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What we learned from Raheem Morris, Terry Fontenot at Annual League Meeting

The Falcons' head coach and general manager spoke for the first time since the start of the new league year in Orlando, Florida. 

ORLANDO, Fla. -- For the first time since the start of the new league year, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Raheem Morris were made available to the media Tuesday at the Annual League Meeting. This comes after the Falcons made arguably the biggest free agency move of the offseason, signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a multi-year deal valued at $180 million. 

Between conversations with Fontenot and Morris in Orlando, Florida, they tackled the decision to acquire Cousins, along with a handful of speedy receivers, trade Desmond Ridder and much more.

Here's a snapshot of those conversations.


Acquiring Kirk Cousins

There were no ifs, ands or buts about it from Fontenot or Morris: Getting Cousins? That was the move of the offseason. 

"If you have a quarterback, you have a chance," Morris said. "And Kirk Cousins, getting him in free agency, that was a big up for us. It was a big move for us, it was huge for us. It gives us the best chance to win football games and go out there and compete every single weekend with the experience that he brings, the knowledge that he brings."

Fontenot said Cousins was identified early on as a high-priority free agent based on a number of factors: his previous relationship with Morris from their Washington days, his experience level and his history working within a Sean McVay-inspired offense. Combine all those things with the person, Fontenot said, and it was a fit.

"We identified him as that person," the Falcons general manager said.

Selling him to join the Falcons roster was the next step.

As always, Morris said, money talks. But he would be remiss if he didn't mention the foundation already in place as a selling point for the Cousins acquisition. It was the Falcons, presenting their best selves to Cousins, that helped seal the deal.

"Obviously, it comes down to how much money you can pay a guy and what those markets are, but I think all of those things really came into place for him at the time, along with our team," Morris said. "Terry has done a good job of selling our team. You're talking about Bijan Robinson. You're talking about Kyle Pitts. You're talking about Drake London. You're talking about our offensive line, what they've done. … They've done a good job of selling protection. They've done a good job of having playmakers here. It sold it for us."

And yes, Fontenot said, because of all of this, there's reason to be excited. He feels it.

"To bring a player like that -- knowing the mindset, the mentality, the leadership; all those areas -- we know he's going to be a multiplier for us," Fontenot said of Cousins. "We have a lot of good, young talent on offense. We have a really good offensive line that's chomping at the bit. So, now, you bring in a player like that, we know he's going to be a multiplier, so yes, there is excitement right now."

Conversations with Calais Campbell

One of the Falcons' most obvious needs now that they've acquired a starting quarterback and a handful of receivers can be found on the defensive line, particularly coming off the edge. So, it made sense Calais Campbell's name came up in pass-rush conversations at owners' meetings. Campbell was one of the most effective pass-rushers for the Falcons in 2023, tying Bud Dupree for a team-leading 6.5 sacks.

Campbell signed a one-year deal with the Falcons last offseason, so when the new league year began two weeks ago, Campbell officially became a free agent. However, it seems Morris wouldn't be opposed to reuniting Campbell with a Falcons uniform in 2024.

Morris said he and Campbell have spoken, particularly about the longtime veteran's future in Atlanta. Though Morris said he wanted to keep much of that conversation private, he was willing to say there is a vision in place if Campbell would like to remain with the Falcons.

In essence, Morris appears hopeful.

"I look forward to getting a chance to sit in front of him because he's as impressive as it get when it comes to football character," Morris said. "He's had as impressive of a career as you can have. (There's) stuff that he still brings to the game, to us, moving forward, and I look forward to discussing that in detail with him at a later date."

Parting ways with Desmond Ridder, sticking with Taylor Heinicke

The Falcons packaged Ridder to the Arizona Cardinals when the new league year began, acquiring wide receiver Rondale Moore in the process. The same day, it was reported Heinicke's $1.32 million roster bonus was paid out, essentially confirming the Falcons' plan to stick with the journeyman while parting ways with a 2022 draft pick. It was a move that didn't save the Falcons much space by way of the cap, but it was a decision Morris and Fontenot felt conviction in.

For starters, the new coaching staff did have conversations about what their vision for Ridder would be. However, when teams came calling, the Falcons listened. Fontenot said there were a few teams that reached out to them to inquire about a trade. They ultimately believed what the Cardinals were offering (i.e. a young, speedy receiver) was what they needed.

Morris was very candid in saying Ridder never came to the Falcons demanding a trade when they acquired Cousins. If anything, Morris said, Ridder continued his business as normal, something Morris respected.

"He was in, working out, doing things he was supposed to do," Morris said. "The opportunity presented itself for him to get a new start, and an opportunity presented itself to us to add speed to our room and do some things with our receivers. ... I am excited for him to get a fresh start. I am excited for us to get a fresh start at wideout, get some speed in our room and develop some things. I think the trade married up for both of us."

As for Heinicke, Morris said his experience was something the organization continued to value enough to keep him on the roster.

"I don't want to limit him to what he can be, but he has shown he's been an elite backup in this league," Morris said. "You're talking about a guy who can come into the game and win you the game until your starter gets back, then -- boom -- not miss a beat. (He did) not need the reps required to go out there and play and execute. He's shown all those things."

The needs as they stand

The Falcons are in need of reinforcements at premium positions, Fontenot said. Three of those top needs now that the first wave of free agency is over? Pass rush, cornerback and quarterback.

Yes, still quarterback.

Fontenot and Morris agreed the Falcons are still in the market for a quarterback despite the moves of the last month. They need a No. 3 -- or at least someone to compete with Heinicke for the backup role. You don't pay Cousins the money the Falcons did if he's not QB1. That's obvious, Morris said. But neither Falcons decision-maker outright said Heinicke was Cousins' backup. The conversation was he would compete for that spot.

As for defense, neither Morris nor Fontenot will ever say they don't need more destructive bodies in pass rush or sticky coverage on the backend. You're always looking for pressure players, they agreed. And they do see value in the depth the draft provides with young players at both the edge rusher and cornerback positions.

The expectation -- as Fontenot and Morris presented it -- is the Falcons will add youth, specifically, at both of these positions.

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