The Atlanta Falcons forfeit a fifth-round pick and are fined for tampering with Kirk Cousins.

The Atlanta Falcons were penalized on Thursday for violating the NFL’s anti-tampering rules before signing quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receiver Darnell Mooney, and tight end Charlie Woerner in free agency in March. The team will lose a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft and has been fined $250,000, while general manager Terry Fontenot faces a $50,000 fine.

The Falcons and Cousins reached a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed shortly after the league’s 52-hour legal tampering window opened on March 11. Woerner agreed to a $12 million, three-year deal later that day, and Mooney followed with a $39 million, three-year deal the next day.

Despite similar allegations, the NFL did not penalize the Philadelphia Eagles for their contact with running back Saquon Barkley, citing insufficient evidence of anti-tampering violations.

It’s common for teams and players to quickly reach agreements during the legal tampering period, but comments made by Cousins at his introductory news conference prompted the NFL’s investigation. Cousins mentioned speaking with the team’s medical staff before it was permitted, raising suspicion.

The NFL allows teams to negotiate with agents during the tampering window but prohibits direct contact with players. The Falcons acknowledged that discussions with Cousins, Mooney, and Woerner included prohibited direct contact.

In contrast, despite suspicions raised by Penn State coach James Franklin about conversations between Eagles GM Howie Roseman and Barkley, the league found no conclusive evidence of tampering by Philadelphia. The investigation involved reviewing phone logs, text messages, and interviewing key figures, including Barkley and Franklin.

The NFL has enforced tampering penalties in the past, notably with the Miami Dolphins in 2022, who lost a first-round and third-round pick for tampering with Tom Brady and coach Sean Payton. Other past penalties include the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016 and the New York Jets in 2015 for similar violations.