Atlanta Falcons hope to get some bang for their buck from former Alabama high school star
Atlanta Falcons hope to get some bang for their buck from former Alabama high school star

Contract amounts for wide receivers have increased so much this offseason that Amari Cooper of the Cleveland Browns – once the only NFL player at that position with an annual salary of $20 million – feels underpaid by that amount.

With that in mind, the three-year, $39 million deal that Darnell Mooney signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in March doesn’t seem like such a big deal. His contract value ranks 25th among NFL wide receivers, and his $17.51 ​​million salary for the 2024 season ranks 23rd.

But in the previous two seasons, Mooney had recorded 71 pass catches for 907 yards and three touchdowns, and 57 other wide receivers surpassed Mooney’s totals in all three stats in the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

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Mooney, a former Gadsden City High School standout and fifth-round pick out of Tulane in the 2020 NFL Draft, had 61 receptions for 631 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie and 81 receptions for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns for the Chicago Bears in 2021.

In his first two seasons, Mooney was targeted 238 times in 33 games. In his last two seasons, Mooney was targeted 122 times in 27 games.

“Everything in life is a learning curve, so it’s just a learning experience,” Mooney said of his four seasons with the Bears. “Obviously there have been changes, and I don’t really try to worry about the past. I worry about what is now. …

“I don’t even want to talk about what I’m going to do. I just want to go out there and prove it, so there’s nothing to say. Plus, my goal every year is to dominate, and with this playbook, this quarterback and this style of offense, I think that’s a good thing for all the receivers on this team.”

Mooney said NFL teams that spent big on wide receivers this offseason paid for “experience.”

“When you have someone who has been successful in the league, they have that confidence,” Mooney said, “and it’s not something you have to build up, you just know you can do good things in the league. When you have that confidence, you can take your team as far as the (offensive coordinator) and the quarterback put the ball in front of you. Once you have that confidence, you can go from there.”

In 2023, Atlanta had only one wide receiver who caught more than 18 passes – Drake London with 69 caught passes for 905 yards and two touchdowns.

The Falcons added to their wide receiver room around London in the offseason, but Mooney and Rondale Moore are the only two new additions who had more than 12 NFL receptions in 2023. Moore had 40 receptions for 353 yards and a touchdown for the Arizona Cardinals, who traded him to Atlanta in exchange for quarterback Desmond Ridder.

“He’s a player that plays deep and gets yards per catch,” Falcons wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard said of Mooney. “He’s an excellent route runner. He’s very, very instinctive. Great hands. Great after the catch. I think you’ll see some unique routes from him that you haven’t seen in years past.”

The improved wide receiver lineup is just one of the reasons the Falcons hope to field a more powerful offense in 2024 than they did in 2023. Last season, Atlanta ranked 26th among 32 NFL teams in points, yards and passing touchdowns.

For this season, the Falcons have a new head coach in Raheem Morris, a new offensive coordinator in Zac Robinson and a new quarterback in Kirk Cousins.

At 18, Cousins ​​had one more touchdown pass than Atlanta last season while only appearing in eight games with the Minnesota Vikings due to injury.

Cousins ​​said the new additions are in Atlanta for one reason, among others, after six seasons without the Falcons making the playoffs.

“It’s all about winning,” Cousins ​​said. “That really influences a lot of decisions. And even when I recruited Darnell Mooney to come here, his response was, ‘I just want to win.’ And I said, ‘Well, we’re on the same page.'”

As the Vikings’ quarterback, Cousins ​​had closely followed Mooney’s career with the NFC North rival Bears and said he stepped in to make the deal with Mooney on behalf of the Falcons’ front office.

“They said, ‘We’re close,'” Cousins ​​said. “And I said, ‘Well, let me call him.’ This guy is the real deal. I saw him twice a year in Minnesota in the division.”

Cousins ​​said he was “thrilled” that Atlanta was able to sign Mooney.

“Mooney has incredible movement skills,” Cousins ​​said. “Great hands. He cares about football. He works with an intensity of intent that you don’t often see in players.”

Mooney was selected to the All-State team in 2015 at Gadsden City, when he caught 37 passes for 697 yards and nine touchdowns and returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns.

In four seasons at Tulane, Mooney had 154 receptions for 2,572 yards and 19 touchdowns.

The Falcons are scheduled to arrive for training camp on July 24 at the team’s practice facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Atlanta begins its three-game preseason against the Miami Dolphins on August 9 and opens the regular season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 8.

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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.

By Aurora