Bradley’s Buzz: A few words in defense of what the Falcons just did

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is interviewed after the team's win over Southern California in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Credit: Ryan Sun/AP

Credit: Ryan Sun/AP

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is interviewed after the team's win over Southern California in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Full disclosure: On Monday, having read ESPN’s report that the Falcons might draft Michael Penix, I forwarded it to esteemed colleague D. Orlando Ledbetter with this comment: “Not sure I believe it.”

Full disclosure: On Thursday night, when the Falcons drafted Penix, I gasped.

Full disclosure: The first email I saw this morning asked, “Do you wish you’d waited a day or two before putting your admiration for Terry Fontenot in print?”

My actual response: “Um … can I get back to you on that?”

But enough about the exciting life of M. Bradley, typist. Here’s where the typist offers words you’ll hate.

I understand why the Falcons did what they did.

They saw qualities in Penix they loved so much they spent the No. 8 pick on the first-rounder least apt to play significant downs in 2024. We emphasize that this franchise was picking No. 8 for a third consecutive April because it failed to find Arthur Smith a quarterback of NFL caliber. It now has two, or so it believes.

Such a move isn’t without precedent. Green Bay had Brett Favre when it drafted Aaron Rodgers. (And Rodgers when it drafted Jordan Love.) Kansas City had Alex Smith – granted, not quite Favre or Rodgers – when it drafted Patrick Mahomes. The Falcons had Chris Chandler, who’d led them to a Super Bowl, when they traded up to take Michael Vick No. 1 overall in 2001.

The advent of Vick sparked such delight in Falcon fandom that a traffic jam ensued in Flowery Branch on that April Saturday – even though the draftee was nowhere near Georgia. Honesty compels me to note that this pick has been received less warmly.

At 7:47 a.m. Friday, Adam Johnson of the Sports Geek, which tracks social media, emailed with this cheery news: “The Atlanta Falcons have had a 20% positive reaction to their 1st Round pick of Michael Penix! This actually makes the Atlanta Falcons the angriest fan base.”

Nice to be No. 1 in something, right?

This front office had to know that, coming so soon after the Kirk Cousins signing, this pick would stump the band. About here, though, we ask two questions. What’s the most important position? Answer: quarterback. And what do we know about QBs? Answer: They get hurt. Is it bad to have a good backup?

And about here, you’re saying, “Is it optimal to pay QB2 first-round money when you’ve just spent $180M ($100M guaranteed) on QB1?” In a perfect world, no. But the Falcons, who suffered through two excruciating seasons because they hadn’t prepared for life after Matt Ryan, have already anointed Penix their QB1-for-2026-if-not sooner. There’s your succession plan.

Speaking of whom: Ryan was taken No. 3 overall in 2008. The choice was widely criticized in these environs, the vox populi crying out for Glenn Dorsey, DT from LSU. Dorsey retired in 2017 with seven career sacks. Ryan started 232 of the Falcons’ next 235 games and stands as the best performer in franchise history. Sometimes a team, even this team, does know what it’s doing.

From GM Terry Fontenot, speaking to reporters last night: “Kirk is our quarterback. But adding Michael Penix is (us) thinking about our future.”

Yes, it takes gumption for a GM who hasn’t yet presided over a winning season to take a down-the-road view. But isn’t the future also part of a GM’s purview? Answer: yeah.

From coach Raheem Morris: “When you get Kirk Cousins … we are talking about winning right now, which we know we are going to be in a position (to do). We won’t have the ability to be picking this high again.”

Mightn’t Brock Bowers – or a pass rusher, though no defender was taken until the 15th overall pick – have helped the Falcons win bigger sooner? Answer: yeah. But this is why NFL decision-makers get paid to make decisions.

This was the 41st Falcons draft I’ve monitored. I’ve been around – howling understatement – for some curious picks. In 1984, Dan Henning spurned three chances to draft a Maryland QB, taking three Oklahoma defenders instead. First media question to Henning that day: “Why no Boomer?” Come 1988, Henning was gone and Mr. Esiason was the NFL’s MVP.

I was here for Aundray Bruce and Bruce Pickens; for Jammi German over Hines Ward; for DE Jamaal Anderson, never to be confused with RB Jamal Anderson. I’ve seen silly stuff, and so have you. I’m not sure long-range planning constitutes out-and-out silliness.

This might seem a flailing attempt to defend the indefensible, but sometimes you have to believe in the people making the decisions. Sometimes you have to trust the process. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s what I believe.

The above is part of a regular exercise available to all who register on for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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