Falcons' draft won't be impacted by NFL's investigation of possible tampering violation with Cousins

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The NFL's investigation of the Atlanta Falcons' possible violation of tampering policies before signing quarterback Kirk Cousins won't conclude before this week's NFL draft.

For Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot, that means the team won't lose any draft picks this year as he looks to build around Cousins.

“The league has been very communicative with us and throughout the whole process,” Fontenot said Tuesday when previewing the draft.

“I really appreciate them. We’ve obviously cooperated and provided them all the information. Again, not really any update from our end. We’ll just continue to cooperate and control what you can control as we get ready for this draft. We’re excited moving forward.”

The Falcons have the No. 8 overall pick in the first round on Thursday night. Before signing Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed, Atlanta had been considered a top candidate to pursue a quarterback in the first round.

The Falcons signed Cousins, the former Minnesota quarterback, on the first day of the NFL’s legal tampering period. The agreement was reached so quickly after teams were allowed to begin negotiating with free agents, there were questions as to whether the Falcons violated tampering policies.

Teams are permitted to talk directly with agents during the 52-hour negotiating window. Teams can’t speak to the player unless he has no agent and represents himself.

When discussing his decision to sign with Atlanta, Cousins appeared to indicate he had been in communication with team officials one day before it was allowed.

When asked Tuesday if he believed the team had followed the rules in the negotiations with Cousins, Fontenot said “Again, it’s not something we can talk about as long as it’s under review. … We’ve been cooperative with the league and the way they’ve communicated with us. We appreciate the process they’ve gone through."

Cousins will be 36 when the 2024 season opens. He is returning from a torn right Achilles tendon that ended his 2023 season after eight games. Fontenot said Cousins has been on the field for the team's offseason work.

This is the third consecutive year the Falcons have had the No. 8 overall draft pick. They selected running back Bijan Robinson last year and wide receiver Drake London in 2022 with the No. 8 picks after taking tight end Kyle Pitts No. 4 overall in 2021.

The Falcons have eight picks in this year's draft, including two in the third round and two in the sixth round. The team could focus on defense at the top of the draft and could address a pressing need by selecting an edge rusher such as Alabama’s Dallas Turner in the first round.

The Falcons ranked close to the middle of the NFL team leaders with 42 sacks in 2023. It was a dramatic jump from 2022, when they had only 21 and 2021, when they were last with 18. Atlanta hasn’t had a player with as many as 10 sacks since 2016, when Vic Beasley had 15 1/2.

Veteran defensive tackle Calais Campbell, who shared the team lead with 6 1/2 sacks, may retire.

“We won't close any doors,” said Fontenot of Campbell playing in 2024.