Bleacher Report doesn’t think Kirk Cousins makes Falcons contenders

NFL: OCT 23 49ers at Vikings

The Falcons hold the No. 8 pick in the draft for the third consecutive cycle after another 7-10 season, but there are legitimate expectations for Atlanta to compete in 2024.

Entering the offseason after Raheem Morris was hired, the new head coach didn’t shy away from expectations. Morris acknowledged winning the NFC South was a non-negotiable, and the Falcons were going to attack the quarterback position.

They did. Arthur Blank, Terry Fontenot, and Morris were aligned in their pursuit of Kirk Cousins, making him their top priority this offseason, giving him more guarantees, a higher average annual value, and a longer contract than the Vikings.

The Falcons got their guy, and expectations may have even gotten bigger following the acquisition of Cousins. The division is no longer the goal; postseason success is now the objective. However, Bleacher Report doesn’t believe Cousins makes the Falcons contenders.

Atlanta is undoubtedly better with Cousins under center than it has been with the likes of Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke—the three stop-gap quarterbacks it has tried and failed to install since the departure of Matt Ryan following the 2021 campaign—but that may not be enough to take the team back to the big game.

Cousins has been playing some of his best football in recent years, but he is notably coming off a season-ending injury as he gears up for his age-36 campaign.

He was playing the best ball of his career. Cousins was on pace to throw for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns before tearing his Achilles. Even before that, he averaged over 4,000 yards and over 30 touchdown passes over the four seasons prior. The injury would be an issue, but Cousins wasn’t necessarily mobile before the injury. He shouldn’t be expected to be some dual threat quarterback after.

Even if the four-time Pro Bowler is back to full strength and playing well, there is still his glaring lack of postseason success to contend with. He’s reached the playoffs just four times in his 12-year NFL career—dropping to three times if you discount his rookie trip while serving as Robert Griffin III’s backup with the Washington Commanders—and posted an abysmal 1-4 record in those contests.

Cousins does own a 1-4 record, but in the first postseason appearance, he only threw 10 times, completing three passes for 31 yards. In the others, he averaged 254 yards and 69% passing with five total touchdowns and one interception, good for a 96.3 passer rating. I’d argue that isn’t the worst playoff performance.

While Cousins will have enough talent surrounding him to get the job done, it remains to be seen if Atlanta’s highly drafted nucleus of skill position players such as Kyle Pitts (No. 4 in 2021), Drake London (No. 8 in 2022) and Bijan Robinson (No. 8 in 2023) can live up to the hype.

None of these players has performed badly by any measure, but all have underwhelmed compared to their lofty draft position. Most of the blame has fallen on the Falcons’ pitiful quarterback performances and poor play-calling, but that narrative could quickly change if they don’t take a leap with a new regime in place and Cousins running the show.

Kyle Pitts put up record-breaking numbers in his rookie year with Matt Ryan then dealt with Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder as well as an injury. Drake London never got a fair shake because of poor quarterback play. Moreover, Bijan Robinson was never utilized as the offensive weapon that Arthur Smith promised. If your worry is the Falcons won’t reach their full potential because of their three top 10 picks, that’s a weak argument.

The Falcons may have a steady offensive supporting cast buoyed by a great offensive line—it finished No. 4 overall in PFF’s end-of-season rankings—but the defense probably won’t be at that same level.

Atlanta recorded a meager 16 takeaways all last year, the fourth-fewest in the league, and struggled to stop the run. Without any notable free-agent additions on that side of the ball and only $4.4 million in cap space to improve the roster outside of draft picks, this unit will struggle to become a Super Bowl-caliber one.

This is one thing I do agree with completely. The Falcons have to improve the personnel on that side of the ball. Fans shouldn’t take Ryan Nielsen for granted; his impact was tremendous. Grady Jarrett being back full-time should help, but the club still has work to do defensively.

What Bleacher Report gets wrong is the $4.4 million in cap space. That number can grow by more than $33 million if the Falcons restructure the contracts of Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett, Chris Lindstrom, and Jessie Bates. The need for moves is there, but the funds could be if Atlanta’s brass wants it to happen.

The Falcons should be considered the front-runner in a weak NFC South race, but their ability to do any real damage in the postseason is debatable.

The Falcons should be considered favorites for the division, but winning a Super Bowl is probably unrealistic; however, winning a Wild Card contest is in the conversation. Hell, nobody gave the Bucs and Packers a shot, and they gave the Lions and 49ers, respectively, a run for their money.

Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire


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