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Winners and losers from NFL’s tampering rulings: Falcons avoid major discipline, Giants fans may be sour again

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The NFL made rulings on two high-profile tampering investigations Thursday: The Atlanta Falcons were disciplined for an “improper” courtship of new quarterback Kirk Cousins, while the Philadelphia Eagles were cleared of alleged wrongdoing for their own addition of running back Saquon Barkley.

So which parties were the real winners and losers of Thursday’s announcements? Let’s review:

Winner: Atlanta Falcons

Wait, really? The team publicly outed for tampering with Cousins? General manager Terry Fontenot probably isn’t jumping for joy over his $50,000 fine, but consider the big picture here: The NFL declared that Atlanta had direct, impermissible contact with not only Cousins but two other free agents — wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Charlie Woerner — during the pre-free agency negotiating period, which is expressly prohibited. All three players ended up signing with the team. And yet all the Falcons are forfeiting is a 2025 fifth-round draft pick. “Minimal” as their violations may have been, reportedly occurring after players had likely agreed to terms on contracts via their agents, this is like ordering an ice-cream sundae and then being told you simply can’t have the cherry on top. Just two years ago, remember, the Miami Dolphins were stripped of first- and third-round picks (!), and their owner fined $1.5 million, for allegedly tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton from 2019-2021, and neither Brady nor Payton even ended up joining the team.

This isn’t to suggest the Vikings would’ve kept Cousins had the Falcons not improperly communicated with the signal-caller during the negotiating window. By that point, frankly, Minnesota had probably pivoted to a post-Cousins strategy, preparing for its eventual quarterback double dip: Sam Darnold in free agency, J.J. McCarthy in the draft. But it has to sting a little bit that the Falcons are getting off fairly easily for their violation, especially considering Atlanta also went on to steal a potential first-round quarterback in Michael Penix Jr. The NFL’s tampering investigations are also set up in a way that only benefit “offended clubs” if said teams directly initiate an investigation, which is why the league — not Minnesota, Cousins’ former employer — gets Atlanta’s draft pick for the violation.

Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles moved quickly to lure Saquon Barkley from the rival New York Giants, but it wasn’t really until Barkley’s former college coach, Penn State’s James Franklin, mistakenly hinted of tampering while discussing the move that the NFL appeared to take interest in a potential violation. Cleared of wrongdoing, the Birds can now at least avoid excess drama while entering an already high-pressure season for coach Nick Sirianni and Co. The Eagles’ big-money bets on former division rivals haven’t always gone smoothly (see: DeMarco Murray), so erasing an early black mark on the Barkley partnership is a step in the right direction. Now all eyes will be on whether the Pro Bowler can live up to his big deal on the field.

Loser: New York Giants fans

A slew of Giants fans had harsh words for Barkley on social media after the former No. 2 overall draft pick bolted for the rival Eagles, even though New York reportedly failed to offer the running back a new contract. It no doubt still hurts plenty of Big Blue faithful to see the ex-Giants star now wearing green. Now, with the Eagles avoiding tampering charges, those same fans have lost a final opportunity to poke and prod at the intra-divisional swap. Had the Eagles been penalized, for example, New York would’ve had additional fuel for its distaste of Barkley and/or the Birds, holding the alleged violation over the partnership for the 2024 season and perhaps beyond. Instead, they’ll simply have to watch Barkley play against them — and watch him do it after a completely legal relocation.

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Author: Cody Benjamin
June 13, 2024 | 12:15 pm

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