News Analysis: Falcons go all in on Kirk Cousins and Saquon Barkley gets the 'dead to me' treatment

The NFL’s legal-tampering period opened Monday, meaning teams and free agents could start striking deals that can be inked Wednesday at the start of the new league year.

It’s early to start picking winners and losers, but the strategy of the individual clubs is coming into focus, whether they have started acquiring new talent or not.

This early, there’s a lot of tea-leaf reading.

Clearly, the Atlanta Falcons are in win-now mode. They’re going to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins, luring him away from the Minnesota Vikings for a whopping $45 million per season.

Atlanta has good skill-position players, is in a winnable division, the NFC South, and has an 81-year-old owner in Arthur Blank who is ready to do what he can to bring that city its first Lombardi Trophy.

Another intriguing move is the Las Vegas Raiders striking a deal with former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Pairing Wilkins with Maxx Crosby gives the Raiders a formidable front in a division featuring elite quarterbacks in Kansas City and with the Chargers.

That’s a bit of the Seattle Seahawks model, gearing up on defense partly to counter the offensive prowess of the San Francisco 49ers and Rams.

A position to watch in free agency is guard, with the best of those players being paid as much as top offensive tackles. That’s a shift, and we’re already starting to see teams investing more in the interior of their offensive lines.

The Rams, for instance, re-signed guard Kevin Dotson at $16 million per season and are adding former Detroit Lions guard Jonah Jackson.

The Carolina Panthers are signing former Miami Dolphins guard Robert Hunt to a five-year deal worth $100 million.

Generally speaking, it’s more difficult for teams to find game-ready offensive and defensive linemen in the draft than high-caliber receivers and defensive backs. So teams are going to look for those big men in free agency.

A franchise to watch in the coming days is Buffalo. The Bills have dumped a lot of talented players — among them Jordan Poyer, Nyheim Hines and Tre’Davious White — clearing salary-cap space, potentially setting the stage for some type of high-dollar move.

At the other end of the spectrum is the bargain-basement deal the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting on quarterback Russell Wilson, whose one-year contract will pay him $1.21 million for the 2024 season. That’s cheap even for a backup.

But Wilson won’t be hurting. The Denver Broncos are on the hook to pay him the rest of his $39-million deal.

Wilson is joining a team that made playoffs last season, and he has a chance to win the starting job. He was a flop in his two seasons in Denver, but quarterbacks have reinvented themselves for the better late in their careers.

Consider Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. He looked finished when he played for the New York Giants, but got his second wind in Phoenix and wound up leading the Arizona Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance.

In other early quarterback moves, Baker Mayfield re-signed with Tampa Bay, Gardner Minshew is heading to the Raiders, and Jacoby Brissett is going back to where his NFL career started, New England.

There’s a truckload of talented and seasoned safeties available, and inside linebacker is a position that’s trending down in terms of value.

Running back was a position to watch Monday, with Green Bay adding former Raiders standout Josh Jacobs and cutting loose Aaron Jones. The Chargers’ Austin Ekeler is heading to the Washington Commanders — with Baltimore’s Gus Edwards joining the Chargers — Dallas’ Tony Pollard is bound for the Tennessee Titans, and the Chicago Bears landed Philadelphia’s D’Andre Swift.

Most entertaining was the dustup between Saquon Barkley, who is going from the Giants to the rival Philadelphia Eagles, and former Giants star running back Tiki Barber.

On his WFAN radio show, Barber said: “He’s dead to us now. You’re dead to us, Saquon. Good luck, you’re dead to me.”

Barkley shot back on social media, telling Barber, “you been a hater since I got to New York … and all the ‘Dead to me’ talk don’t smile in my face when you see me.”

That’s just Day 1. Certainly more to come.

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