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'Kirk Cousins is our quarterback': Falcons look at Aaron Rodgers-Jordan Love success as blueprint for Michael Penix Jr. draft pick

The Falcons drafted a quarterback in the first round despite signing Kirk Cousins in free agency.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons looked to a northern NFC counterpart for inspiration in the 2024 NFL Draft, ultimately following what was dubbed by head coach Raheem Morris as "the Green Bay model" from 2020.

Despite signing veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins to a four-year deal worth up to $180 million back in March, the Falcons used their No. 8 overall pick to select quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

Make no mistake, Cousins remains the Falcons' QB1. Both general manager Terry Fontenot and Morris made that fact very clear late Thursday night (early Friday morning?) when recapping the first round.

"Kirk Cousins is our quarterback," Fontenot said. "We're very excited about Kirk, very excited about this team. (With) Michael Penix we're talking about the future. The draft is you look at the future and you look at big picture."

The reason Fontenot and Morris referenced "the Green Bay model" is because the Packers did something similar in 2020 when they drafted Jordan Love in the first round (26th overall), even though they had Aaron Rodgers rostered with a successful QB1 record that dated back to 2008.

Unlike the Falcons with Cousins, who was contacted while on the clock, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst didn't tell Rodgers the pick before it was announced. Nonetheless, Gutekunst publicly said Love was "a long-term decision," which is similar to the Falcons' view of Penix.

That 2020 scenario ended up working out for the Packers. Rodgers left as a free agent for the New York Jets in 2023, and Love stepped right into the starting role. Green Bay then made the playoffs, winning a wild-card game but losing in the divisional round.

"The Green Bay model was something that we talked about," Morris said. "It's been proven to be right, last year. Hopefully, we'll be right with them."

Love was Rodgers' backup for three seasons. Love didn't take a snap until his sophomore season, appearing in six games and starting just one. He appeared in four in 2022. And then last year, he started all 17 games and completed 64.2% of his passes for 4,159 yards and 32 touchdowns.

The idea is Penix can properly develop under Cousins so when his opportunity comes – whether in Atlanta or elsewhere – he, too, is ready for a full schedule of work.

"You're talking about a guy that's had a lot of success in the National Football League (in Cousins), and you're talking about a young man coming into the league (in Penix)," Morris said. "(Penix) is going to be hungry. He's going to be eager to learn and just have a certain desire that it takes to sit back and learn. I watched Kirk do it. Now it's Michael's time to do it.

"You can't put that on Kirk. Kirk's job is just to be a professional. Kirk will show him the way by how he goes about his daily business every single day, and Michael will get a chance to see that firsthand. I think that's really a good thing for a young player."

Their timelines align, too.

As already mentioned, Cousins is under contract for four years. Penix, as a first-rounder, will also be on the hook for four years, with a fifth-year option. That means, when those deadlines do come up, a choice will need to be made by the Falcons brass.

But the Falcons aren't worrying about that yet.

"Again, Kirk is our quarterback," Fontenot said. "But adding Michael Penix is thinking about the future."

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