Bradley’s Buzz: If the aim is to win now, the Falcons should target Cousins

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) after a game against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 25, 2022, in Minneapolis. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) after a game against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 25, 2022, in Minneapolis. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/TNS)

Bad news first. The Falcons are deficient at the position that matters most.

Now the good. That’s the only position at which there’s a glaring deficiency.

Speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday, the team’s latest head coach said: “If we had better play at quarterback last year in Atlanta, I might not be standing here.”

Raheem Morris also said that, with the right quarterback, his new team is “capable of going out there and winning next year.”

Under Arthur Smith, the Falcons managed three 7-10 seasons that were as different as 7-10 seasons can be. In 2021, they were outscored by 146 points. They won no game decided by more than one score. According to the famous coach Pythagoras, they should have been 5-12.

In 2022, they lost eight one-score games. (It’s uncanny how what goes around comes around, or vice versa.) Going by Pythagorean wins/losses, they should have been 8-9. The NFC South was won by an 8-9 team.

In 2023, the Falcons got what they deserved. They tied for 30th – there are 32 teams – in turnover margin. Desmond Ridder, the starting quarterback in 13 of 17 games, threw 12 interceptions and lost seven fumbles. (No NFL player lost more.) Backup Taylor Heinicke threw four INTs. Of the team’s 28 turnovers, 23 were made by QBs. That’s your season right there.

Two December games changed everything – the home loss to Tampa Bay when a Ridder pass was intercepted inside the Falcons’ 10 and his fumble became a safety, and the 9-7 loss at 1-12 Carolina when, in range of a clinching field goal, he threw into a cluster of defenders. Win those two and the Falcons make the playoffs. Win those two and Smith isn’t looking for real estate in Pittsburgh.

Nobody can lose a game faster than the quarterback. It wasn’t that Ridder threw a slew of interceptions; he just threw them at terrible times. There’s a chance he could still become a useful quarterback. Given that the Falcons’ owner and coach have labeled him a failed experiment, there’s no chance it happens here.

QB-wise, the Falcons have three options. They can draft one. Or they can trade for Justin Fields, who hasn’t quite settled in Chicago. Or they can move to acquire a veteran, possibly Russell Wilson but more probably Kirk Cousins.

The latter two are 35, which makes us ask how much they have left, which makes this observer think a younger man – Fields or a draftee – might be preferable. The dynamics change if the Falcons are indeed in win-now mode. Wilson has five years remaining on his contract, though the Broncos might cut/trade him. Cousins can become a free agent, which means he’d be … free.

Though not FREE. Pro Football Focus suggests he’ll sign somewhere for $70 million over two seasons, with $50M guaranteed. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell figures any contract will carry an average annual value of $51M. Is Cousins apt to win a Super Bowl? No. To date, he has presided over one playoff win. Could he alight in Flowery Branch and be a difference-maker? Yes.

The Falcons haven’t made the playoffs since 2017. This run of six consecutive losing seasons is the second-longest in the history of a franchise that has won 10 playoff games over 58 years. The Chiefs have won 15 playoff games since drafting Patrick Mahomes in 2017. Quarterbacks make a difference.

Cousins isn’t Mahomes, but he’s also not Ridder. He’s a professional. The hope was that the presence of Kyle Pitts and Drake London and Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier would allow Ridder to let his playmakers do the heavy lifting. Literally and figuratively, he dropped the ball.

With the Vikings, Cousins has serviced playmakers Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson. In games Cousins has started, Minnesota is 50-37-1. He’s not the guy you’d want if you’re in restart mode, but that’s not where the Falcons seem to believe they are.

With a better quarterback, the 2023 Falcons could have gone 11-6 and won a playoff game or two. Cousins – assuming he’s healthy after tearing his Achilles tendon – is a better quarterback. He’d be the man for this moment.

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