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Falcons get wrist slap for tampering with three players, including Kirk Cousins

The NFL has sent a clear message to all teams when it comes to tampering with potential free agents.

Go ahead and do it.

The league announced today that the Falcons tampered with three different prospective free agents. The punishment was, frankly, laughably small.

Here’s the official statement: “The NFL today informed the Atlanta Falcons of the discipline being imposed for violations of the Anti-Tampering Policy related to improper contact with prospective unrestricted free agents Kirk Cousins, Darnell Mooney, and Charlie Woerner during the two-day negotiating period prior to the start of the 2024 League Year. Atlanta will forfeit its original fifth-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft and pay a fine of $250,000, while General Manager Terry Fontenot has been fined $50,000. While the policy permits clubs to engage with and negotiate all aspects of an NFL player contract with the certified agent of any prospective unrestricted free agent during the two-day negotiating period, any direct contact between the player and an employee or representative of the club is prohibited. This includes discussion of travel arrangements or other logistical matters, which the club acknowledges took place with regard to these three players.”

Eight years ago, the league stripped a third-round pick from the Chiefs for speaking directly to one player — Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin — during the pre-free agency negotiating window.

Either the league has changed its outlook on tampering, or the Falcons got a pass because team executive Rich McKay is the chair of the competition committee. Or, possibly, the league doesn’t want to draw too much attention to cheating, at a time when more and more people believe the fix is in.

On this point, it’s hard not to believe the fix is in. The outcome defies logic, common sense, and precedent. Two years ago, the Dolphins lost a first-round pick and a third-round pick for tampering with Sean Payton and Tom Brady, and Miami ultimately employed neither guy.