Cousins talks choice, feels he can ‘retire a Falcon’

Sports

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Wearing a pale gray suit with a red tie and black sneakers, Kirk Cousins stood at the podium Wednesday evening explaining and reinforcing what he was saying, all while settling into his new home.

His sort-of new home. The Atlanta metropolitan area has been a place of familiarity for the new Atlanta Falcons quarterback and his family for a long time. His wife, Julie, grew up here. He has spent parts of offseasons in his father-in-law’s basement in Johns Creek, Georgia.

So when the chance to come to Atlanta became available — and it matched with a strong football commitment in him — he chose to take it. Soon after signing a four-year contract worth up to $180 million, he explained it was the buy-in from Atlanta which eventually sold him on leaving Minnesota.

“I think in Minnesota it was trending over the last couple offseasons to being somewhat year-to-year,” Cousins said. “And as we talked with Atlanta, it felt like this was a place where if I play at the level I expect to play that I can retire a Falcon.

“And that was something that really excited me and that’s certainly the goal and you gotta earn the right to do that.”

Cousins knows he has to win. Yet before he can really think much about winning, he has to get healthy. Cousins continues to recover from a torn right Achilles suffered last October, the first surgery of the 35-year-old’s life. He called the rehab “a really positive process,” and credited the Vikings training staff and his own trainers to help him get through the first few months following the surgery.

Saying he’s “feeling great,” Cousins set a goal of being full speed at practice by the end of Atlanta’s June mandatory minicamp, but also knows not to rush his return. Right now, Cousins can “take drops” and throw the ball well, but if he had to leave the pocket, he said it would be clear he’s still recovering from the injury.

When he returns, Atlanta is banking on him being the player he’s been through the majority of his career. He’s played in 150 games with 145 starts, completing 66.9% of his passes for 39,471 yards, 270 touchdowns and 110 interceptions over six years in Washington followed by six years in Minnesota.

The former fourth-round pick made Pro Bowls in three of his last five seasons — and was on pace for one of the best seasons of his career in 2023 before the Achilles injury.

Earlier Wednesday, Cousins posted a video thanking the Vikings and the people of Minneapolis/St. Paul, calling it “a bit of a bittersweet day” because it meant he would have to leave the Vikings.

Atlanta felt like a familiar place. A comfortable place. He and Julie were married in Roswell, Georgia. Their youngest son was born in Atlanta. Cousins and Julie’s first date was at Stone Mountain in the Atlanta suburbs. Off-the-field, it made sense.

Within the organization, Cousins was struck by the alignment he saw from team owner Arthur Blank, general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Raheem Morris.

“When you see Mr. Blank’s commitment to winning and what he’s done over the years to make the Falcons a first-class organization. When you see the players that Terry’s drafted, when you see his experience with the Saints and what they built over many years and the success he’s been around,” Cousins said. “And then I knew Raheem, and when I see what he’s done and what he’s been around and the people he’s led and the people who have worked with these people speaking so highly of them, I mean, the evidence was just mounting to show that this is some serious alignment here.”

Cousins knew Morris from their shared time in Washington and remembered Morris, then the defensive backs coach, walking down the hall into the quarterbacks’ meetings — an image which stuck with him. He called former Saints quarterback Drew Brees asking about Fontenot, who Brees worked with for over a decade in New Orleans.

“I think in Minnesota it was trending over the last couple offseasons to being somewhat year-to-year. And as we talked with Atlanta, it felt like this was a place where if I play at the level I expect to play that I can retire a Falcon. And that was something that really excited me and that’s certainly the goal and you gotta earn the right to do that.”

Kirk Cousins

Brees “raved about him, about his football knowledge,” Cousins said.

And then a couple of weeks ago, he received a text message from an unknown number while waiting in line for the Guardians of the Galaxy ride at EPCOT. The sender was Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, who first got to know Cousins at the Pro Bowl following the 2021 season.

“He said, ‘We’re ready for you to take us to the promised land,'” Cousins said. “I said, ‘Well, you know, let’s talk.’ It was just kind of him recruiting a little bit.”

Cousins didn’t need much selling. He’d seen Pitts’ skills and the type of player he could be. In the last few days after he agreed to the deal, he spoke with receiver Drake London and texted running back Bijan Robinson, coming away impressed.

After those conversations, he told Julie “these guys are sharp.” He understood how bad they wanted to win. He had been in attendance the last time Atlanta was a consistent winner.

During the 2016 season, Cousins had gone to playoff games at the Georgia Dome when they beat Seattle and Green Bay — a success he’d like to emulate.

“Remember watching those games and taking in that moment,” Cousins said. “And it’s really a goal of mine to revisit that moment again as a player here.

“And that’s really the dream.”

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