The iron-molybdenum cofactor (FeMoco) of the nitrogenase MoFe protein is a highly complex metallocluster that provides the catalytically essential site for biological nitrogen fixation. FeMoco is assembled outside the MoFe protein in a stepwise process requiring several components, including NifB-co, an iron- and sulfur-containing FeMoco precursor, and NifEN, an intermediary assembly protein on which NifB-co is presumably converted to FeMoco. Through the comparison of Azotobacter vinelandii strains expressing the NifEN protein in the presence or absence of the nifB gene, the structure of a NifEN-bound FeMoco precursor has been analyzed by x-ray absorption spectroscopy. The results provide physical evidence to support a mechanism for FeMoco biosynthesis. The NifEN-bound precursor is found to be a molybdenum-free analog of FeMoco and not one of the more commonly suggested cluster types based on a standard [4Fe–4S] architecture. A facile scheme by which FeMoco and alternative, non-molybdenum-containing nitrogenase cofactors are constructed from this common precursor is presented that has important implications for the biosynthesis and biomimetic chemical synthesis of FeMoco.