Russell Wilson failure may have scared Falcons into Michael Penix Jr. pick

Was this the motivation for the Atlanta Falcons and their shocking selection?
Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos / CFP/GettyImages

Is it possible that the Denver Broncos' failure with Russell Wilson prompted maybe the most bizarre pick in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft? The Falcons would never come out and straight-up say that, but it's hard not to let your mind drift toward that conclusion.

The Falcons gave veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins a four-year, $180 million contract worth $100 million in guaranteed money. The Denver Broncos obviously gave up a lot more to get Russell Wilson in 2022 (two first-round picks, two second-round picks, three players, and then some) but the Falcons made a substantial investment in Cousins, who is going to be 36 years old in August.

Coming off of a major injury (torn Achilles) in 2023, the Falcons' investment in Cousins of $100 million in guaranteed money was risky, to say the very least. But the decision to push the chips all-in on Cousins was seemingly exactly that -- a decision to push all-in on Cousins. That's what everyone observing from the outside looking in thought. That's what Kirk Cousins thought.

Until the Falcons took Michael Penix Jr. with the 8th overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

This pick was controversial for a variety of reasons. You paid Kirk Cousins. You committed to him. You implied with that huge move that you were all-in on the present. You passed on the top defensive players in the draft. Falcons GM Terry Fontenot said after the draft that he could envision the 24-year-old Penix sitting for "4 or 5 years".

This is absolute madness, but what's the method to the madness?

Are the Falcons afraid of what could happen if the Kirk Cousins signing is as disastrous as the Russell Wilson trade? Or what we saw last year with the New York Jets and Aaron Rodgers? Honestly, the decision to select Penix isn't so crazy when you think about it that way. Kirk Cousins is getting paid to go out there and do a job. If he doesn't do that job well enough, or if he suffers a setback with the injury, the Falcons will have a young QB they believe in.

As tough as that might be to sell to a fan base or even to ownership, it's as good of a reason as any to take a 1st-round quarterback. Terry Fontenot, to this point, hasn't hitched his wagon to any quarterback. The old saying is if you have two quarterbacks, you have none, but I don't see the Falcons' situation like that. Based on what happened with the Broncos over the last two years, wouldn't fans in Broncos Country have liked to have had a 1st-round QB to fall back on when things were going poorly for Russ?

It's also ridiculous that some veteran quarterbacks are taken aback by competition. Heaven forbid that Kirk Cousins would have to go out there and earn that $100 million guaranteed by holding off a hungry young player at the position. It does create a weird team dynamic. As Chris Simms pointed out on Twitter/X, Penix is going to be out there throwing absolute missiles while Kirk Cousins is still making his way back from an injury.

Falcons players are going to observe that. And that could get awkward. But again -- over the last two years, would you not have wanted a 1st-round quarterback waiting in the wings in case of the Russell Wilson experiment failing? It's the most valuable position in the game.

The Russell Wilson situation in Denver has created an unprecedented situation in many ways. The Broncos got nearly zero return on that investment. The Falcons had a chance to get Kirk Cousins in the building to give them a chance to win now, but they bought insurance. Understandably so. Michael Penix Jr. gives them a chance to win from now on, as they say.

It's a controversial pick, for sure. It may not help the Falcons win now as much as a defensive player would have. But the delayed gratification on this pick could be worth it in just two years instead of four.

If Kirk Cousins falters in 2024 or 2025, the Falcons might have the Denver Broncos' failure with Russell Wilson to thank for helping them make this call.