Falcons’ Arthur Blank: ‘We obviously don’t believe we tampered’ before signing Kirk Cousins

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said of the tampering investigation, "Whatever the result is, we’ll deal with it.”

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said of the tampering investigation, "Whatever the result is, we’ll deal with it.”

ORLANDO – Falcons owner Arthur Blank, in his first comments to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since the signing of quarterback Kirk Cousins, denied that the team tampered in violation of league rules.

“The tampering deal, we obviously don’t believe we tampered,” Blank said while leaving a meeting on Monday. “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 Falcons signed Cousins to a four-year contract worth up to $180 million on March 13. The NFL is reviewing the signing for possible tampering violations.

The Falcons initially issued a statement that said, “Due to the NFL’s review, we are unable to provide information or have additional comment.”

Blank is the first team official to comment on the matter.

The Falcons were eager to sign the veteran quarterback after not making the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. He is slated to replace Desmond Ridder.

Cousins has played 12 years in the NFL with the Commanders and the Vikings.

“Obviously, our football folks felt strongly,” Blank said. “Our fans are definitely eager to concur with that.”

The Eagles are also being investigated for alleged tampering in the signing of running back Saquon Barkley. They have also denied any violations.

Tampering violations are considered serious by the league.

The Chiefs, for tampering with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, were stripped of their third-round pick in 2016, their sixth-round pick in 2017 and fined $250,000. Chiefs coach Andy Reid was also fined $50,000 and then general manager John Dorsey fined $25,000.

The Chiefs were cited for “improper contact” before the start of free agency. Maclin played in Philadelphia for Reid before signing a five-year, $55 million deal with the Chiefs.

Minnesota did not file a complaint against the Falcons.

During Cousins’ introductory press conference on March 13, he seem to intimate that he spoke with the team’s athletic trainer and the head of public relations before signing with the club.

“There’s great people here,” Cousins said. “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 P.R. I’m thinking, we got people here. And that’s exciting to be a part of.”

The league’s “legal tampering” period started at noon on March 11 and ended at 3:59 p.m. on March 13.

Under Article 9, Section 1(b)(iv) of the collective bargaining agreement, “a prospective UFA’s certified contract advisor is permitted to communicate directly with front office officials (excluding the head coach and all other members of the club’s coaching staff) of any or all new NFL clubs regarding contract negotiations.

“As a reminder, no direct contact is permitted between a represented player and any employee or representative of a club (other than his current club) during this period.”

The Falcons case doesn’t appear to rise to the level of the more recent tampering cases where the NFL suspended Miami owner Stephen Ross and fined him $1.5 million for tampering between Tom Brady and Sean Payton following a sixth-month investigation. The Dolphins case stemmed from Brian Flores’ racial-discrimination lawsuit against the league.

In 2023, the Eagles accused the Cardinals of tampering with defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. The Cardinals eventually hired him as their head coach. The two teams agreed to a settlement that called for the Eagles to trade the No. 94 pick in the 2023 draft and a 2024 fifth-round pick for the 66th pick in 2023.

Cousins, 35, was a priority after several free-agent quarterbacks came off the market. The Buccaneers re-signed Baker Mayfield to a three-year, $100-million deal and the Steelers agreed to a one-year deal, $1.21 million deal with nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson. Also, quarterback Mac Jones was traded by the Patriots to the Jaguars.

The Falcons stated that they had a “Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D” when it came to upgrading the quarterback position. Getting Cousins was clearly Plan A. The Falcons hold the eighth overall pick in April’s NFL draft and would not be able to select one of the top QB prospects unless they traded up.

Cousins, who guided the Vikings to the NFC North title in 2022 with a 13-4 record, had them off to a 4-4 start before he ruptured his Achilles in October, ending his season.

Cousins, who’s set to turn 36 in August, is hoping to return by the end of the offseason program.

Cousins, who’s 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, completed a two-year, $66 million deal last season. The Vikings could have re-signed him prior to the tampering period to keep him off the free-agent market.

Cousins, who’s made $231 million since he was drafted in the fourth round (102nd overall) in 2012 out of Michigan State, signed a three-year, $84 million deal in 2018 with the Vikings.

The knock on Cousins is that he’s been only an average quarterback. He had a 59-59 record entering the 2022 season. He is also 1-3 in the playoffs.

“He’s a very high quality quarterback,” Blank said. “He’s performed at a high level for 12 years in the league. Feel pretty fortunate to having him as our quarterback. I look forward to seeing the results with him.”

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, center, talks with a reporter while walking to a meeting at the NFL football owners meetings, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

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