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Kirk Cousins chose Atlanta over Minnesota because he feels he 'can retire a Falcon'

When it came to deciding on where to play in 2024, Kirk Cousins trusted his gut.

The money -- $45 million per year through 2027 -- likely didn't hurt, either, but Cousins' move south was about feel, and he sure felt good when considering where he might end his career: Atlanta.

"I think in Minnesota, it was trending over the last couple offseasons to being somewhat year-to-year," Cousins explained of his decision-making process that led him to the Falcons rather than re-signing with the Vikings. "As we talked with Atlanta, it felt like this was a place where, if I play at the level I expect to play, that I can retire a Falcon. That was something that really excited me and that's certainly the goal. You've got to earn the right to do that, but that was exciting to feel like I could get that opportunity here."

Cousins surprised some with his choice to leave Minneapolis -- where he'd played the last six years of his NFL career and made a home for his family -- for the potentially greener pastures of Atlanta. Financially, he's already done incredibly well for himself, leveraging his value at nearly every opportunity in his career, which began as an afterthought of a fourth-round pick made by Washington in the same class that saw the franchise select Robert Griffin III with the second-overall pick. He wasn't out to take the largest bid, and because he's still playing quality football -- good enough to land him in the top 10 of the final QB Index -- he was able to have his cake and eat it, too, signing a lucrative deal in a place he wanted to reside.

Familiarity helps. Cousins has history with new Falcons head coach Raheem Morris, who oversaw the defensive backs in Washington in Cousins' early years, and that made such a move easier to consider. But opportunity matters, too, and for Cousins, the thought of leaving Minnesota for a team stocked with three key playmakers -- receiver Drake London, tight end Kyle Pitts and running back Bijan Robinson -- was quite enticing, explaining Wednesday he's eager to start studying his teammates alongside them in order to establish a rapport.

"Raheem, I was around for two years in Washington and was just so impressed with him as our DB coach," Cousins said of Morris. "He would walk down the hall to the quarterback meeting in OTAs. I was a rookie and didn't know what was normal, but that wasn't normal to me before that and wasn't normal after. But for a DB coach to walk down the hall -- now looking back when that room was Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, Mike McDaniel, Sean McVay, he had good reason to be walking down the hall. But I would put him right in that category.

"As I look back, he was one of the original people there in the room with those other names. The fact that I was in that room too, the chance to get back with someone from that room was a real thrill for me."

Cousins will, of course, be required to clear a few checkpoints regarding his health. An Achilles injury ended his 2023 season after just eight games, and while he's had ample time to gain ground in his recovery -- progress substantiated by Cousins passing every area of his physical, save for the Achilles, prior to officially signing with the team Wednesday -- he admitted he won't truly know if he's returned to form until he's required to use his legs.

"I can take drops. I can play the quarterback position, if you will, throwing the football," Cousins said of his current status. "I think the minute I would have to leave the pocket is where you would say, yeah, he's still recovering from an Achilles. But taking drops, making throws, that's really no problem at this point."

Cousins' decision to leave wasn't entirely shocking because it felt as if his time in Minnesota was nearing an end, regardless of his next destination. The quarterback who once became the first to receive a fully guaranteed contract had seemingly played out most, if not all of the string with the Vikings, and change appeared to be around the corner, if not on Cousins' doorstep. Vikings general manager Kwesi Odofo-Mensah changed his tone from January to February, moving from initially stating it was his intention to retain Cousins to speaking of the negotiations as a process of finding middle ground.

In the end, Atlanta swooped in to give Cousins a better offer than Minnesota could provide, and the 35-year-old was happy to hop on board.

The Falcons are paying Cousins $45 million a year with one goal in mind: Solidify the quarterback position for the first time since Matt Ryan's final couple of seasons with the team. That's the baseline expectation for a quarterback making that type of money, and if he can do that, Atlanta should realistically hope to be a playoff contender.

As for if and when the Falcons reach that point, Cousins knows his history -- headlined by a lack of postseason success -- precedes him. But he's also unwilling to allow it to define him in his new home, where he hopes to power playoff triumphs most have believed aren't possible with him leading an offense.

"Quarterbacks will always be evaluated based on, not just September to December, but January and February," Cousins said. "That's where you want to get to because of September to December, and then once you get there you want to have meaningful wins and play meaningful games in January and February. That's where I want to go and I believe we can go."

The Cousins era has officially begun in Atlanta, where Falcons fans are just glad they don't have to spend the next few months agonizing over their team's quarterback situation. Should it live up to his expectations, those same fans might look back on Wednesday as a significant turning point in the franchise's history.

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