Everyone’s Lost Their Minds Over The Falcons Taking Michael Penix

It speaks volumes that there could be so many interesting storylines to come out of the NFL Draft, but all anyone wanted to talk about in the immediate aftermath of the first round was Michael Penix out of the University of Washington, going 8th overall to the Atlanta Falcons.

What started as “GASP! Penix went in the top 10!” soon devolved into “LOL the Falcons sure are dumb!”

I’ll give it this much: the pick is provocative. The Falcons did, after all, just sign Kirk Cousins to a 4-year, $180 million contract with $100 million of that guaranteed. There’s a Broncos/Russell Wilson-level amount of dead cap in the first two years, followed by a Seahawks/Russell Wilson-level amount of dead cap in the third year, before it gets easier to swallow after that. But, with the NFL in the throes of its Dead Cap Era – with teams being more and more willing to honk off a gigantic amount of cap space towards getting rid of players they no longer want – clearly this is not seen as a significant issue any longer, and we probably shouldn’t use it as an argument for or against anything anymore.

When something big like this happens for some other team’s fanbase, I try to put myself in their shoes and see how they’d feel. Granted, I don’t know a lot about the ins and outs of the Falcons’ franchise. I don’t know what their needs are. They have elite players at wide receiver, tight end, and running back; they have the aforementioned Cousins, the prize of this offseason’s free agent quarterback class. Could they have used, say, the third-best offensive tackle? Could they have used their pick of the best defensive players (all still available at 8)? Could they have traded down for a bounty of picks (after no one ahead of them did so) and really bolstered the rest of their roster? I don’t have the answers for you; any of those options seem like a preferable scenario, if the team truly believed in Kirk Cousins, and was in Win Now mode.

This feels like the Falcons had immediate Buyer’s Remorse with Cousins. He’s on the wrong side of 35, he’s coming off of a devastating injury, and even at his best, it’s not like he was ever considered among the elites. He’s a Very Good NFL Quarterback; you have to really hope there’s some Matthew Stafford in him, to get the kind of production you want. There’s no “value” with Cousins, because he’s leveraged his talents towards costing the absolute most money he could possibly cost; it’s only worth it if he brings you a championship. And, so far for 12 years, he’s failed to do so.

In that sense, I can understand why the Falcons did what they did. They’re trying to set themselves up for as much success as they can. They’re trying to initiate a succession plan. Cousins isn’t going to be there forever. The odds of him finishing out the life of this contract seemed slim-to-none, even before Penix was picked. What happens if he tears another ACL? What happens if he’s just cooked after two years? If the Falcons didn’t have Penix in their back pocket, they’d be in the same spot so many other teams are in: shit out of luck, scrambling to find their next guy. Or, if you will, the same spot they were in after 2021.

They didn’t have a plan for the post-Matt Ryan years. He slowly went downhill over his last few seasons in Atlanta, then he was gone, and in 2022 and 2023, the Falcons had nothing. They scrambled and took Desmond Ridder in the third round in 2022, who is not an NFL quarterback, and they surrounded him with never-was’s like Marcus Mariota and Taylor Heinicke. Granted, the teams around those quarterbacks weren’t very good either – other than the highly-drafted skill position guys they kept taking with every first round pick – but that was an unsustainable way to run a team. They needed to make a splash on the quarterback position, and they did it in spades in 2024.

If I was a Falcons fan, I’d be happy with the choice to take Penix, because I would know – either way – we’ve got a good chance of having success at the quarterback position. After what’s happened since they blew the Super Bowl, shit, give me ALL the quarterbacks!

In a perfect world, of course, the Falcons never would’ve signed Cousins in the first place. But, that would have required them to be in on Penix from the get-go. Clearly, the front office needed to take this time in the offseason to do their due diligence. Had they not signed Cousins, though, then they could’ve used those hundreds of millions of dollars to sign every other free agent out there. And, even if they were worried about Penix falling to them, that was silly. He was never going higher than 8th. If they were really concerned about that, they would’ve traded up.

The only person who deserves to be upset is Penix. He’s a 24 year old rookie, and now he has to sit behind Cousins for a minimum of two years (unless, of course, Cousins gets hurt). That’ll put him at 26 years old, conservatively, before he’s projected to ascend to the starting job. You can point to Aaron Rodgers’ career arc all you want, but he had to sit three years, and he was still only 25 when he took over for Favre.

What happens if Cousins does really well in the next two years? What happens if he sticks for a third season? Then, you’re talking about a 27 year old Penix taking over, and having one year (plus a 5th year option) to try to prove himself. He’s extremely hamstrung in his ability to maximize his second contract, if Cousins ends up panning out. Plus, his development is sure to be stunted, if he has to sit for 2-3 years.

As a Penix lifer, it’s going to suck to watch him have to sit for so long. I’m not one to promote rooting for injuries, so here’s to Kirk Cousins either getting traded or calling it an early career!