Quick take: Falcons get best QB available, but Kirk Cousins comes with risks

Injured quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) of the Minnesota Vikings is seen on the sideline prior to a game against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 31, 2023, in Minneapolis. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Injured quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) of the Minnesota Vikings is seen on the sideline prior to a game against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 31, 2023, in Minneapolis. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/TNS)

The Falcons got their quarterback. Now, the question is whether Kirk Cousins be ready for the start of the 2024 season. That’s the risk in agreeing to sign a 35-year-old quarterback who suffered a torn right Achilles on Oct. 30. Per the Ohio State College of Medicine, return to sport “may take (nine) to 12 months depending on the severity of injury and nature of the sport the patient desires to play.”

Cousins desires to play NFL quarterback. He’s got to be able to move away from large, fast men who wish to tackle him as he’s looking downfield to pass. Cousins had modest mobility before the injury. The chances are high that he will have less mobility after his Achilles surgery (I still do nearly 20 years after I had mine).

But, despite my reservations, there are obvious positives for the Falcons in landing Cousins. He’s clearly an upgrade over last year’s starters, Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke. Cousins was the best quarterback available on the market, especially after Baker Mayfield (Bucs) and Russell Wilson (Steelers) agreed to sign elsewhere.

Cousins had a Pro Bowl season in 2022 and was playing well when he suffered the Achilles injury. He’s still a very accurate passer as he ages. The key for the Falcons will be allowing Cousins to operate from a clean pocket. According to Pro Football Focus, Cousins’ 95.8 grade when not under pressure over the past five seasons is tied with Aaron Rodgers for the best mark during that span.

The Falcons ranked No. 26 in scoring offense last season. They can reasonably expect to improve on that number in 2024 with Cousins as quarterback (if he stays healthy). Cousins is set to operate behind a good offensive line while surrounded by playmakers Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts. The Falcons can use the draft (they own the No. 8 overall pick) and other free-agent signings to find more talented skill players or shore up the defense.

Concerns about the recovery from Achilles surgery was one reason I believed Cousins was too risky for the Falcons. Financial commitment is the other. Could the Falcons sign Cousins and have enough salary-cap dollars left to address other needs? Could they end up with “dead” money on the cap if his play takes a steep decline, similar to what happened with Matt Ryan?

AJC Falcons beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that Cousins will sign a four-year, $180 million contract. The deal will include $100 million in guarantees: $90 million in 2024 and ‘25 (combined) plus $10 in 2026. The Falcons are essentially committing to Cousins for $100 million over two seasons. He’ll be 36-years old at the start of the 2024 season.

The Broncos did a similar deal with a quarterback who’s better and younger than Cousins, Wilson, in 2022. That contract blew up in Denver’s face when Wilson had two ineffective seasons as starter. After releasing Wilson over the weekend, the Broncos will have $85 million in “dead” salary cap money on their books over the next two seasons. That’s money that can be used to sign other players.

We’ll see if the salary-cap hit from the Cousins contract will prevent the Falcons from signing good free agents at other, needed positions in free agency (pass rusher and wide receiver are on the list). In the meantime, signing Cousins at the very least will bring the Falcons out of the QB wilderness after two years of wandering.

Ryan, the franchise’s best-ever player, was unceremoniously dumped in the wake of Arthur Blank’s botched attempt to acquire DeShaun Watson. Marcus Mariota was a competent placeholder at QB before former coach Arthur Smith trap-doored him for Ridder. The Falcons foolishly anointed Ridder as the starter for last season and he wasn’t up to the task.

The Falcons finally have a good quarterback again. Now the question is when will Cousins be healthy enough to show it.