Kirk Cousins ‘Stunned’ By Falcons’ Decision To Draft Michael Penix Jr.

Upon signing Kirk Cousins, the Falcons informed him they were planning to take a quarterback in the later rounds. Just before the team decided to shift course, the high-priced free agency pickup received a rather important phone call.

The Falcons did inform their $45MM-per-year quarterback they were planning to use the No. 8 overall pick on Michael Penix Jr. They did so upon going on the clock. But the longtime Vikings starter is believed to have been stunned by his new team’s decision, The Athletic’s Dianna Russini reports.

[RELATED: Arthur Blank Played Role In Falcons’ Penix Pick]

As should be expected, Cousins is concerned this pick does not help the Falcons for the 2024 season, according to Russini (subscription required). Viewed at points as a potential late-first-round prospect, Penix did become connected to the Falcons early this week. But the team’s decision to follow up the Cousins contract — which includes a $100MM practical guarantee, one that ties the 35-year-old passer to Atlanta through 2026 — by selecting the recent national championship game starter was easily the most surprising first-round move.

He got called on the clock, obviously because of the sensitive time with the issues of what you got going on,” Falcons HC Raheem Morris said of the team’s decision to notify Cousins. “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.”

It is not unusual for teams to follow up free agency acquisitions with first-round QB picks, but those moves generally come after a team added a bridge-type passer on the market. Cousins is not that, and an unusual setup is now in place in which Penix learns on the job — potentially for multiple seasons. The Packers are the only team in the fifth-year option era to park a first-round passer for multiple years, but Jordan Love arrived as a No. 26 overall pick. With Penix going eighth, this marks new territory for QB commitment.

Atlanta’s No. 8 draft slot played a key role in the team’s logic here, as Morris said the team views it as unlikely — based largely on Cousins’ status — it will be picking in the top 10 again anytime soon. This is a common refrain among teams, though the Falcons have held a top-10 pick in each of Terry Fontenot‘s four offseasons as GM. Their odds to win the NFC South did improve after Cousins’ arrival, but Penix will probably not move the needle for 2024.

Kirk Cousins our quarterback. We are very excited about Kirk and this team,” Fontenot said, via The Athletic’s Josh Kendall. “We’re very excited about that quarterback room. Kirk is our quarterback. Adding Michael Penix is thinking about the future.”

The Falcons were confident in last season’s Division I-FBS passing leader throughout the pre-draft process, per’s Pete Thamel, who adds the team sent an eight-man contingent — which included Morris, GM Terry Fontenot and OC Zac Robinson — to Seattle to meet with the standout southpaw.

Penix did not take a “30” visit to Atlanta, Russini adds, though the sides had scheduled a meeting in March. While it is less common for a team to make this sort of investment without going through with a visit, that move could have tripped alarms around the league. That said, Penix was highly unlikely to be chosen before the Falcons went on the clock at 8 regardless of his visit schedule.

Coaches were viewed as generally higher than scouts on Penix, with some mechanical issues impacting thet deep-ball maven’s stock. He should have plenty of time to iron those out. Sean Payton said Thursday night he believed the Raiders were targeting Penix, and they had been linked to the Washington prospect. But their plans may well have changed when the Falcons doubled down at the game’s premier position.

Expected to devote the No. 8 choice to defense, the Falcons will be tasked with addressing that side of the ball beginning tonight. Not using No. 8 overall to help a Cousins-led team does create an uphill battle on the roster-building front. Their timeline with Cousins will be fascinating now, as the team will not stand to benefit much from Penix’s rookie contract thanks to the Cousins commitment. The Falcons gave Cousins a no-trade clause, according to OverTheCap’s Jason Fitzgerald, who adds it would cost $35MM for Atlanta to cut ties with the veteran in 2026.

The Packers did not benefit much from Love’s rookie deal, stashing him behind Aaron Rodgers — which created a few headlines during the four-time MVP’s final Green Bay years — for three seasons. That blueprint also involved the Pack trading up for a 21-year-old QB; Penix will turn 24 in May. Green Bay is the only team to execute an extended-runway plan at QB since the 2011 CBA reshaped roster building; it will be interesting to see how the Falcons’ Cousins-Penix effort goes.

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