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Falcons lose draft pick, fined by NFL for tampering during Kirk Cousins pursuit

The four-year contract Kirk Cousins signed with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this offseason includes an estimated $100 million in guarantees, but that’s not all the franchise will be paying for.

An NFL investigation determined that the Falcons violated the league’s tampering policy during its pursuit of then-free agent quarterback as well as wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Charlie Woerner.

On Thursday, the league announced that Atlanta would lose a fifth-round pick in the 2025 draft. The team will also be fined $250,000. Cousins agreed to the $180 million deal shortly after the NFL’s 52-hour legal tampering window opened on March 11.

Meanwhile, Woerner agreed to a three-year deal on the same day. Mooney then agreed to a $39 million, three-year deal just one day later.

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It is not uncommon for NFL teams and players to come to terms on contracts during the legal tampering window, and then formally sign deals once the free agency period officially opens. While Cousins was not the first player to agree to a deal in March, he did make comments during his introductory news conference that raised some eyebrows and seemingly sparked the NFL’s investigation.

Kirk Cousins speaks to the media

Cousins, who is returning after a torn right Achilles tendon that ended his 2023 season after eight games, indicated that he had spoken to the team’s medical staff before they were permitted to have contact.

“There’s great people here,” Cousins said during the press conference. “And it’s not just the football team. I mean, I’m looking at the support staff. Meeting — calling, yesterday, calling our head athletic trainer, talking to our head of PR. I’m thinking, we got good people here. And that’s exciting to be a part of.”

Teams are permitted to have direct contact with player’s agents, but not the players themselves, during the two-day negotiation period. The only exception is when a player doesn’t employ an agent and represents himself.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot has also been fined $50,000.

Terry Fontenot speaks to the media

“While the policy permits clubs to engage with and negotiate all aspects of an NFL player contract with the certified agent of any prospective unrestricted free agent during the two-day negotiating period, any direct contact between the player and an employee or representative of the club is prohibited,” the league said in a statement. 

“This includes discussion of travel arrangements or other logistical matters, which the club acknowledges took place with regard to these three players.”

Darnell Mooney warms up

Elsewhere, the NFL cleared the Philadelphia Eagles of any wrongdoing their courtship of running back Saquon Barkley. 

The league said its investigation “did not discover sufficient evidence to support a finding that the anti-tampering policy was violated.”

The league has cracked down on tampering in the past, with the Miami Dolphins receiving the most severe penalty in 2022.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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