FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Michael Penix Jr., the biggest surprise of the NFL draft’s first round, received a congratulatory call from Kirk Cousins on Thursday night even as Cousins’ agent was second-guessing the Atlanta Falcons adding depth to their quarterback spot.

Penix described the chat with Cousins as “a very good conversation,” but would not say what was discussed.

Penix may have been more excited by Friday’s text message from another left-handed Falcons quarterback named Michael. In his first news conference in Atlanta after he was the No. 8 overall draft pick by the Falcons, Penix beamed when talking about his text from Michael Vick.

“I definitely watched him,” said Penix of Vick, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft who played with the Falcons through 2006 before his career was interrupted by dog-fighting charges and a prison term.

“He was my favorite quarterback,” Penix said. “I had the Vick cleats and all as a kid. … I’m glad I’m old enough to have been able to see that era.”

Penix watched the draft at his Florida home. A large group of family members, including his parents, accompanied Penix on Friday’s flight to the Falcons’ practice facility.

Penix cautioned Falcons fans to not expect him to share the dynamic Vick’s speed as a runner.

“I’m not going to say me and his games are the same,” Penix said. “He did a lot of creating. I feel like we both throw the ball very well. … I think people see him create plays and forget he had a cannon. He flicked the ball like it was effortless.”

Clearly, Penix’s powerful left arm was the primary reason the Falcons, who had been expected to target an edge rusher in the first round, chose the Washington quarterback one month after signing Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed.

Penix, who will be 24 as a rookie, led FBS schools with 4,903 passing yards and was third with 36 touchdown passes in 2023. He won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s top player as No. 2 Washington fell to top-ranked Michigan 34-13 in the College Football Playoff championship game.

Penix began his college career at Indiana, where he tore his right ACL in 2018 and 2020 and had shoulder injuries in both 2019 and 2021.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot stressed Cousins, entering his age-36 season, is the starter while Penix is the future.

The strategy was a surprise to many, including Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, who said Cousins was blindsided by the draft pick.

McCartney did not return messages from The Associated Press on Friday.

Fontenot said the team “did everything we could do to get Kirk Cousins” and felt it was also important to add Penix as the long-term answer at quarterback.

“We’re going to build a sustained winner, and we’re going to win for a long time,” Fontenot said Thursday night. “That’s the most important position in football. That’s who we’re thinking about.”

Coach Raheem Morris said the decision to draft Penix was not influenced by Cousins’ season-ending Achilles tendon injury with Minnesota last season. Cousins worked on the field on Tuesday in the Falcons offseason program and is expected to be ready for the season.

“At some point, you’ve got to find a way to have that succession plan in place,” Morris said following the first round. “It just so happened it posed itself tonight.”

Added Morris of having the No. 8 pick: “We don’t want to be in this position again.”

Penix said he’s comfortable working behind Cousins, but will be prepared when asked to play.

“I know I’m going to put in a ton of work to make sure whenever I do step on that field it’s not going to be a beat missed,” he said.


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