the small sample is skewed because Rudy Gobert was missing from Sunday's Wolves loss to the Lakers, but I wonder if Minnesota will end up missing the injured Karl-Anthony Towns' improved defense as much as his offense.

*The Wild probably aren't going to make the playoffs anyway, but a gutsy move that paid off is worth noting.

*Kent Youngblood is expected to join Tuesday's podcast to put a bow on the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament and chat about Lynx free agency.