Morris: Cousins doesn’t have to worry about Penix

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Kirk Cousins‘ position as the Atlanta Falcons‘ starting quarterback of the foreseeable future has not changed after the team’s stunning first-round NFL draft decision, according to new coach Raheem Morris.

The Falcons selected quarterback Michael Penix Jr. of Washington with the No. 8 pick Thursday night. The choice sent shockwaves across the NFL since Atlanta had just signed Cousins as a free agent last month to a four-year contract worth up to $180 million, with $100 million of that guaranteed.

At the Falcons’ post-draft media availability Saturday, Morris halted any quarterback controversy.

“We came up with a decision, this is what we plan to do,” said Morris, who was hired in January after the firing of former coach Arthur Smith. “And Kirk does not have to look over his shoulder every time he throws a bad pass. Like, that is not the case.

“So I know I’m going to have to tell you guys once or twice that that is not the case. Like, we are here to go win, and we are here to go win it all. We are here to win as much as we can win.”

Cousins called Penix on Thursday night and the two had a “very good conversation,” Penix said Saturday. He wouldn’t go into any details but said, “I’m super excited to work with him, and he said he’s the same with me.”

Cousins was not informed that the Falcons would take a quarterback until they called the veteran signal-caller 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 improve the team for next season.

Instead, the Falcons used the selection on Cousins’ apparent successor before he had played a down for the team. McCartney said Cousins, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, understands the business of football and is ready to move on but added that there was surprise about the Falcons’ decision.

“I hate for it to be like the story of the draft. I know it will be. That’s just how our world is based and is driven, but I can’t say it’s annoying. No. Because it’s what people want to see; it’s piqued more interest. What’s [Travis] Kelce’s girlfriend’s name? I feel like her right now. I’m Taylor Swift and Terry is Kelce, I guess.”

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Falcons coach Raheem Morris

In 2023, Penix, a 23-year-old left-handed thrower, completed 65.4% of his passes for an FBS-high 4,903 yards and 36 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions. He took Washington to the national championship game, where the Huskies fell to Michigan.

Morris said Saturday that he spoke with Cousins on Thursday night with the idea of being “empathetic of how he felt at the time.” Morris said he preaches that communication has to be open, honest and continuous and that will continue with regard to this situation.

Morris and Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said they knew when they took Penix that the decision would generate much buzz and criticism. Penix was not projected to go as highly as he did by most experts, and certainly not to a team that had just signed a big-money quarterback. But the Falcons said they trusted their process and that Penix — with his big arm, poise in the pocket and winning pedigree — was the guy that fit their “succession” plan after Cousins.

“I hate for it to be like the story of the draft,” Morris said. “I know it will be. That’s just how our world is based and is driven, but I can’t say it’s annoying. No. Because it’s what people want to see; it’s piqued more interest. What’s [Travis] Kelce‘s girlfriend’s name? I feel like her right now. I’m Taylor Swift and Terry is Kelce, I guess.”

This post was originally published on ESPN

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