Cousins leaves Vikings for big new contract with Falcons in QB’s latest well-timed trip to market

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Kirk Cousins is leaving Minnesota for Atlanta, landing another big contract with a well-timed foray into free agency.

Cousins agreed Monday to a four-year, $180 million deal with $100 million guaranteed with the Falcons, according to a person with knowledge of the terms, speaking on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the deal can’t be signed until Wednesday when the new league year begins.

Cousins gets a $50 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2024 and 2025 are fully guaranteed, the person said. The annual average value of $45 million would reach the top 10 for quarterbacks in the NFL.

Atlanta had a glaring need at quarterback after cycling through Desmond Ridder and Tyler Heinicke last season, and Cousins’ wife, Julie, grew up in Alpharetta, a suburb of Atlanta. The fit was obvious, even if that meant the 35-year-old had to leave a comfortable situation in Minnesota.

And guess what? The Falcons are scheduled to play a road game against the Vikings in the 2024 season.

“After significant and positive dialogue with Kirk and his representatives, we were unable to reach agreement on a contract that fits the short and long-term visions for both Kirk and the Minnesota Vikings,” general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in a statement distributed by the team. “Kirk holds a special place in Vikings history, and we appreciate his leadership and contributions to the team and the Minneapolis-St. Paul community over the past six seasons. We wish him, his wife, Julie, and their children all the best.”

After moving on from their franchise player Matt Ryan in 2022, the Falcons drafted Ridder in the third round after signing Marcus Mariota. Neither move panned out, and the Falcons have failed to win more than seven games for six straight seasons.

The NFC South is wide open, though, and Cousins in Atlanta will have some promising young talent around him with running back Bijan Robinson, wide receiver Drake London, tight end Kyle Pitts, their first-round draft picks from each of the past three years.

New coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Zac Robinson both came from the Los Angeles Rams just as Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell did, so the offense Cousins will run with the Falcons will be familiar.

Working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon in his right foot that sidelined him because of an injury for the first time in his career, Cousins had a 103.8 passer rating in eight games for the Vikings last season that was still the third best in the league despite the lost time.

The epitome of a late bloomer, Cousins enjoyed largely the most effective performances of his career since the Vikings hired O’Connell in 2022.

They were going to need a succession plan regardless of how this negotiation played out, though, considering Cousins’ age and their commitment to a “competitive rebuild,” as Adofo-Mensah has termed it several times — and as his statement Monday reiterated.

“Our approach heading into free agency always included layers of contingencies regarding the quarterback position,” Adofo-Mensah said. “We are moving forward with plans that allow us to continue building a roster that can compete for a championship.”

Joshua Dobbs, Jaren Hall and Nick Mullens all took turns subbing for Cousins down the stretch, with mixed success at best as the Vikings stumbled to a 7-10 finish.

The Vikings were serious in their desire to continue with Cousins, but given their cap situation and the recent improvement and outlook around them by their NFC North foes they had to have a limit about how much — and for how long — they could guarantee. With the 11th pick in the draft next month, they’ll likely be too low to get one of the top quarterback prospects, but it’s a deep class and they’re almost certain to take one on the first or second day.

Cousins, for as much as he wanted to finish his career with Minnesota, he also made clear he wanted to be valued with a commitment beyond a token year.

“It’s not about the dollars, but what the dollars represent,” was how Cousins put it in an interview with reporters on Jan. 8.

Cousins has not only been the consummate overachiever on the field, from afterthought college recruit to fourth-round draft pick to currently 24th place on the NFL’s all-time list in career passing yards (39,471), but he has mastered the business side of the game with the guidance of his agent Mike McCartney.

After playing on consecutive franchise tags for Washington in 2016 and 2017, Cousins cashed in as the rare starting quarterback to hit free agency in 2018 when the Vikings had salary cap space and a pressing need at the position after an NFC championship game appearance. He got the first fully guaranteed, multi-year contract in league history for a quarterback when he signed for $84 million.

Just over the past eight seasons, Cousins has earned more than $228 million. He has won only one playoff game, after the 2019 season.

The Vikings restructured Cousins’ deal a year ago without giving him any new money, adding four voidable years to flatten his salary cap hit. That move will stick with the Vikings with a $28.5 million salary cap hit in 2024, for the remaining signing bonus proration from his last extension in 2022.