Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson among marquee QBs to change teams in frenzied offseason

Kirk Cousins shifted the quarterback dynamic once again during the NFL’s free-agent frenzy this offseason, but he’s hardly the only marquee signal-caller changing uniforms.

Cousins signed a massive contract with the Atlanta Falcons last month after spending six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. The deal became official on March 13 when both sides agreed to a four-year, $180 million contract with a $100 million guarantee. Cousins will make $45 million per season with the Falcons.

“As we talked with Atlanta, it felt like this was a place where, if I play at the level I expect to play, I can retire a Falcon,” Cousins said in his introductory press conference. “That was something that really excited me, and that’s certainly the goal and you got to earn the right to do that.”

Cousins is coming off an Achilles injury he suffered last year with the Vikings in October. He was leading the NFL in multiple passing categories before the injury against Green Bay.

“What I’ve been told, going back to when I first injured it, was that you don’t rush it, you let time do its thing, and it’s going to take time to fully heal that tissue,” Cousins said. He later expounded on how the rehabilitation process has been on schedule.

“But as a competitor, you want to get back as fast as you can,” he added. “Certainly, I’m trying to do that.”

Cousins leads a deep crop of quarterbacks who will suit up with new clubs when training camp rolls around in July. And though not all of them are starters, there’s still a chance they’ll all get game action in 2024.

The Pittsburgh Steelers underwent a complete overhaul, adding veterans Russell Wilson, the expected starter, and Justin Fields. The Steelers, in turn, shed some payroll and shipped Kenny Pickett to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We’re not resistant to competition, but as I’ve mentioned several times of late, I just think it’s appropriate to establish positioning. The term that I’ve used is Russell has pole position,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “And why do I use that term? Because during this time where we are not formally working, I just think it’s beneficial. His experience in the National Football League — his process has been honed and perfected.”

Pittsburgh Steelers’ newly-signed quarterback Russell Wilson speaks with reporters during an NFL press conference in Pittsburgh on March 15, 2024. Wilson signed a one-year deal with the Steelers after he was cut by the Denver Broncos. (Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Rebecca Droke)

And though Fields has accumulated a 10-28 record as a starter in the league, in his time with the Chicago Bears he showed the potential to carry an offense, a trait that also piqued Tomlin’s interest.

“He oozes talent and potential,” Tomlin said. “He’s worn the responsibility of being a franchise quarterback, but still he gets an opportunity to come into a community-like situation and learn from a guy that’s been doing it for over a decade. Man, there’s a lot of meat left on that bone and I’m just excited.”

To make up for Cousins’ loss, the Minnesota Vikings acquired Sam Darnold. The Washington Commanders, one of Cousins’ former clubs, traded Sam Howell to the Seattle Seahawks to clear the way for their newly acquired quarterback, Marcus Mariota. Finally, Mac Jones, a former first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots, was sent to the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he will back up Trevor Lawrence.

Still, Cousins remains at the top of the list. Having just finished his six-year tenure in Minnesota and earning multiple records and accolades in the franchise’s history, the former Michigan State quarterback joins an NFL South Division that includes veterans Baker Mayfield and Derek Carr at the position.

In his Vikings career, Cousins totaled 23,265 passing yards, 171 touchdowns and 55 interceptions. He set Minnesota records for most passing attempts and passing first downs in a single season and led the team on an unexpected playoff run in the 2022-2023 season.

Cousins is also second in franchise history with completions and passing yards in a single season. And, according to the team’s press site, his 107.4 passer rating was a personal best and the second-best single-season mark in Vikings history.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot mentioned the significance of the quarterback position and the importance of getting it right in his press conference at the NFL Combine, especially after the failed experiment of handing the inexperienced Desmond Ridder the reins the past two seasons.

“We know that it’s critical to get that position right, but it doesn’t stop there,” Fontenot said. “We have to get the right quarterback in, and we have to improve this entire roster and get ready to roll this season.”

Falcons coach Raheem Morris, another recent addition, is familiar with his new starting quarterback, as they spent time together in Washington.

“And then I knew Raheem, and when I see what he’s done and what he’s been around and the people he’s led and the people who have worked with these people speaking so highly of them, I mean, the evidence was just mounting to show that this is some serious alignment here,” Cousins said about the leadership in Atlanta.

Owner Arthur Blank’s commitment to winning and the alignment Cousins has with Fontenot and Morris was essential for his decision to come to the Falcons.

Atlanta is in for a promising season according to most national media outlets, and it’s now time for their quarterback to get back on the field healthy with the young, talented weapons they have on offense. To win a division title, they’ll have to unseat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the defending South champions.

“I’m optimistic that I can be full speed at practice before we break for the summer,” Cousins added. “That’s kind of the goal I’ve set for myself — but we do have a long runway.”

Jordan Lopez is a Cuban-American digital journalism student who intends to pursue a career as a sports journalist and writer, combining his passions for sports and writing. Lopez currently writes for FanSided’s Predominantly Orange (Denver Broncos) and VerdictMMA (UFC). He hopes his writing informs fans and South Florida residents about their favorite sports teams.