QB Kirk Cousins leaving Vikings for 4-year deal with Falcons

Orlovksy: Expect Vikings to move up to draft a QB (1:17)

Dan Orlovsky expects the Minnesota Vikings to find their next quarterback through the NFL draft after losing Kirk Cousins to free agency. (1:17)

The Atlanta Falcons have finally solved their franchise quarterback issues.

The club agreed to terms on a four-year deal with former Minnesota Vikings free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins on Monday, according to his agent, Mike McCartney.

A source told ESPN's Adam Schefter that Cousins' deal is worth $180 million ($45 million per season), including $100 million guaranteed.

"After significant and positive dialogue with Kirk and his representatives, we were unable to reach agreement on a contract that fits the short- and long-term visions for both Kirk and the Minnesota Vikings," Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in a statement. "Kirk holds a special place in Vikings history, and we appreciate his leadership and contributions to the team and the Minneapolis-St. Paul community over the past six seasons. We wish him; his wife, Julie; and their children all the best. Our approach heading into free agency always included layers of contingencies regarding the quarterback position. We are moving forward with plans that allow us to continue building a roster that can compete for a championship."

Cousins joins an offense which includes several players who were taken in the first round. The Falcons have three first-round offensive linemen -- left tackle Jake Matthews, right tackle Kaleb McGary and two-time Pro Bowler Chris Lindstrom at right guard. He also has Atlanta's last three first-round picks -- tight end Kyle Pitts, receiver Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson -- as skill position players with which to work.

Atlanta agreeing to terms with Cousins should put an end the team's multiyear pursuit of finding a replacement for 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan, whom the team traded to the Indianapolis Colts before the 2022 season after a failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson.

The Falcons then signed Marcus Mariota to be their starting quarterback and drafted Desmond Ridder in the third round of the 2022 draft. Mariota lasted 13 games as the starter before being benched for Ridder, who started the last four games of the 2022 season and entered 2023 as the team's top quarterback.

Ridder was benched twice in 2023 in favor of backup Taylor Heinicke, but neither played well, with the Falcons eventually firing former head coach Arthur Smith and replacing him with Raheem Morris. In the news conference addressing Smith's firing, team owner Arthur Blank called the quarterback play last season "deficient," and vowed to solve the team's issues at the position.

Ridder completed 64.2% of his passes last season for 2,836 yards, 12 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 12 fumbles. Heinicke completed 54.4% of his passes for 890 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.

Both Ridder and Heinicke are under contract for the 2024 season, but the Falcons can save $6.96 million against the cap if Heinicke is released and also would avoid paying him a $1.32 million roster bonus if he's no longer with Atlanta on March 17.

Cousins, 35, was having one of his best seasons in 2023 and had been one of the NFL's most durable quarterbacks before tearing his right Achilles tendon in Week 8 at Lambeau Field. At the time, he was tied for the NFL lead in passing touchdowns (18) and ranked second in passing yards (2,331).

Before the injury, he had started 136 of a possible 138 games since ascending to QB1 with the Washington Commanders in 2015. One of those two missed starts occurred when the Vikings were resting their starters for the playoffs in 2019, and the other came after a positive COVID-19 test in 2021.

Cousins spent three seasons as Washington's full-time starter but never found common ground on a long-term extension. He played his final two seasons with the team on the franchise tag, setting himself up to enter the free agent market in 2018 at age 30 -- a rare entrance of a high-level quarterback available to every NFL team in the prime of his career.

The Vikings, one year removed from backup Case Keenum taking them to the 2017 NFC Championship Game, pounced quickly, hoping he could lift the team to a Super Bowl berth. They met his demand for a fully guaranteed three-year contract worth $84 million and since had signed him to extensions in 2020 and 2022 to provide short-term salary cap relief.

The Vikings did not, however, get closer in their pursuit of the Super Bowl during that time. They had a 50-37-1 regular-season record with one NFC North title and were 1-2 in two playoff games.

As a result, during negotiations in the spring of 2023, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah decided against extending the guaranteed portion of Cousins' contract beyond the 2024 season. Instead, the sides agreed to an adjustment that allowed the Vikings to lower his salary cap number and guaranteed Cousins a path to free agency in 2024 without the Vikings being able to use the franchise tag on him.

The four-time Pro Bowl selection ranks fifth among active quarterbacks -- and 24th all-time -- with 39,471 passing yards in 12 NFL seasons. Cousins' 270 touchdowns rank 20th all time, and he has 110 interceptions. He also has rushed for 958 yards and another 19 scores.

ESPN's Kevin Seifert contributed to this report.