FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons national scout Joel Collier brought back the initial report that would lead the team to draft quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

“He’s got a really strong arm,” Collier said, as the team tried to explain why Penix would fit on their YouTube channel. “I mean, that shows up when you look at their offense in general. It’s downfield. So, it’s bombs away when he was playing.”

Penix had other traits that led to the Falcons taking him after signing veteran Kirk Cousins to a four-year contract worth up to $180 million in free agency.

“He has great vision downfield,” said Collier, who is a former assistant general manager of the Chiefs (2008-13). “He’s able to see the big picture. A lot of guys see half the field, but this kid, he sees the field and he does a great job of being able to then accurately put the ball where it’s supposed to be.”

Once Collier’s work hit Flowery Branch, the information was cross-checked.

“Shoot, that goes back to, all of our guys in this draft, that goes back to the year before,” Falcons assistant general manager Kyle Smith said. “So, our guys will start evaluating the players for next year’s draft at the end of May here. So, Joel was the guy who really liked Penix.”

Dwaune Jones and Ruston Webster (a former general manager with the Titans) and others, cross-checked Collier’s information.

After the college season and the all-star games, the scouts came off the road for the February meetings at the team’s headquarters.

“We liked him then,” Smith said. “Then the coaches come in. So, it’s a process like every one of the guys that we drafted is the same type of process that we go through. So, but yes, Joel was a primary scout there.”

Since general manager Terry Fontenot took over in January 2021, the Falcons knew it would be in the quarterback market soon. Matt Ryan was 35 and coming off a 4-12 season.

After the 2021 season, the Falcons attempted to sign Deshaun Watson, but were outbid by Cleveland, which guaranteed $230 million and traded three first-round picks in a move that doesn’t look so good, thus far.

Ryan was traded to the Colts, and the Falcons signed Marcus Mariota and drafted Desmond Ridder in the third round of the 2022 draft. The Falcons have moved on from Mariota and Ridder, who was traded to the Cardinals this offseason.

So, after paying Cousins, the Falcons doubled-down on the position and drafted Penix.

“It goes back years,” Smith said. “It goes back to when Terry first got here and in ‘21. ... You look at it in terms of five years. Are you good at that position for the next five years. … When we first got here, obviously Matt Ryan, a tremendous quarterback, and there’s a lot of variables that go into when we first got here in terms of cap and cash and where you’re at as a team and trying to build. But we were always looking aggressively for the heir apparent, the down-the-road solution at that position.”

In the 2021 draft, the Falcons passed on quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones after Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance were selected 1, 2 and 3.

In 2022, the Falcons passed on Kenny Pickett and made Ridder the second quarterback taken, with the 74th overall pick in the third round.

Last season, the Falcons passed on Will Levis.

“There’s three ways you can acquire that position,” Smith said. “Through the draft, and it’s the most sought-after position. It’s the most important position in all sports. It’s the most expensive position in our sport. So, if it’s through the draft, the currency is draft capital.

“So, once you identify a guy, you got to be ready to go up and get him. You have to be ready to give up future assets to go get that player. (On) the pro side of things, and you’ve seen it in recent years, to go get a guy that you believe in, you have to trade both draft capital, (salary) cap (room and) cash. So, you’re going and giving up three first-round picks. Two ones and twos, or whatever the case may be, plus cap and cash to then solidify (the quarterback position).”

Essentially, teams will pay a premium to solve their quarterback woes.

The other options are free agency and a trade.

“We had an opportunity in unrestricted free agency to add a guy that we believe in, and it’s an expensive addition because he’s that guy,” Smith said of Cousins. “He’s our quarterback. He is our starter. He’s the guy we believe we can win with. He’s the leader.”

The Falcons had Penix rated as the second-best quarterback prospect in the draft. Caleb Williams went No. 1 overall to Chicago. Jayden Daniels went to Washington at No. 2 and Drake Maye went third to New England.

“The tricky part is the draft and for us going back to Penix, this is the first year that we were sitting at our pick and there was a quarterback at that position, the most important position in sports, that we felt like can be the guy,” Smith said. “It’s the first year. We didn’t pick one in ‘21. We didn’t pick one and ‘22 (in the first round) and ‘23. This was the first year that we were sitting there and we’re staring down the barrel at a player that we think can be that guy.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Michael Penix Jr. meets the media the day after being selected by the Falcons with the No. 8 pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

The Falcons know just how unsettling things can be without a quarterback.

“Sitting there in ‘21, I’ll never forget sitting there with Terry and being like, ‘OK, well, what’s our future?’” Smith said. “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. Always trying to find that option through the draft, that didn’t happen naturally.”

With some money, the Falcons made their move on Cousins in free agency. (They may have been too eager as the transaction is being reviewed by the league office for possible tampering violations.)

“We’re sitting there in the draft, and we let our board speak to us,” Smith said. “There was a guy there at that position. So, now we feel really good. Five years minimum, we’re good. We don’t have to worry about that position.”

Now, offensive coordinator Zac Robinson and quarterbacks coach T.J. Yates, will be charged with helping to develop Penix.

First just look at the arm,” Robinson said. “He’s got a really good arm. He can make every single throw. Short. Intermediate. Has a great deep ball. So, all those things add up.”

Yates said, “(He) can make every throw on the field. Can touch every part of the field with his arm. And he does it all by not taking any sacks.”

Robinson and Yates both played quarterback in college and in the NFL.

“Anytime that you’re able to stretch the defense with the width of the field vertically,” Robinson said. “That’s the hardest part for them to be able to have every single throw in your toolbox, whether it’s on the left hash to an out-cut 12 yards to the opposite sideline. So, all those different things (point to) him (being) a really good, future NFL quarterback.”

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