EAGLES CLAIM HURTS IS THEIR GUY...SOUND FAMILIAR?
Quarterback-hunting season is officially underway in the NFL, with at least seven teams looking for a new starter and several more who are seriously thinking about it. If Howie Roseman is to be believed, the Eagles aren’t in either of those groups.
He insisted in January and insisted again this week at the league scouting combine in Indianapolis that the organization’s plan is for Jalen Hurts to be their starter in 2022. End of story.
“Nothing’s changed,” Roseman said. “Jalen knows where he stands with us. He knows he’s our quarterback. He knows he’s our guy.” Until he isn’t. The fact of the matter is nothing is etched in stone in the NFL. Especially for a quarterback with 20 career starts. Hurts showed improvement in his first full year as a starter last season, but he still has a lot of things he needs to correct and get better at, most notably his accuracy and decision-making. “When you’re evaluating a quarterback, there’s four main things you’re looking at,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni told reporters at the combine. “You’re looking at accuracy, you’re looking at decision-making, you’re looking at the ability to create and you’re looking to see if he’s above the line in arm strength.
“There’s no question that Jalen has the arm strength to make all of the throws in this league. And he has amazing ability to create, whether it’s when things break down because a receiver didn’t get open or because there was a breakdown by the offensive line. “What we saw throughout the year is that Jalen can not only create with his legs and make big plays with his legs, but as the year went on, you saw him become a weapon when he would move in the pocket, create in the pocket and find receivers down the field. He created some explosive plays that way. “Those two things are a non-issue and are things he’s going to continue to excel at. You just want to see him continue to get better with his accuracy and continue to get better with his decision-making.” Hurts was prolific as a runner in 2021, finishing seventh in the league in rushing first downs (56), sixth in rushing touchdowns (10) and second in rushing first downs on third down (22). But he was an inconsistent passer. He finished 22nd in passer rating (87.2) and 26th in completion percentage (61.3). Twenty-one quarterbacks had a better touchdowns-to-interceptions differential (plus-seven). He threw just four red-zone touchdown passes in his last eight regular-season starts and was 31st in third-down completion percentage (54.2). Games are won or lost on third down and in the red zone. So, while the Eagles seem pleased with the development Hurts made in his first full year as a starter, you still have to wonder whether a team with three first-round draft picks in its wallet might have roving eyes if somebody like, say, Seattle’s Russell Wilson becomes available. The truth is, the Eagles don’t know what Hurts’ ceiling is. Maybe he’s reached it. Maybe he’ll get just a little bit better and level off. Or maybe he can develop into an elite quarterback. No one knows, including you, me, Roseman and Sirianni. There is no mystery about Wilson. He’s one of the league’s best quarterbacks. He has a 101.8 career passer rating. He has thrown 292 touchdown passes. He has the fifth best interception percentage in NFL history. He has a .658 winning percentage as a starter. He has made 16 playoff starts. Wilson is 33, which is near the end of the road for most positions, but not quarterback. If you trade for Wilson, chances are you’re probably going to get four or five more quality years out of him, minimum. But even if the Eagles wanted to make a deal for Wilson, there has been no indication that the Seahawks are willing to move him. Yes, they finished a disappointing 7-10 last year, but they aren’t in rebuild mode. Their head coach, Pete Carroll, is 71. As far as he’s concerned, the future is right here, right now. While there were reports last month that Wilson, who has two years left on his current contract, wanted to “explore his options’’ this offseason, the quarterback recently said his “hope and goal” was to stay in Seattle. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say the Seahawks would be willing to trade Wilson, and for the sake of argument, let’s say he’d actually be willing to play for the Eagles. The Los Angeles Rams made a bold quarterback move last year, trading three draft picks, including two first-rounders, and quarterback Jared Goff, to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford. The gamble paid off. Stafford helped the Rams win the Super Bowl. Could the Rams’ successful go-for-broke gamble embolden Roseman to do the same thing with Wilson if he were available? There’s no question Wilson is a better quarterback than Hurts at this point in time. Wilson is a nine-time Pro Bowler. Hurts still is a work in progress. The Rams traded for Stafford because they felt he could put them over the top and help them win a Super Bowl, which he did. But the Eagles aren’t the Rams. They squeaked into the playoffs last season, but their roster needs major surgery. Their defense needs to be almost completely rebuilt. They had just 29 sacks last season and desperately need to add people that can get to the quarterback. Derek Barnett won’t be re-signed. Brandon Graham is 34. Fletcher Cox hasn’t played at an elite level since 2018 and is in the twilight of his career. The Eagles also need to upgrade a plodding linebacker group. They need better, younger players at safety and cornerback so that the league’s better quarterbacks can’t pick them apart like they did last year. They need a No. 2 wide receiver to pair with DeVonta Smith. They need to add depth to the offensive line. They have the draft-pick ammo and salary cap space to fix many of these things this season. But not if they traded for Wilson. If they traded for Wilson, they likely would have to give up two of their first-round picks, and maybe all three. They also would have $19 million of their cap eaten up by his contract this year. So they’d have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, but wouldn’t be able to do much to improve their defense or find him another pass-catching weapon. There also are questions about Wilson himself. The man has taken a beating in his career. He’s been sacked 427 times in his 10 NFL seasons, including a league-high 179 in the last four years. He’s been sacked 78 times on third down since 2018, also the most in the league. He'll get better protection from the Eagles’ offensive line than he got in Seattle, but how much damage already has been done? How much have those 427 sacks shortened his career? I don’t know the answer to that. Neither does Roseman. For the better part of the last quarter century, the Eagles have believed that the key to success is sustainability. Build a solid team that’s going to keep the Super Bowl window of opportunity open for as long as possible, stay in the hunt every year and the odds are good that you will eventually hit pay dirt. The only time the Eagles have really “gone for it’’ was back in 2011 when they tried to take advantage of the circumstances of the NFL lockout and signed a bunch of free agents. Remember the infamous Dream Team? The Eagles finished 8-8 that year and missed the playoffs. Won just four games the following year. So, even if Wilson is available, I would be very surprised to see the Eagles make a move for him. “We’re pleased with the progression Jalen has made,” Sirianni said at the combine this week. “It’s a comment on who he is as a player and as a quarterback that he just continues to get better, whether it’s from Alabama to Oklahoma or from Oklahoma to his first year with us, or from his rookie year to now. “And we just know the progression is going to continue. It’s not just because we’ve seen it in the past. It’s because of the person that he is. He loves football. This guy loves football. And he’s just willing to do the things he needs to do to get better.” *