Falcons get ‘a slap on the wrist’ from NFL in tampering case

Team, general manager fined $300,000
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kirk Cousins talks with members of the media during minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Camp, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kirk Cousins talks with members of the media during minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Camp, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Jason Getz / AJC)

The Falcons will forfeit a fifth-round pick in the 2025 draft and were fined $300,000 for violating the league’s Anti-Tampering Policy following a three month-long investigation, the NFL announced Thursday.

“This penalty was a little light given the last time I remember tampering during the 48-hour free agency period was the Chiefs and Jeremy Maclin,” CBS Sports business analyst Joel Corry said. “The facts line up, and the (Chiefs) got docked a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick.”

The Falcons may have benefitted from cooperating with the league.

“I’m going to make the assumption that they found Kansas City’s conduct more egregious than Atlanta’s,” said Corry, an Emory graduate. “Some people were expecting much harsher penalties. But the Falcons are only giving up a Day 3 pick. That’s more of a slap on the wrist.”

The investigation was related to contact with free agents quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Charlie Woerner during the two-day negotiating period before the start of the 2024 league year.

In addition, the Falcons were fined $250,000, and general manager Terry Fontenot was fined $50,000.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, president Greg Beadles and Fontenot were “unavailable” to comment on the matter, according to a team spokesperson.

This was the second time in six months that the Falcons were cited for a rules violation by the league office.

In December, the NFL fined the Falcons $75,000 and then-coach Arthur Smith $25,000 for violating the NFL injury-reporting policy before the club’s Week 7 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After going 7-10 for the third consecutive season, Smith was terminated after the season.

In its announcement of the penalties, the NFL said that regarding the improper contact the “club acknowledges took place with regard to these three players.”

While no official from the team was available for comment, the Falcons issued the following statement on the penalties.

“We are pleased this review is complete. We cooperated fully with the league and its review, and appreciate the NFL’s thoroughness. As we do with every process, we will review how we operate and look for ways to improve.”

The Falcons signed Cousins to a four-year contract worth up to $180 million March 13. The NFL reviewed the signing for possible tampering violations.

In his introductory press conference, Cousins indicated that he had met with the Falcons’ training staff and public relations staff the previous day, both of which would have been violations of tampering, as such discussions came before he signed.

Cousins also discussed talking with team executive Ryan Pace and then admitted to helping to recruit Mooney from the Bears. The Vikings did not file a complaint against the Falcons.

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

In his first comments to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since the signing of Cousins in April, Blank denied that the team tampered in violation of league rules.

“The tampering deal, we obviously don’t believe we tampered,” Blank said at the league meetings in Orlando, Florida. “We shared all of the information with the league. They’ll review the process and the facts. They are in the middle of doing that. Whatever the result is, we’ll deal with it.”

The Philadelphia Eagles, who also were being investigated by the league office, will not face punishment related to their signing of running back Saquon Barkley, the NFL announced Thursday.

Tampering violations are considered serious by the league. For tampering with free-agent wide receiver Maclin, the Chiefs were stripped of their third-round pick in 2016, their sixth-round pick in 2017 and fined $250,000. Chiefs coach Andy Reid was fined $50,000 and then-general manager John Dorsey was fined $25,000.

The Chiefs were cited for “improper contact” before the start of free agency.

Woerner’s agent was reached, but he had no comment on the matter.

The agent for Cousins had no comment and Mooney’s agent did not immediately respond to an interview request.

While the fifth-round pick in near the end of the draft, the Falcons have had success picking in the later rounds over the past 10 drafts.

In 2015, the Falcons drafted defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in the fifth round (137th) overall and he has been named to two Pro Bowls.

In 2017, the Falcons drafted Damontae Kazee in the fifth-round (149th) and he developed into a starting safety.

Also, in 2022, the Falcons selected running back Tyler Allgeier in the fifth-round (151st overall) and he went on to break the franchise’s rookie rushing record which stood for 43 years. He rushed for 1,035 yards, which broke William Andrews mark of 1,023 yards, which was set in 1979.

Most recently, the Falcons drafted linebacker JD Bertrand in the fifth-round (143rd overall). He’s expected to contribute on special teams.