Expert Analysis


5 min read

Michael Penix Jr. Selection Sends Terrible Message to NFL Veterans

Upper-body image of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (in a maroon suit and tie and light red shirt) seated at a table with microphones in front of a black background with the Falcons' logo
Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick quarterback Michael Penix Jr talks to the media at a press conference introducing him at the Falcons training complex. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

"That's it. I'm not going up there once the entire offseason," one starter told me when I called him in 2005 to tell him the news that the Buffalo Bills had released our quarterback, Drew Bledsoe.

"Unbelievable. They're not even giving us a chance," another said.

The news of Bledsoe's release wasn't well received by my teammates and me — to put it mildly. We had won nine of our last 12 games to close out the 2004 season. Even though we barely missed out on a playoff berth, we felt strongly we were as good as anyone and were excited about running it back for the 2005 season.

Unfortunately, the organization felt differently. Not surprisingly, the Bills limped to a 5-11 record in 2005, and the head coach and general manager were fired.

Why does that story matter in 2024? 

The Atlanta Falcons, albeit under unique circumstances and in a different way, just made it clear to all their players that they don't believe the team is a legit contender this season. Thus, they aren't trying to do whatever they can to help this team win games in 2024.

Why Did the Falcons Draft Penix?

Frankly, there is no other way to look at it if you're stalwart LT Jake Matthews and you broke the franchise record for consecutive starts — with 161 and counting — last season. Or if you're Pro Bowl DT Grady Jarrett and are rehabbing the torn ACL you suffered in the middle of last season.

These vets, and others like them, are well aware of their football mortality. Matthews is entering Year 11, while Jarrett is set to crack the double-digit mark. 

While these two — or others like them — are unlikely to say anything negative about the move publicly, you better believe they feel like the organization just gave them the two-fingered salute by selecting Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Instead of Atlanta taking the top defensive player on the board or, even better, trading down with teams that reportedly tried to trade up, like the Las Vegas Raiders or the New Orleans Saints, and still getting the best defensive player in the draft, the Falcons drafted a quarterback in the top 10 a month after giving veteran QB Kirk Cousins $100 million fully guaranteed for the next three years as part of a four-year, $180 million contract.

Right after the organization showed players in March that it wanted to win, it turned around and demonstrated in April that winning is less of a priority. That's part of the irony with this decision. 

Even the people who support the "succession planning" by Falcons GM Terry Fontenot fail to realize it's not "planning" to allocate that many concurrent resources to the same position. 

Suppose Atlanta had done the work by early March to realize it liked Penix. In that case, there is absolutely no way the team should have given a soon-to-be-36-year-old quarterback coming off a torn Achilles tendon that kind of contract while a 24-year-old rookie coming off six seasons of college football waits in the wings for at least two seasons.

Michael Penix Jr. drops back
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. looks to pass against Michigan during the first half of the national championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

What's Next for Atlanta?

What makes the selection even more maddening from a player's perspective is the Falcons are the clear-cut betting favorite to win the NFC South. They were a quarterback away from winning the division last year, and now they have a good one in Cousins. Why focus on 2026 and beyond when 2024 and 2025 have the potential to be so promising?

Remember, the franchise last went to the playoffs in 2017. That is a long drought for any team, but especially for a group that won playoff games and was up 28-3 in the Super Bowl while Matthews and Jarrett were already on the team.

Instead of using the No. 8 pick to give this year's squad an even better chance to end that drought, Atlanta made a move that will likely only benefit the general manager, head coach and a handful of players on this year's team. And that's if Penix even ends up being good! 

He could stink and make this horrendous decision even worse than it already is.

This move is the NFL equivalent of being sellers at the MLB trade deadline instead of giving the locker room a jolt by adding another arm to the pitching staff or a bat in the lineup. Instead of Atlanta cementing itself as the NFC South frontrunner with a legitimate chance to make a run in the playoffs, the team essentially picked up a prospect to be named later — except in this instance; it already knows his name.

Everybody knows his name, which is another problem the Falcons' brass clearly needed to think through.

What happens when Cousins has a bad game or two this year or next? If you don't think some fans and media will start calling for Penix to be the starter, you're naïve — that's how it works when you take a player that high.

What's done is done, but all this selection did is make Raheem Morris' first season as the team's coach that much harder. I can picture him telling the guys at the start of training camp how excited he is for this season and about his belief that they can do extraordinary things this year.

Sure, Coach. Sure.