Kirk Cousins was just as stunned by the Falcons picking Michael Penix as the rest of us

The No. 8 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft is going to be a legendary case study in football history. As soon as it leaked that Atlanta were selecting Michael Penix Jr. it sent shockwaves through the first round, and left Falcons brass scrambling to justify why they were taking a quarterback after signing Kirk Cousins to a 4-year, $180M deal in free agency.

At best it was a decision made with hubris. At worst a team in dire need of defensive help decided to flush a Top 10 pick down the toilet for no reason at all. The unfortunate side effect is that none of this was Penix Jr’s fault, and now he may need to wait as long as five years before he ever sees the field in a meaningful capacity, all while the football world is laughing at his selection.

We need to take a deep dive into just how bizarre this pick really was, because all the elements that made up this decision are fascinatingly weird.

Kirk Cousins was blindsided by the pick

Cousins took a very real, significant risk by signing with the Falcons. The safe, predictable move was to stay in Minnesota, with offensive weapons he knows he can win with, and hope that a full, injury-free season paired with the Brian Flores defense could put them back on the path to contention.

A major part of the decision to move to Atlanta was money, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t risk here too. The fact is: Cousins took a leap of faith to try and turn around a floundering team desperate to be in win-now mode, and was rewarded by being stunned that the team would take his eventual replacement.

There was always an expectation the Falcons would take a QB at some point during the Cousins’ tenure — but not in year one. Especially not in year one, while knowing they’re going to lose at least one top pick for tampering with Cousins when the NFL hands down its punishment after the draft.

Falcons brass are trying to put lipstick on this pig, and only making it worse

It’s one thing to take Penix as part of a lofty future plan, but another entirely to admit he might not see the field until he’s 28-years-old, while acting like “actually, that’s a good thing.”

Their argument is essentially: “We’re going to be winning so much this pick won’t even matter!” which is a really bold approach when you haven’t won anything yet. This is not the Packers taking Jordan Love at No. 24 with Aaron Rodgers as the starter. It’s a team hoping they can become a playoff staple, and using their draft picks like they’re already arrived when there are major holes that need to be addressed.

The best case scenario is that the Falcons cook for 2-3 years, then have a seamless QB transition plan. The worst case is that this all explodes and everyone is fired.

The Falcons didn’t even work out Penix before the draft

Perhaps the wildest part of this whole pick is that despite professing their love for Penix, and starting in their post-draft presser that he was “too good to pass up,” there’s not a lot of evidence the Falcons really scouted him fully.

Perhaps this was a galaxy brain, 4D chess move to ensure nobody in the league knew the Falcons were planning on taking Penix, but there comes a point where the act of subterfuge can’t come at the expense of being a sensible football organization. While it’s possible you can learn enough about a prospect off film and a short meeting alone, we can say that unequivocally that the Falcons did much less draft prep on Penix than the average team does with a first round quarterback.

This is all about the pick, and not the player

We can be wildly critical of how and why the Falcons did this without dragging Michael Penix. Yes, there’s some concern about his durability with his history of injuries — but when healthy he’s a phenomenal passer worthy of a first round pick.

The difficulty is simply reconciling that with a scenario where he won’t see an NFL field for years. Penix is one of the more NFL-ready quarterbacks in this class, and yet he’ll be forced to ride the bench for years, like he’s someone who needs to be completely overhauled.

These are all the factors in one of the weirdest picks in recent memory. One that didn’t make any sense, was questionable in its forethought, and it’s execution. It won’t doom the Falcons even if this was a massive miss, but not getting an impact player right now hurts their ability to win in the immediate future.

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