Atlanta Falcons pick QB Michael Penix Jr. in NFL Draft. Current starter Kirk Cousins’ camp ‘had no idea’ of surprise move

The Atlanta Falcons surprised the NFL world on Thursday, selecting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with the No. 8 pick in the 2024 Draft.

The move got NFL observers talking given the Falcons’ evident defensive needs and that the team recently signed Kirk Cousins to a huge deal to be their new starting quarterback.

In March, the 36-year-old Cousins signed a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million in guarantees with Atlanta, in a move seemingly designed to correct some years of disappointment.

However, when the Falcons’ first pick of this year’s draft came, the team decided to add a young player to the quarterback roster in the form of Penix Jr.

Before the pick was announced, Cousins’ agent Mike McCartney posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Bout to be shocked.”

McCartney later told NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo that the pick “was a big surprise” to Cousins’ camp.

“We had no idea this was coming. The truth is the whole league had no idea this was coming,” McCartney said. “We got no heads up. Kirk got a call from the Falcons when they were on the clock. That was the first we heard. It never came up in conversation.”

Speaking to the media after the first round, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Raheem Morris were keen to stress that Cousins was their starting quarterback.

They also expressed their excitement in having someone to help them win right now in the former Minnesota Vikings QB, while also being able to build for the future with Penix Jr.

The front office duo explained that the decision was made as they hope to not be drafting this close to the top of the draft in coming years, and that they thought it best to take advantage of their top 10 pick to address future quarterback options.

Morris said that Cousins’ reaction when he was informed that the team would be selecting Penix Jr. would remain private.

“He got called on the clock, obviously, because of the sensitive time with the issues of what you got going on,” Morris said.

“It’s never a right time to talk to a quarterback about those things. And reactions are always going to be private when it comes to those things, unless Kirk decides to tell you some of those things that are whatever they may be.

“But he’s a competitor, just like us all. And you can always expect those things to go just like you kind of think.”

Cousins speaks to the media in his introductory press conference after signing for the Falcons. - Mike Stewart/AP
Cousins speaks to the media in his introductory press conference after signing for the Falcons. - Mike Stewart/AP

‘The Green Bay model’

Both Fontenot and Morris referenced “the Green Bay model” as evidence for their quarterback strategy on Thursday.

The Packers did something similar in 2020 when they drafted quarterback Jordan Love in the first round, despite having Aaron Rodgers on the books.

Rodgers publicly grumbled about the selection, but it seemed to inspire him, with the now New York Jets QB going onto win back-to-back MVP awards while Love sat on the sidelines.

When Rodgers left for New York in 2023, Love stepped into the starting role after three seasons as a back-up and had immediate success, guiding the Packers to the playoffs in his first season at the helm.

Love started all 17 games and completed 64.2% of his passes for 4,159 yards and 32 touchdowns.

The Falcons are hoping a similar tactic works for them, now that Cousins and Penix Jr. are at the franchise.

“You’re talking about a guy that’s had a lot of success in the National Football League [in Cousins], and you’re talking about a young man coming into the league [in Penix],” Morris said.

Penix Jr. performs in the 2024 NFL Combine. - Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
Penix Jr. performs in the 2024 NFL Combine. - Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

“[Penix] is going to be hungry. He’s going to be eager to learn and just have a certain desire that it takes to sit back and learn. I watched Kirk do it. Now, it’s Michael’s time to do it.

“You can’t put that on Kirk. Kirk’s job is just to be a professional. Kirk will show him the way by how he goes about his daily business every single day, and Michael will get a chance to see that firsthand. I think that’s really a good thing for a young player.”

Penix Jr. is coming off two stellar seasons with Washington. Last year, he was the first FBS player to pass for 4,500-plus yards in back-to-back seasons since Patrick Mahomes did so in 2015-16.

Although the 24-year-old enters the league with obvious qualities, his durability has been a question mark after suffering four season-ending injuries at Indiana before moving to Washington.

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