Jalen Hurts cannot be the Eagles’ Plan A at quarterback – Bleeding Green Nation
Filed under: Eagles roster outlook: position-by-position. Our Philadelphia Eagles roster outlook series begins by examining — what else? — the quarterback position. REGULAR SEASON STATS: 954 snaps, 265/432 (61.3%), 3144 yards (7.3 yards per attempt), 16 TD, 9 INT, 87.2 passer rating … 139 rushes, 784 yards and 10 TDs … 9 fumbles PLAYOFF STATS: 66 snaps, 23/43 (53.5%), 258 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 60.0 passer rating … 8 rushes, 39 yards … 1 fumble REVIEW: Hurts entered the 2021 with positive momentum. He finished training camp strong after mostly looking up-and-down throughout the summer. Originally reluctant to name him the starter amidst rumors of a Deshaun Watson trade, the team made it clear they were riding with Hurts in their self-proclaimed “transition period.” Hurts originally rewarded their faith by opening the 2021 campaign with his strongest statistical game of the season. Unfortunately for him and the team, he struggled after that as the Eagles got off to a 2-5 start. His limitations as a passer were on full display against the league’s better teams. Case in point: the Eagles were unable to beat a single playoff squad. Worse yet, they weren’t even really competitive in those meetings. In fairness to Hurts, there was an argument the Eagles weren’t coaching to his strengths early on. And, sure enough, the team started to have more success when Nick Sirianni really committed to leaning on Philly’s rushing attack. Of course, the Eagles’ offensive resurgence coincided with them going up against lesser teams. Still, Hurts deserves credit for his contributions when the Eagles went 6-2 in their final eight games to clinch the No. 7 seed. Hurts showed some promise in terms of his rushing prowess (not only his ability to get his own yards but how his presence opened up space for running backs), his leadership/intangibles, and his flashes of growth as a passer (see: first half of Broncos game). Hurts also demonstrated flaws that are concerning moving forward, such as an incredibly slow release (longest average time to throw in the NFL for the second straight year), a lack of accuracy, and questionable arm strength. While the book on Hurts’ career can’t be written after his first playoff start, the bad loss to the Bucs only raised doubts that he can be the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. [For a great All-22 analysis of Hurts’ 2021 season, CLICK HERE.] OUTLOOK: Howie Roseman’s public, on-the-record commitment to Hurts as their starter for 2022 was undoubtedly noteworthy but hardly binding. I find it hard to believe the Eagles, the self-proclaimed “Quarterback Factory,” are fine with settling for less at the most important position in sports. This isn’t to say that Hurts is definitely done in Philly; there’s a pretty decent chance he WILL be their starter next year. But that outcome probably speaks more to the lack of viable alternatives than it does for a firm belief in Hurts’ potential. The uncomfortably reality is that Hurts is probably much closer to his ceiling than many want to admit. You might very well disagree, pointing out that he’s only 23 years old and coming off his first full season as a starter. Hurts’s coachability and work ethic are definitely factors working in his favor. But what is the precedent for a player of Hurts’ ilk developing into a special starter? At the risk of sounding reductive, he’s not very great at the main aspect of his position’s job: throwing the football. The Eagles threw the ball less than any team in the league (50.13%). Film grinder Greg Cosell has regularly said that he is “not a natural passer.” Though hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, it reminds me of how people used to downplay Ben Simmons’ deficiencies as a shooter. My argument was always that he was a basketball player and thus needs to be able to do the main objective of the sport. It was a deal-breaker that a number of Simmons stans were reluctant to admit because they said he was young and could improve. Alas, that was not the case, and the Sixers are now in a really bad spot with him. Again, though, not a perfect comparison, and especially because Hurts is hardly a total coward loser who actually wants to get better. But his efforts can likely only go so far. Hurts has a wide gap to bridge from where he’s at to becoming one of the very best quarterbacks in the NFL, which is what it takes to be a regular serious championship contender. No one should deny that Hurts can improve. Using someone like Josh Allen as a precedent, as has been done, is not a good baseline for expectations, however. Allen is an anomalous physical freak who played in 29 fewer college games and made 18 fewer college starts than Hurts. He entered the league with much less of a sample size to suggest exactly what he was. Sticking with Hurts and “building the defense” sounds nice in theory. It sure would be great for the Eagles if he proved his doubters wrong and the team could use their three first-round picks to build around him. But what is most convenient is hardly always what’s true. It’s more likely than not that Hurts ISN’T going to become a special quarterback. The Eagles can maybe hope that he’s something like Jimmy Garoppolo and they can try to win “with” him (or often “in spite of” him) but that’s just not the best path for championship success. Having a quarterback on a rookie deal is worth celebrating as a bargain if you’re actually able to win important games with him and Hurts yet to come close to proving he can do that. The Eagles would be remiss to genuinely approach this offseason with Hurts as their “Plan A” at quarterback. Knowing how they value the position, they will absolutely not be content with sticking with him. They will seriously explore opportunities to upgrade, such as trading for Russell Wilson. And, no, they are not “too far away” to make such a trade. You’re never too far away to acquire one of the very best players at the most important position in all of sports. Such a move is viewed as “risky” but there’s also risk in missing out on an elite passer. Inaction does signal an absence of risk. Now, will the Eagles be able to land one of those top guys? That much can hardly be assumed. It’s possible and, quite frankly, likely that the Eagles will have to rely on Hurts as their fallback plan. If that’s the case, the Eagles MUST try their hardest to acquire a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Because using all three-first round picks this year and not having ammo to pivot away from Hurts after next season, if necessary, would be pretty bad. MY TAKE: Go (Stay as a fallback plan). This poll is closed REGULAR SEASON STATS: 166 snaps, 41/60 (68.3%), 439 yards (7.3 yards per attempt), 4 TD, 1 INT, 104.8 passer rating … 9 rushes, 21 yards … 1 fumble REVIEW: The Eagles acquired Minshew from the Jacksonville Jaguars for the low cost of a conditional sixth-round pick that could become a fifth-round selection if he played at least 50% of the snaps in at least three games. (Spoiler alert: he only played two such games.) Minshew began the season as QB3 behind Hurts and Joe Flacco. He was a healthy scratch until the team traded Flacco, which elevated him to QB2. With Hurts struggling earlier on in the season, there was thought that he might eventually be benched in favor of Minshew. That didn’t happen … but Minshew did see his first start with Philly when Hurts missed the Eagles’ Week 13 game against the Jets. To no surprise, Minshew played pretty well against the league’s worst passing defense. Naturally, there were some calls for him to replace Hurts and Minshew himself admitted he approached Sirianni to ask what he could do to become the starter. But Minshew was told that Hurts was locked in as the starter, thus keeping him in his backup role. Minshew did get to log another start in the Eagles’ meaningless Week 18 finale when they rested their starters. It was an up-and-down showing for him but he wasn’t exactly working with much support against the Cowboys’ starters. OUTLOOK: Minshew is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL, especially relative to his price tag. Minshew’s rookie contract salary for 2022 was bumped up to $2.54 million due to the Proven Performance Escalator but that figure is still very inexpensive for his position. 42 quarterbacks had a higher average salary than that number in 2021. Minshew makes for a quality QB2 no matter what route the Eagles decide to go at QB1. He could theoretically push Hurts for playing time if the former falters to a significant degree but he’s more likely to remain as a backup. Reports have indicated the Eagles are expected to get calls about Minshew’s availability this offseason. If a team is desperate enough to give up a third-round pick or fourth-round pick, the Eagles will have to think hard about taking that offer. They don’t need to move him but they must be aware he could be looking to leave to compete for playing time elsewhere after the 2022 season. The guess here is that Minshew’s market won’t be lucrative enough for the Birds to pull the trigger on a trade. MY TAKE: Stay (Unless a trade offer blows the Eagles away). This poll is closed REVIEW: The Eagles claimed Sinnett off waivers from the Miami Dolphins once they knew they were trading Joe Flacco. Sinnett was active as Minshew’s backup for one game but was otherwise a healthy scratch as the third QB. OUTLOOK: After watching him make some throws in warmups, I’m confident in saying that Sinnett can really spin it. That or I really just wanted to shoehorn that pun in here. You decide. Seriously, though, it could be interesting to get a look at Sinnett in the offseason. The 24-year-old was PFF’s fourth-highest graded quarterback from the 2021 preseason, for what it’s worth. Maybe he can be a future No. 2? That would be a really good outcome. MY TAKE: Stay. This poll is closed REVIEW: Roseman giving Flacco $3.5 million guaranteed never made sense. Fortunately, the Eagles were able to take advantage of the New York Jets’ nonsensical decision to trade for him. The top free agent quarterbacks include Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, and Marcus Mariota. Nick Foles (!) could join this list if/when the Bears cut him. Not a very enticing group, which is to be expected. As for the trade market, though? Outside of some wastes of time like Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins, that’s certainly a different story. Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers all could be available. Of course, all three of those quarterbacks possess no-trade clauses, so they’ll have control in where they end up. Rodgers landing in Philly just doesn’t feel likely, so we’ll rule that out until there’s good reason to believe otherwise. Wilson to the Eagles is a possibility that’s been rumored dating back to last year. One NFL executive said “would put Philly in the driver’s seat” for Wilson. Then, in November, Chris Mortensen said “there’s no question in my mind that Russell Wilson would top their list.” There’s already been a lot of debate whether the Eagles should trade for Wilson and those discussions will only rage on until there’s clarity about his future. We’ll save our lengthy arguments for/against acquiring Wilson for a separate article(s) but the short take here is … they should absolutely be pursuing a perennial MVP candidate and future Hall of Famer who could be the best QB in the conference with Tom Brady (and maybe Rodgers) leaving the NFC. Watson is a player that many understandably don’t enjoy seeing the Eagles connected to. The Houston Texans quarterback still faces an unresolved legal situation regarding 22 lawsuits involving allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct. Whether you want him on the team or not, though, I fully expect the Eagles to revisit acquiring Watson; they showed a ton of interest in him last offseason. Especially now that Miami might no longer be the obvious destination for him with Brian Flores gone. The Eagles might very well strike out on trying to trade for a top quarterback. But one would be naive to believe they’re not going to seriously gauge the market. It’s commonly said that this isn’t a strong year for quarterback draft prospects. That there aren’t any obvious, slam dunk picks. And while there could be truth to that, the Eagles can’t merely act like a commonly-held opinion is canon. They must do serious homework on these prospects and come away with their own conclusions. People misjudge the quality of QB classes all the time. I can easily remember many saying that Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were light-years ahead of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. And most would currently rather have Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick in 2016, over any of those four. Just like we said last year, the Eagles shouldn’t feel the need to force a pick on a quarterback. But if they truly love someone and they’re totally on fire for that guy, they shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to get him if he’s available. Maybe that’s Matt Corral or Kenny Pickett or Carson Strong or Malik Willis. Or maybe they agree with the consensus opinion. We’ll have to see how the Eagles’ interest in veteran QBs plays out before we get a better sense of what they’re thinking when it comes to drafting a signal caller. RELATED READING: BGN’s Ben Natan wrote about QB prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft.