NFL may punish Falcons for Kirk Cousins signing

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings
Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings / Stephen Maturen/GettyImages

After all that excitement surrounding the biggest move of the Falcons' offseason, the Kirk Cousins era in Atlanta could begin with punishment from the NFL.

From ESPN's Dan Graziano:

Per a league source, the NFL is looking into potential tampering by the Eagles and the Falcons related to the free-agent signings of Saquon Barkley and Kirk Cousins

Even worse, it was Cousins himself who likely blew the Falcons' cover on the situation.

During his introductory press conference, he referenced conversations he had with Falcons' staff, specifically the head athletic trainer, "yesterday", or Tuesday, March 12th. The league year opened Wednesday at 4pm, and during the legal tampering period from 12pm Monday until that Wednesday afternoon, teams are only allowed to make contact with a player's agent, but not the player himself.

Cousins also mentioned that Falcon teammates had been recruiting him to Atlanta for weeks before Wednesday.

What is the punishment for tampering?

The league typically doesn't look too hard for illegal, and the fact that it happens is one of the worst kept secrets in football. The problem, in this case, is that the Falcons have said the quiet part out loud.

The last major tampering punishment in the NFL came against the Miami Dolphins, who forfeited a 1st-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, a 3rd-rounder in 2024, over $2 million in total fines, and a significant suspension for owner Stephen Ross after it was discovered that the team had illegally contacted Tom Brady and Don Yee, Brady's agent, as well as Sean Payton.

That is not the best example when anticipating Atlanta's potential punishment, however. The context is heavy with the Dolphins during that time, as they were found to have tampered during a time when they were also being accused of losing games intentionally by the same person who was levying a racial discrimination suit against the franchise, former Miami head coach Brian Flores.

If Atlanta is found guilty of tampering, the punishment likely won't be that severe. A better example to base expectations on would be the Kansas City Chiefs' being stripped of two draft picks in 2016. They had contact with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin before the free agent signing period, and the result was the loss of a 3rd-round pick in the '16 draft and a 6th-rounder in '17, as well as just over $400,000 in fines.

Should Atlanta receive punishment, losing a 3rd-round pick is absolutely in the realm of possibility, effectively stripping the Falcons of the pick they received from Jacksonville as part of the Calvin Ridley trade.

Everyone tampers, but that's not an excuse for the Falcons here. You've got to be smart enough to hide it, and instead, they've shouted it from the rooftops.