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Falcons assistant GM Kyle Smith on Kirk Cousins, Michael Penix Jr.: We feel good about the QB position for the next five years, 'minimum'

The Atlanta Falcons' selection of Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8 overall six weeks after signing Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract was about solidifying the most important position in sports.

"For the next five years, we feel great about the position. Minimum," Falcons assistant general manager Kyle Smith said on Tuesday, via the team's official website.

The Falcons' experience since moving on from Matt Ryan with no transition plan informed their latest decision.

"It was an unsettling feeling, sitting there in '21," Smith said. "I'll never forget sitting there with (GM) Terry (Fontenot) and being like, 'OK, well, what's our future? What's our plan for the future? How are we going to solidify down the road?'

"It's not just about this year or next year. It's about five years minimum."

After rolling with Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke the past two seasons, the Falcons weren't going to get caught in no man's land again. They guaranteed Cousins $100 million to be their starter. Then, before the veteran took a snap, they used a top-10 pick on his heir.

"This is the first year that we were sitting there and staring down the barrel at a player that we think can be that guy," Smith said of drafting Penix.

The move surprised Cousins' camp, NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo reported on draft night. Instead of using the No. 8 overall pick to add a dynamic player on either side of the ball, someone who could help them chase a Super Bowl now, the Falcons solidified their inevitable transition.

The decision could immediately undercut Cousins' standing in the locker room. Still, the Falcons insist they love both quarterbacks, using the willingness to sink significant assets into the position to defend those feelings.

"What we did to get Kirk Cousins should tell everybody what we believe in Kirk Cousins," Smith said. "He's our guy. We set ourselves up.

"Then, in the draft, Michael Penix was there. It's a quarterback -- a young quarterback -- that we believe in. We pulled that trigger. I mean, that's as clear as I can say it."

Attempting to ensure they don't fall into QB wasteland again is an admirable cause for Atlanta, but the optics make it difficult to stomach. This isn't some Green Bay situation where Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers had sweat equity with the fan base and locker room. The Falcons are putting a bullseye on Cousins before he takes a snap. Then there is the opportunity cost of a top-10 player they could have drafted in Penix's place.

If Penix, who turns 24 in seven days and appears ready to play right away, turns out to be the guy for a decade after the Falcons move on from Cousins, the club won't care about any body blows it receives from outside the building in 2024. However, if things collapse, the organization will be left wondering how the timeline would have been altered by going a different route.

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