Penix: I had 'good conversation' with Cousins

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Kirk Cousins and Michael Penix Jr. spoke on the phone Thursday night after the Atlanta Falcons stunningly took Penix with the No. 8 pick in the NFL draft.

Penix, who led the Washington Huskies to the national championship game last season, said that Cousins reached out to him and that the two quarterbacks had a “very good conversation,” although he did not disclose specifics about what they spoke about.

“I’m going to keep it just between me and him right now,” Penix said Friday at a news conference at the Falcons’ facility. “But it was definitely a good conversation, and I’m super excited to work with him, and he said he’s the same with me.”

Falcons coach Raheem Morris described the call between Cousins and Penix as “a pretty cool outing by both of those guys to have the empathy and the humility to talk to each other about what was going to happen and how [Cousins] talked about his support.”

The Falcons signed Cousins last month to a four-year, $180 million contract that includes $100 million of guaranteed money. Atlanta’s decision to draft a quarterback with its top-10 pick drew surprise, including from Cousins himself.

Cousins was not informed that the Falcons would take a quarterback until they called him while the team was on the clock Thursday night. Mike McCartney, Cousins’ agent, told ESPN’s Pete Thamel that there was frustration and confusion coming from Cousins’ camp because Atlanta didn’t use its first-round pick to make the team better in 2024. Instead, the Falcons used the selection on Cousins’ apparent successor before Cousins had even played a down for the team.

McCartney said that Cousins understands the business of football and is ready to move on, but that there was indeed surprise about the Falcons’ decision.

“He got called on the clock, obviously because of the sensitive time with the issues of what you got going on,” Morris said Thursday night. “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.”

Falcons GM Terry Fontenot said Friday that after picking Penix at No. 8, the Falcons tried to be “very aggressive” and trade back into the first round — having conversations from pick No. 9 all the way to No. 32. The initial plan was to get an edge rusher, according to Fontenot, though those plans evolved as the first round wore on.

“How close were we [to get back into the first round]? We felt there were times that we were close — look, we made some pretty big offers,” Fontenot said.

Morris joked that the attempted movements caused the staff to miss the team’s scheduled dinner.

“And then when we left here, there was no food,” Fontenot said. We were walking around the building looking for food.

Penix said he watched the “Quarterback” series on Netflix, which featured Cousins, whom he called an “amazing guy.”

“I’m super blessed to be able to be in a room with him and to be able to work with him and learn from him and support him as he continues with his career,” Penix said.

Fontenot said Thursday that when a team sees a quarterback it believes in, it cannot pass up the opportunity and that that was the mindset with taking Penix at No. 8 when Atlanta still had plenty of other needs to fill for 2024, including bolstering an anemic pass rush.

Fontenot and Morris said it was essentially Penix or bust in terms of drafting a quarterback in the first round. J.J. McCarthy and Bo Nix were drafted after Penix as part of a record-tying six quarterbacks taken in Round 1. If Penix wasn’t available at No. 8, Morris said “it would have been a different position.”

The Falcons did trade up, but not until the second round for the third straight year, getting pick No. 35 from the Arizona Cardinals and taking versatile defensive lineman Ruke Orhorhoro. With the No. 74 pick in the third round, Atlanta selected Penix’s Washington teammate Bralen Trice, a touted pass-rusher.

Fontenot and Morris painted Penix as the quarterback of the future, following Cousins.

“If you believe in a quarterback, you have to take him,” Fontenot said. “And if he sits for four or five years, that’s a great problem to have because we’re doing so well at that position.”

Penix said he’s comfortable sitting and learning behind Cousins initially, but he added that he feels as if he was the best quarterback in the draft and will be ready to step in when needed. Only two quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round have made their first professional start at 25 years or older in the common draft era — Brandon Weeden and Chad Pennington. Penix turns 24 on May 8.

Penix led the FBS with 4,903 passing yards in 2023 and was second in the FBS in 2022 (4,641). He is the first player with 4,500 passing yards or more in two straight seasons since Patrick Mahomes did it in 2015 and 2016 for Texas Tech.

“If I’m not on the field right away, I’m learning,” Penix said. “But at the same time, I’m still going to prepare like I’m going to be on that field, because you never know what can happen. You never know when your number is called, but you gotta be ready.

“So, for me, I’m going to do whatever I can to be ready at day one. … I’m still going to put in the same work. I’m going to prepare, I’m going to work just as [much as if] I’m the starter.”

Penix is a left-handed quarterback known for his big arm and his polished skills in the pocket. Many expected him to drop in the draft because of his age and his injury history, which includes four season-ending injuries in college. He was asked about the description of his selection at No. 8 as shocking and brushed it off.

“As far as, like, what anybody else feels about just the decision that was made, I had no control over that,” Penix said. “All I can control is what I do and what I bring to this team. And for me, I know that I’m going to be a great leader, not just on but off the field as well. And I’m going to be a great person and great teammate as well.”

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