Falcons Draft Michael Penix Jr.: Kirk Cousins ‘Stunned’ by Atlanta’s First-Round Pick

The Falcons shockingly selected QB Michael Penix Jr. eighth overall in the 2024 NFL Draft. Here's why Atlanta might've made an error in Round 1.

The Atlanta Falcons stunned the NFL Draft world by selecting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth overall pick on Thursday night.

Not only did the Falcons use their first-round selection on a QB just weeks after handing Kirk Cousins a four-year deal worth $45 million annually, but they skipped over fellow signal-caller J.J. McCarthy — widely rated as a better prospect — to take Penix.

Why the Falcons Erred By Drafting QB Michael Penix Jr.

Atlanta made Cousins its top priority on the first day of free agency, signing him to a four-year, $180 million contract that includes $90 million in guaranteed money.

His salaries in 2024 ($12.5 million) and 2025 ($27.5 million) are fully guaranteed. If the Falcons try to release Cousins after the 2024 season, they’d be on the hook for $65 million in dead money and cost themselves $25 million in net cap space. Even a post-June 1 cut would leave $40 million in dead cap on Atlanta’s books.

Barring an absolute collapse, Cousins should be the Falcons’ starting quarterback for a minimum of the next two seasons, which makes using the No. 8 pick on Penix or any other QB a mistake.

MORE: Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft Grades 2024

Even if the Falcons were in love with Penix’s talent, there was simply too much opportunity cost here for Atlanta to select him this high.

Part of the benefit of drafting a rookie quarterback is having the ability to build up a roster around him while he’s on an affordable contract. But the Falcons won’t be able to take advantage of Penix’s cheap salary because Cousins will carry an average cap charge of $32.5 million over the next two years.

Atlanta wanting to find Cousins’ eventual successor makes sense — in the second or third round. But the Falcons’ roster is ready to win now.

It’s hard to justify general manager Terry Fontenot’s planning for the future instead of adding a rookie who could’ve made an immediate impact, like WR Rome Odunze, DT Byron Murphy II, or pass rusher Dallas Turner.

Even if Atlanta was dead set on taking a quarterback at No. 8, Penix is a strange choice. He’s universally rated below McCarthy, who was still on the board and eventually taken two picks later by the Minnesota Vikings.

Penix is also an older prospect who spent six years in college and will turn 24 in less than two weeks. Assuming he takes over as the Falcons’ starter in 2026, Penix will be a 26-year-old de facto rookie.

As if Atlanta could have erred any further, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah reported that Cousins “was not given a heads-up” on the Falcons’ plans to draft Penix.

“Yes, it was a big surprise,” Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, said via Mike Garafolo of NFL Network. “We had no idea this was coming. The truth is the whole league had no idea this was coming.

“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 any conversation.”

The Athletic’s Dianna Russini indicated that Cousins knew the Falcons were considering a quarterback in this draft but did not think the club would take his successor in the first round. Although Atlanta contacted Cousins once they were on the clock, he was “a bit stunned,” per Russini.

While everyone in the organization might say the right things in the coming days, how will the 35-year-old Cousins feel about having a top-10 rookie breathing down his neck?

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