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Kirk Cousins aims to finish career with Falcons, avoid Shaquille O'Neal-like end

Kirk Cousins' move to Atlanta should be the final one of his NFL career.

At least, that's how the 35-year-old quarterback envisions it.

"I want this to be my final stop," Cousins told NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal on the latter's The Big Podcast. "I don't want to do the deal -- no offense -- but I don't want to go play for the Suns and Celtics at the end. I want to go finish with the Heat, if you will, and be done, you know? So, that's really my plan is that I wouldn't play for another team -- I'd finish with the Falcons.

"My boys are 6 and 5, they won't remember that I played in Washington, they will barely remember I played for Minnesota, they're going to remember I played for the Falcons, and I want those to be good memories. So, I feel like this is the stretch I want to finish strong. People remember how you finish more than how you started. So, the start was good, but I want to finish really strong here in Atlanta and have my boys say yeah, 'he may have played for Washington or Minnesota, but we remember him as a Falcon' I want fans to say the same thing."

Cousins mentioned two NBA teams (the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics) as markers of what was the tail end of O'Neal's NBA career, which began with the Orlando Magic, saw him win three straight titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, win one more with the aforementioned Miami Heat, then spend two seasons with the Phoenix Suns, and one season with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics before calling it a career. Most everyone remembers O'Neal for his time in Orlando, Los Angeles and Miami, while preferring to keep his years in his final three stops in the background.

Cousins hopes fans treat his career similarly, but perhaps in reverse. Most NFL fans today will think of Cousins as a Minnesota Viking, where he spent six seasons after playing his first six years in Washington. With 12 campaigns under his belt and a new four-year, $180 million deal with the Falcons in hand, Cousins is aiming to finish on his highest note with a team he believes has the potential to take a leap forward, now that he's conducting the offense.

In order to realize these dreams, Cousins must first prove he's moved past the Achilles injury that ended his 2023 season -- and tenure with the Vikings -- prematurely. He's still not close to 100 percent, but Cousins maintains the same optimistic outlook he carried into his introductory news conference with the Falcons in March.

"Hard to say a percentage," Cousins said. "The big things is, I could take drops, the minute I would be like in the pocket and someone would come at me and I would kind of have to move and run, then you'd see that, OK, he's still coming back. So, like 7-on-7, I'm good, but to be in a live drill and running bootlegs, that's where I wouldn't be able to do it yet. I'm hoping June I could get there, but obviously we have some runway now before September."

Returning from an Achilles injury -- especially as a quarterback who is closer to 40 than 25 -- is no small feat, but Cousins still has ample time. He'll continue down the same path he's followed for some time, which includes rehabbing daily, and trust the process will lead him to his end goal.

Then, Cousins will be able to pursue his goals in a new uniform -- and hopefully, his final NFL home.

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