Sooner Than Later?: Birds Could Be Moving On To Hurts
When the Eagles stunningly chose Jalen Hurts with the 53rd overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, the logic behind the investment was severely downplayed, as general manager Howie Roseman hastily alluded to his desire of presiding over a franchise renowned for developing quarterbacks.
Nearly nine months later, however, the farcical "quarterback factory" ideology is one of a multitude of blunders that has put the team at a crossroads entering a turbulent offseason.
While the defense also contributed to a disastrous 2020, an incredulously stagnant offense never found its footing.
Eventually, the culmination of inept coaching, woeful offensive line play, predictability, and yes, insufficient play from the franchise quarterback prompted a late-season change in a last-ditch effort to jumpstart the unit.
In a move that no one could have fathomed – even in the midst of Carson Wentz's ineffectiveness – the Eagles benched Wentz midway through the third quarter in Green Bay, replacing him with the rookie Hurts.
Although the result was a 30-16 thrashing from the Packers, Hurts was responsible for the team’s only touchdown – a pinpoint, 32-yard heave to Greg Ward on fourth-down. Hurts, who to that point had primarily been deployed as a gadget player, completed 5-of-12 pass attempts for 109 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in his first prolonged stint.
Sure, there wasn’t enough NFL footage of him for the Packers to concoct a plan of attack, and Hurts entered the game relatively unscathed from minimal usage, but the rookie signal-caller jolted the offense in a way that could only compare to the opening half of the season opener.
After careful deliberation, head coach Doug Pederson named Hurts as the team’s starting quarterback the following week. In a modern-day tale of David vs. Goliath, Hurts assumed the reins of a 3-8-1 team poised to take on the NFC’s version of Goliath, the 10-2 New Orleans Saints.
Though far from perfect in the conference clash, Hurts impressed from a poise, leadership, and pocket presence standpoint. He evaded pressure with his legs – he rushed for 106 yards – and threw the football away at the first sign of duress. But perhaps most notable was his ball distribution to eight different receivers and a penchant for keeping his eyes downfield.
Hurts threw for only 167 yards in the 24-21 victory, and the performance of the defensive line was the true catalyst to the upset, but the energy and youthful exuberance of Hurts appeared to radiate through all three phases. For the first time in weeks, the Eagles showed signs of life.
The following week, the Eagles were mired in an early 16-point deficit on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. Hurts and the offense came out flat and an undermanned defense struggled to slow the explosive Cardinals’ aerial attack.
Despite the inauspicious start, however, Hurts shook off the early rust and turned the game into a shootout in the desert.
In his second career start, Hurts threw for 338 passing yards and three touchdowns, while adding another 63 yards and a touchdown with his legs. The Eagles’ valiant comeback attempt ultimately fell short in the waning moments and data began to compile on Hurts.
While Hurts facilitated the ball to nine different receivers, showcased his signature poise and athleticism, and at times offered a tantalizing glimpse into his future as a pro-level quarterback, he hardly escaped the 33-26 defeat without blemishes.
An egregious safety sustained in the first quarter can be chalked up to inexperience but Hurts fumbled three times, was fortunate to elude multiple interceptions, and regressed in his pocket awareness. Also, the Arizona defense instituted halftime adjustments to which the Eagles never adapted. As encouraging of an offensive performance as it was, if the offense had managed to string together more of a complete game, the Eagles likely would have stolen another win.
In what was essentially a Week 16 playoff game in Dallas, Hurts came out firing on all cylinders. His 81-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson in the first quarter ignited the sideline, and an elusive playoff spot suddenly felt attainable.
The team’s playoff hopes dissipated with each passing quarter, however, and a promising start rapidly spiraled into a 37-17 thumping. Hurts finished with 342 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions in defeat, but previous concerns resurfaced.
Hurts didn’t see the field well, was skittish in the pocket, committed three turnovers, and many of his throws missed the mark. Like he did against the Cardinals the week before, Hurts struggled after the Cowboys made the necessary adjustments. The offense again appeared stuck in neutral throughout the second half.
The regular-season finale against Washington revealed little from an evaluation standpoint, as Hurts eventually gave way to backup Nate Sudfeld in the fourth quarter to close out the season.
So, where exactly does that leave the Eagles as they prepare to navigate uncharted territory this offseason?
An ESPN report Sunday indicated that the relationship between Wentz and Pederson was “fractured beyond repair” and that the quarterback intends to request a trade.
On Monday, Wentz had an opportunity to clear the air, but declined to speak with reporters.
While that predicament adds another layer of drama to an expectedly eventful offseason, one of the deciding factors will likely come down to the team's assessment of Hurts.
Yes, it was just a small sample size but Hurts conjured enough intrigue in four starts to warrant starting consideration in 2021. In most cases, he remained unflappable under pressure, showcased the athleticism to consistently extend plays, elevated the play of those around him, earned the respect of teammates, and proved he doesn’t need an ideal situation around him to generate offense. Many of those characteristics are directly tied to leadership. Hurts has some work to do this offseason. He must improve his anticipation and ball placement, must better protect the football – and himself – and must deliver with more velocity.
If the team feels that most of Hurts’ deficiencies can be corrected with a full offseason – and the right coach – it would soften the immense blow of potentially parting with the face of the franchise. – Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com. Listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast with Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan: