Could Falcons' aggressive pursuit of upgrading QB room backfire on their playoff chances?

With OTAs over and training camps still weeks away, plenty of questions are circling the NFL. Charles McDonald is tackling them this summer.

After floundering at the quarterback position for a couple seasons, the Atlanta Falcons decided enough was enough and made some major investments at the position this offseason. First, they signed free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins to a deal with $100 million guaranteed before selecting Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth pick in the 2024 draft. The belief is that the talented skill players Atlanta has stockpiled over the past few years will finally be able to flourish with Cousins at the helm.

If Cousins is healthy, that should happen. Drake London, Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts can be the core of a good offense in the NFL, but it’s certainly fair to wonder if the Falcons have a good team — and if their pursuit of quarterbacks severely handicapped their ability to maximize the roster.

A lot has been said about the Falcons’ plan to acquire both Cousins and Penix in the same offseason. That’s an unusual strategy that hasn’t been used in the NFL partly because of the assets required to get both of them. Cousins’ contract instantly made him the highest-paid player on the team with a $25 million cap hit in 2024. If everything goes well with Cousins this season, that means Penix won’t play at all and the Falcons will get no value from a top-10 pick this season — a scenario the team is obviously prepared for.

Using that pick on Penix meant they couldn’t upgrade other areas of their roster for a potential playoff run, which really may hinder their efforts to win the NFC South this season. The Falcons sacrificed depth (and a potential immediate starter) to set up their quarterback room in this manner. Atlanta’s defense could have really used an infusion of talent, especially considering they were already a thin unit. Former defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen is now in Jacksonville, the pass rush is one of the worst in the league, star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is coming off of a torn ACL, and they’ll be relying heavily on rookies drafted on Day 2 and 3 to be impact players early on. They do have two All-Pro caliber players in the secondary with Jessie Bates and A.J. Terrell, but overall this team still has a lot of holes.

In a way, the Falcons are mirroring their teams from the early 2010s: talent on offense with a steady quarterback under center, but not much talent on defense outside of a couple players putting out fires for everyone else. The Falcons did have some success in the early 2010s, making an NFC championship game in the 2012 season, but they weren’t able to sustain any of it because they were never able to build out their depth on defense. This is lining up to be a similar scenario.

As the Falcons are set up right now, they have the capability to win 10 games (if Cousins is 100% recovered from his Achilles injury). They’ve left themselves with questionable depth on defense, which should cause people to think twice about their ceiling for the season.