The Vikings and Falcons Ended Up Indirectly Swapping Picks In This Year's Draft

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks before the draft, Mike Florio speculated whether the NFL would make the Atlanta Falcons swap picks with the Minnesota Vikings because Atlanta tampered with Kirk Cousins.

“What if the punishment is as simple as the Falcons and Vikings flip-flopping the two picks?” Florio wrote. “The NFL set the precedent last year with the sudden and unexpected news of the Cardinals-Eagles settlement. It would make sense for it to happen again, between the Falcons and the Vikings.”

At his introductory press conference, Cousins said he spoke with various people in the Falcons organization, including Atlanta’s head trainer and head of public relations. Unbeknownst to him, Cousins had revealed that the Falcons had contacted him before the NFL’s legal tampering period, which is against league rules.

Florio’s speculation never came to fruition. Atlanta shocked everyone by taking Michael Penix with the eighth-overall pick after signing Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract. The Vikings traded up to take J.J. McCarthy (10th-overall) and Dallas Turner (17th), expending much of their draft capital.

The Falcons drafted a potential franchise quarterback months after signing Cousins, upsetting his agent. Minnesota drafted the player many pundits, including Daniel Jeremiah and Mel Kiper, had Atlanta taking in the draft. Indirectly and surprisingly, they swapped picks, and the Vikings may end up with the better end of this inadvertent deal.

Atlanta didn’t escape punishment. On June 13, the NFL announced that they had fined the Falcons $250,000 and docked them a fifth-round pick in 2025 for tampering with Cousins. However, the league didn’t reward Minnesota with a pick because the Vikings didn’t file a grievance.

The Vikings likely didn’t have much reason to complain to the league. By guaranteeing Cousins $100 million, Atlanta ostensibly signed him to a two-and-a-half-year deal, longer than Minnesota was willing to go. Furthermore, the Vikings signed Jonathan Greenard, Blake Cashman, and Andrew Van Ginkel shortly after the legal tampering window opened. Speculatively, they had those deals in place before the legal tampering period, allowing them to meaningfully bolster their defense.

Tampering in the NFL is a little like Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. NFL teams notoriously tamper with each other’s free agents during the combine, and there are some benefits for both sides. The combine chatter allows teams to gauge the market for their players and line up contracts to ensure they don’t leave the legal tampering period after the combine empty-handed.

Minnesota’s tactic this offseason has been to create the perfect scenario for a rookie quarterback to thrive in. By giving Brian Flores more weapons, the defense should improve and take pressure off the offense. The Vikings also re-signed Justin Jefferson, added Aaron Jones, and maintained continuity along the offensive line. They signed Sam Darnold to a bridge deal and reportedly are comfortable with him starting the entire season.

The Vikings worked quickly this offseason to rebuild a roster they feel will be competitive in the NFC North while creating a pathway for McCarthy to succeed as their franchise quarterback.

However, it will be a tricky balancing act. The NFC North has improved considerably in the past year. Jordan Love has emerged as the Green Bay Packers franchise quarterback, and the Detroit Lions reached the NFC Championship last season. The Chicago Bears drafted Caleb Williams, their quarterback of the future, and have the necessary cap space to build a competitive roster around him.

Minnesota is off to a promising start, though. Quarterback and defensive end are the foundation of any winning football team, and they landed McCarthy and Turner in the draft. Furthermore, they’ve surrounded them with veterans and an accomplished coaching staff. The Vikings didn’t get to swap picks with Atlanta in the draft, but they got the next best thing. By taking Penix and passing on Hunter, the Falcons allowed Minnesota to draft two cornerstone players at premium positions.

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