The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t exactly an easy team to forecast when it comes to the quarterback position. Infamously declaring in 2020 their desire to be a “quarterback factory,” they’ve been known to stockpile — and flip — their signal-callers more than just about any competitive team in the NFL. It’s one thing to cycle through QBs out of dysfunction, but it’s another to do so when you’re in the thick of playoff races or still just a few years removed from a Super Bowl title. That’s who they are. That’s what they do. But after Friday’s big trade with the Dolphins, in which they moved back from No. 6 to No. 12 in the first round of April’s draft, their plans are clearer than they’ve been for a while: Jalen Hurts is their QB for 2021, and maybe for good.
Just two months ago, this would’ve sounded premature, if not downright silly. In hiring former Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni as their new head coach, after all, the Eagles all but imported a junior version of Frank Reich, who in turn was long viewed as Carson Wentz’s favorite mentor. We’re sorry for whatever happened in 2020, they basically said to their embattled QB, but here’s a gift to smooth things over. If ever a hire seemed like reassurance that Wentz would be back for a sixth season in Philly, that was it.
Turns out Wentz didn’t just want a fresh staff. He wanted a fresh start. And he got it, along with Reich himself. But not even his move to the Colts ensured the Eagles would turn to Hurts, who replaced Wentz for the final four games of 2020. In fact, if anything, it paved a path to another reset at the position. It’s not often, remember, you own a pick just outside the top five, and with five QBs set to come off the board early in in the draft, the Eagles assuredly considered prioritizing a QB with their top selection. General manager Howie Roseman suggested as much this month, appearing genuinely taken aback when reporters offered that an early QB pick might disappoint Hurts, then insisting his only focus was on making the Eagles better, especially at premium positions.
Then came the Dolphins trade. While a surprise follow-up move can’t be ruled out (Roseman has an undying penchant for dealing), you simply don’t trade back from No. 6 to No. 12 if you’re serious about drafting a QB. NFL Network reported, then retracted, that Philly first attempted to move up to No. 3 for BYU QB Zach Wilson, but Wilson has long been expected to be gone by then anyway. Now? Using all their added picks to acquire a veteran like Deshaun Watson (incredibly unlikely amid his pending legal situation) or Russell Wilson (also unlikely, considering he’d be coming to a far inferior roster) would not jibe with owner Jeffrey Lurie’s post-season vision of a legitimate long-term rebuild.
And so the result is obvious: It’s Hurts’ job — and team — to lose.
But if they tried to trade up for Zach Wilson, they don’t believe in Hurts!
Firstly, let’s not pretend the Eagles should be 100% sold on Hurts, who was bypassed 52 times before being drafted in 2020. The young gun showed a lot in his four starts — mainly poise and mobility — but also struggled with accuracy and ball security. He’s as proven as Drew Lock was entering 2020 with the Broncos. So it’s not exactly fair to suggest that the Eagles toying with a move up for Wilson (or Fields or Lance or Jones, for that matter) means they’re totally decided, one way or another, on Hurts’ potential. It’s possible to believe in a young QB and still believe you can do better, especially if said young QB isn’t already deemed a premium investment (like Wentz, who cost the Eagles a big move up in the draft, a No. 2 selection and a $128 million extension).
Now, if Hurts is visibly out of his league in 2021, the Eagles will have the firepower to do just about anything they please. With at least two and possibly three first-rounders depending on whether Wentz meets trade conditions in Indianapolis, they’ll conceivably have access to most top QB prospects or veteran trade candidates. But the early read here is that Hurts has a good chance of not only entering 2021 as QB1 but keeping the job for the foreseeable future.
The Eagles have shown before, for better or worse, they’re not afraid of adding to the QB room even when it already seems set. Think 2009, when they signed Michael Vick despite Kevin Kolb already lining up as Donovan McNabb’s successor. (They ended up trading both McNabb and Kolb in successive offseasons). Think 2016, when they moved up to draft Wentz despite just extending Sam Bradford and paying up for Chase Daniel as a backup. (They ended up trading Bradford before Week 1, then signing Nick Foles to replace Daniel the following year). Think 2020, when they spent a second-rounder on Hurts just a year after extending Wentz.
But everything about this 2021 transition suggests Hurts has a legitimate hold on the near future. There was Lurie’s overt commitment to restarting, emphasized by his odd remarks about coach Doug Pederson not deserving to be fired but rather not wanting to rebuild after a down year. There was the almost-unprecedented commitment to youth on the new staff, which has first-time and 30-something coaches up and down the board. (Among them: New QBs coach Brian Johnson, a Hurts family friend). There was the addition of new backup Joe Flacco, who at 36 is definitely not in town to challenge for the job as much as sharpen Hurts’ grip on it.
Looking further down the road, it’s hard to envision Hurts completely fumbling away the opportunity, too. He’s still got lots to build on, no doubt, and the Eagles are coming off a 4-11-1 season for a reason: They’ve lacked talent at key positions. But couple Hurts with a green and eager staff, a full offseason, a healthier offensive line and a top-15 pick, and it’s hard to envision a scenario where he doesn’t at least keep Philly in the mix in the NFC East. In that scenario, Roseman and Co. will be hard-pressed not to seize the opportunity of using all those 2022 picks and building around such a young QB (Hurts will only be 23 in September) while he’s on his rookie deal with some starting experience.
The Eagles have surprised us at QB before. They do it all the time. But if you’re placing bets now, you know where they belong.