Eagles going for it while Jalen Hurts is still underpaid

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Why Hurts is actually a reason the Eagles are going for it originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

When the Eagles traded for A.J. Brown and then gave him a $100 million contract, it was easy to find the connection with his best friend Jalen Hurts. And it seemed like that friendship might have helped the Eagles land Brown.

Hurts had a lot to do with it for a different reason.

He doesn’t get paid much.

Because Hurts is still getting paid relative peanuts on his rookie contract, it has allowed the Eagles to splash this offseason, to go “all-in” despite the unknowns about their quarterback position long-term. Heck, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman admitted as much shortly after the Brown trade.

“Obviously with all these players, contract's a big issue,” Roseman said in April. “When you have a young quarterback like we do, you can be a little bit more aggressive with contracts than maybe you can when you're paying a quarterback.”

Remember when we heard the Titans were low-balling Brown? Well, the Titans have an established quarterback who makes a ton of money. No matter your thoughts about him as a player, Ryan Tannehill has the highest cap figure of any quarterback in the NFL in 2022.

It’s pretty clear to draw the correlation as Roseman did when he was a guest on PFTPM recently.

“I don’t want to talk for [Titans G.M. Jon Robinson],” Roseman said, “but I’m sure that was part of his thinking, like, ‘I got a quarterback that I’m paying.’”

That would make some sense. Tannehill in 2022 has a cap hit of $38.6 million — or 19.5% of the Titans’ total cap payout this season.

Hurts, meanwhile, has a cap hit of just over $1.64 million, which ranks 54th in the NFL among quarterbacks, according to OverTheCap. That ranks as the 29th-highest cap hit on the Eagles’ roster, just behind J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. And Hurts accounts for less than 1% of the Eagles’ total cap payout.

This is a pretty simple concept. Quarterback is the most important position in football and they are generally the highest paid players on their respective teams. But the rookie wage scale means that quarterbacks are cost-controlled for at least the first three years of their rookie contracts before they become eligible for extensions.

As a second-round pick in 2020, Hurts is extremely underpaid as an NFL starter. And that has allowed the Eagles to allocate that cap space to other positions.

So when the Eagles went out this offseason and signed Haason Reddick, gave Brown a mega deal, when they paid Fletcher Cox $14 million to return, brought in James Bradberry late and even when they handed out all those extensions during the season last year, it was in part because of Hurts. Not because they’re necessarily all-in on Hurts becoming the long-term franchise quarterback, but because his salary is so low it allows the Eagles to go all-in in other areas. They’re in a strike-now window.

This is the Russell Wilson plan. Not the Wilson who plays for the Broncos or the Wilson who became one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL. This is about Russell Wilson, the inexpensive third-round pick in 2012 who led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in his second NFL season and back again in his third.

Now, none of this is to compare Wilson and Hurts as football players. Wilson was a Pro Bowler in each of his first four NFL seasons and came out of the gate as a star. But their salaries are comparable. Because in 2013, when Wilson led the Seahawks to their Super Bowl victory, his cap hit was just over $681,000. In 2014, when he led them back to the Super Bowl, his salary was just over $817,00.

It’s no coincidence that the Seahawks were able to build an extremely strong team when Wilson was underpaid. It allowed them to use that cap space to bolster a roster that had five other Pro Bowlers in 2013 and 2014 and the No. 1 defense in the NFL during that two-year span.

It wasn’t until the 2015 season when Wilson got a $87.6 million contract extension that he was finally paid what he deserved. That’s when the roster construction became trickier. The Seahawks were good after that but never got past the divisional round again with Wilson as their QB.

If Hurts plays like a franchise quarterback in 2022, then the Eagles might give him a big contract extension before next season. But even then, they’d still have the ability to backload it and keep the cap figure relatively low for at least the next few years.

While Hurts was very inexpensive last year, his first as a starter in the NFL, the quarterback position wasn’t inexpensive for the Eagles. They were swallowing a then-NFL record $33.82 million in dead money for Carson Wentz, who was traded to the Colts. That accounted for over 16% of the Eagles’ adjusted cap figure. This season, the Eagles' entire quarterback room accounts for just 2.55% of their adjusted cap.

So, with Hurts and Gardner Minshew on their rookie contracts, this is really the first season the Eagles are enjoying the benefit of an inexpensive quarterback room. They’re making the most of it.

Now, this only works if Hurts is able to improve enough and play well enough to turn the Eagles into legitimate contenders. If he can, this plan would be a very worthwhile one.

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