Falcons: ESPN grades Kirk Cousins and Darnell Mooney signings

NFL: NOV 20 Bears at Falcons

Terry Fontenot came storming out of the gates last year when the legal tampering period began, and the Falcons GM did the same this year.

Jessie Bates, David Onyemata, and Kaden Elliss inked deals in the first couple of days last offseason, and the Falcons swung even bigger this offseason, agreeing in principle to a four-year, $180 million deal with Kirk Cousins.

The quarterback position was going to define Atlanta’s offseason. It was the single most important task for Raheem Morris and Terry Fontenot. The new Falcons regime didn’t mess around, giving the veteran four years when everyone thought he’d get three at most, to go along with $100 million in guarantees.

It’s a strong contract and showed how desperate the Falcons were to bring him to Atlanta. A lot of fan base is split on the signing, but ESPN gives it a thumbs-up:

Grade: B

The Falcons just fully guaranteed $90 million to a 35-year-old non-elite quarterback coming off an Achilles injury, and yet … I don’t hate it.

We’ll come back to Cousins himself, but I want to start this with where the Falcons are, because that’s why this deal is both palatable and logical. When new Falcons coach Raheem Morris said last month, “If we had better quarterback play last year in Atlanta, I might not be standing here,” that was very much the truth! Read the full grade here. — Walder

Morris’ quote, “If we had better quarterback play last year in Atlanta, I might not be standing here,” is the hard truth and a pill that isn’t easy for Arthur Smith to swallow I’m sure. The Falcons trotted out a third-round pick that hardly even showed glimpses of being the guy as a rookie. Had the Falcons signed Baker Mayfield, Arthur Smith would still be the head coach in Atlanta.

Now, with Kirk Cousins in the fold, the expectations have risen exponentially for the Falcons and Raheem Morris. At a minimum, making the playoffs is now the standard, and honestly, not winning a postseason game would be disappointing because Cousins has all he needs to succeed in Atlanta.

And Terry Fontenot made sure of that, inking Darnell Mooney to a three-year, $39 million deal, which ESPN gave the same grade as the Cousins signing.

Grade: B

After Atlanta signed Kirk Cousins on Monday, I noted that although the Falcons have a solid foundation, they needed to add a few offensive playmakers — most notably at wide receiver. With them signing Mooney, I would not call the receiver box “checked,” but it’s a step in the right direction.

A year ago at this time, I would have been reasonably bullish on the move. At the time, Mooney was coming off back-to-back seasons with 1.9 yards per route run and 2.2 or higher yards per route run against man coverage. His open score via ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics had been strong: 63 in 2021 (tied for 28th among WRs) and 67 in a smaller sample in 2022 (tied for 21st). And he recorded 1,055 receiving yards in 2021. But in 2023, his numbers plummeted. His yards per route run dipped under 1.0 (and under 0.8 vs. man coverage), his target rate fell from 23% in 2022 to 14% in 2023, and his open score dropped all the way down to 40 — a career low and tied for 89th.

It’s hard to know exactly what went so wrong for Mooney last season, but the Falcons are betting they can figure it out and prompt a rebound. One thing to note is the Bears changed coaching staffs after his biggest season (2021), and Mooney’s route tree changed quite a bit. From 2021 to 2022, his hitch routes, go routes, slants and comebacks all declined in frequency and were replaced with corners, flats and seams. Was that a contributing factor? Potentially.

I imagine the Falcons would view Mooney as a WR3 and draft an immediate-impact rookie at the position in April to be the true complement to Drake London. The per-year average for Mooney is fine here, but this deal is not nothing, because $26 million is fully guaranteed. Although I think we can imagine a world where Mooney returns to form, it’s also quite easy to see him continuing his level of play from last season and the Falcons regretting having to also pay him in 2025. Still, I have some sympathy for Atlanta’s situation here. There’s very little receiver talent available, and the one thing the Falcons can’t do is waste the Cousins signing by not trying to add more playmakers. — Walder

I love the Darnell Mooney signing, and I don’t think it’s because I talk about the Falcons either. Let me explain.

In 13 starts, Justin Fields completed just 61.4% of his passes and fewer than 200 yards per game last year. Fields started 15 games in 2022 and averaged less than 150 yards per game on 60.4% passing, a campaign where Mooney was limited to just under 500 yards on 40 receptions.

As the No. 1 option in 2021, Mooney had the best season of his career, hauling in 81 receptions for over 1,000 yards and four scores, despite catching passes from Fields, Andy Dalton, and Nick Foles.

Kirk Cousins will be by far the best quarterback that has thrown him the ball, and Zac Robinson is expected to be the best offensive coordinator he’s played under. Darnell Mooney should experience a little positive regression in Atlanta.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire


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