May 25, 2024

There’s no out for Falcons over Kirk Cousins Achilles injury, with one exception

Last year, the Jimmy Garoppolo contract with the Raiders contained an out for the team, in the event Garoppolo’s foot injury prevented him from passing a physical before the start of the season.

This year, Kirk Cousins explained during his introductory press conference in Atlanta that he had passed a physical for everything but his Achilles tendon injury, and that he’d have to pass an Achilles-specific physical later.

With the Falcons using the eighth overall pick in the draft on quarterback Michael Penix Jr., a question emerged in my impaired and addled brain. What if the Falcons can avoid the Cousins contract if he doesn’t pass a physical before a specific deadline?

Unlike the Raiders in 2023, the Falcons have no out. With one very narrow exception.

Per a source with knowledge of the terms, Cousins’s $50 million signing bonus requires the passing of a physical but specifically excludes the pre-existing Achilles injury — “provided Player continues to rehabilitate such pre-existing Right Achilles injury as required by and under the supervision and direction of Club’s Head Team Physician and Club’s Head Athletic Trainer.”

As long as Cousins does what the team doctor and head athletic trainer tell him to do regarding the Achilles injury, the Falcons are on the hook for the full $50 million.

Of course, that doesn’t force the Falcons and Cousins together indefinitely. With only $27.5 million in salary due to Cousins in 2025, it wouldn’t be hard to find a suitor for Cousins if both sides decide to make a clean break after one season. (Cousins has a no-trade clause.) While the dead-money charge for a pre-June 1 trade would be $37.5 million, the Falcons would avoid $37.5 million in additional guarantees to Cousins. Also, if they believe Penix is ready after only one year, the fact that they have their starting quarterback under a rookie deal makes it easier to absorb the Cousins cap charge.

That said, they still will have paid him $62.5 million for only one season, if he’s traded in 2025.

A trade after 2025 (and before June 1, 2026) would result in a smaller cap charge of $25 million. Under that scenario, the Falcons will have paid Cousins $90 million for two years.

It all comes down to when they decide to flip to Penix. They’ve tried to defuse the situation by suggesting Penix could sit for four or five years, which is ridiculous on its face. The truth is that a pivot to Penix could happen within a year or two without major contractual complications for the Falcons.

There’s also a slim chance that the Falcons could trade Cousins before the start of the 2025 season. If Penix lights it up in OTAs, if another team loses a starting quarterback before the regular season starts, and if that team and Cousins decide to get together, a trade after June 1, 2024 would have the same cap effect as a trade before June 1, 2025. And with $12.5 million of the Cousins signing bonus due in September 2024 and another $12.5 million due in December 2024, the new team could agree to pay the money.

In 2016, the Vikings lost Teddy Bridgewater just before the start of the season. The Eagles, who were planning to start Sam Bradford while rookie Carson Wentz sat and learned, changed plans quickly when the Vikings offered a first- and fourth-round pick for Bradford.

These aren’t probable outcomes, but they are possible. At least they’re not impossible. If Penix quickly shows he can be the guy, there are ways the Falcons can accelerate the timetable to pivot from Cousins to Penix.

Penix is clearly the future. The sooner the Falcons can make Penix the present, the better off they’ll be in the future.