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Now that the Eagles have traded Carson Wentz to the Colts for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 conditional second-round pick that could turn into a first-round pick if Wentz plays 75 percent of the snaps, or 70 percent of the snaps and the team makes the playoffs, Philly has the guy who was probably the NFL’s worst starting quarterback in 2020 out the door. Of course, getting Wentz out the door is one thing — getting him off the books is quite another matter. The Eagles will take on an NFL-record $33.82 million in dead money in the trade due to the four-year, $128 million extension Wentz signed in June, 2019. A disastrous decision in retrospect, but at least the Eagles are able to cancel it, with the inherent salary cap pain added in.
Of course, the question now is, what do the Eagles do with their quarterback situation? There’s Jalen Hurts, who impressed more than he didn’t as a rookie after it was clear that Wentz was killing the team every time he took the field. With the same offensive line and receiver issues Wentz dealt with, Hurts completed 77 of 148 passes for 1,061 yards, six touchdowns, four interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 71.6.
The Eagles also have the sixth pick the 2021 draft, which means they could either stay put and draft another quarterback with the understanding that the two best quarterbacks in this class — Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and BYU’s Zach Wilson — will most likely be off the board. Unless they trade up, new head coach and former Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni would then be left with a pack of quarterbacks with more serious issues.
There’s Ohio State’s Justin Fields, who certainly checks all the boxes as a thrower and as an athlete, but has some processing problems that could really bite him at the NFL level. There’s North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, who has a lot on the ball, but faces strength of competition concerns. One could easuly argue that in Hurts, the Eagles already have a guy who can do most of what Lance can do, and has already erased any strength of opponent issues both at the collegiate and professional levels.
Beyond that, there are two guys who would be massive reaches at six — Alabama’s Mac Jones, who looks like a future Pro Bowler in the pocket but has little to no second-reaction ability, and Florida’s Kyle Trask, who might be even less effectively mobile than Jones. As I recently posited regarding Jones, the inability to make second-reaction plays outside of structure and outside the pocket might be a fatal flaw in today’s NFL.
So, maybe it’s ride-or-die with Hurts, which isn’t the worst possible option.
Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
“I’m really excited to work with him,” Sirianni said of Hurts in his introductory press conference. “We studied him last year. Had a great college tape. He played meaningful snaps this year that he played well in. The conversation with him and the conversation with the guys that I’ve had is really excited to start working with you. Most of the conversation is getting to know the individual besides football.”
The admiration appears to be mutual, per the quarterback.
“I’ve had the opportunity to speak with him and I think he’s a great guy,” Hurts said during an appearance on the NFL Network. “Just meeting him, hopefully looking forward to being able to sit down and talk with him some more. I was able to do that a little bit. I’m just excited. I actually talked a little bit before I got drafted when he was at the Colts and I know he had a lot of love and respect for me there, so we got the opportunity to work with each other now so I’m excited.”
Hurts’ first start came against the Saints in Week 13, and I was very impressed with what he was able to do against the NFL’s second-best defense per DVOA.
This 39-yard completion on third-and-7 to fellow rookie Jalen Reagor at the end of the first quarter came out of a mesh concept underneath New Orleans’ dropping linebackers, and gave Hurts an easy open read with the potential for yards after the catch. Mesh is an Eagles staple, and it worked like a charm here. Reagor and receiver Travis Fulgham ran the crossers, and tight end Zach Ertz and receiver Greg Ward occupied the linebackers and safeties with routes up the middle. Ertz’s sit route off of mesh is another Eagles favorite.
This 5-yard completion to tight end Dallas Goedert is a simple play, but it shows how Hurts can work in a full offense as a passer. He’s got Sanders running a wheel route to his right and receiver Quez Watkins with a quick outlet to the right out of motion, but he’s rolling left to hit Goedert on the crosser, and he’s also got Ertz on the deeper over route if he wants it. Pederson dialed up some nice eye candy to set this defense on edge, and Hurts had no issue coordinating the passing game with it. It’s not like he’s running the entire playbook at a graduate level, but at this point, what the Eagles need more than anything is a quarterback who can run the playbook at all.
One indicator of Doug Pederson’s trust in Hurts — again, don’t listen to what coaches say; watch what they do — was this 15-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles have fourth-and-2 with 13:30 left in the first half in a 0-0 game, and nobody would have said boo had Pederson gone for the field goal here. But he wanted to see how Hurts would respond, and Hurts picked out the backside matchup against man coverage.
Jalen Hurts to Alshon Jeffery TD
Eagles first TD in the first half in 5 games 👀 🔥🔥
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) December 13, 2020
Hurts and Lamar Jackson are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to run for more than 100 yards in their first career starts, so the designed quarterback run was a big part of the plan. Perhaps the most notable stat for the Eagles was this, per Pro Football Focus’ Kevin Cole:
Eagles sacks taken
Weeks 1-13: 53
Week 14: 0
— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) December 14, 2020
Hurts only suffered three quarterback hits in the game, so it’s not as if the Saints were almost getting to him over and over. One of the reasons for this was Philly’s highly effective use of play-action and run-pass options to create backfield mesh points that forced New Orleans’ defenders to read and react instead of pinning their ears back against the rookie. On this fake to running back Miles Sanders, you can see New Orleans’ defense compressed in the middle, giving Hurts an easy out for a 9-yard run. End Cameron Jordan is one of the best in the business, but he’s not going to beat Hurts to the edge without a serious head start.
The Saints hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 55 straight games, and they allowed both Hurts and Sanders to do it in this game. You think that happens if Wentz is the quarterback the way he’s played this year?
“I mean, it was a new experience for me, for sure. My first NFL start out there, I’m excited that I was able to do it with this group of guys, with this team,” Hurts said after the game, via the team’s official site. “We’re ready to get back to work and fix the things we need to fix.
“The guys just told me to be you. Go out there and be J-Hurts. Everything else will take of itself. We all had each other’s back. That’s the beauty in all this. We had each other’s back. We went out there against a really good football team. We had so much money we left on the table (missed opportunities). Moving forward, we just want to continue to build, learn from our mistakes, and hope we progress.
“We talked about energy. We talked about urgency. We talked about a lot of enthusiasm and being there for your brother. We control what we can control. Go out there and try to control the controllables. Go out there and play ball and have fun and trust in one another. That’s what we did today. Lot of grit. Lot of perseverance, and we were there for one another.”
Sanders was unequivocal in his praise.
“He’s a natural leader. He gave us that spark that started last week. I think we look like a complete team. Overall, I think this whole team did a hell of job.”
Pederson was more restrained, but that was his job in a difficult situation.
“Sometimes you look for an opportunity to jump-start things and kind of reset a little bit,” the former coach said. “Jalen got the start this afternoon, and I thought overall there were some good things, and really kind of gave us a spark as a team that I was looking for, and I think we were looking for as a team. But this win is not about one guy. This win is about this team and how resilient this team is.”
Hurts came back the next week and threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions against the Cardinals, and it looked as if he was hitting the ground running. Then, in his last two games against the Cowboys and Washington, he threw one touchdown pass — a long bomb to DeSean Jackson — and three interceptions. As is the case with most rookie quarterbacks, attendant issues started to pile up.
This interception against Dallas’ abysmal pass defense is based on a throw Hurts should never make for several reasons. First, he’s rolling to his left out of the pocket, which will negatively affect his throwing momentum. Watch from the end zone angle how Hurts has to torque his entire body to get his shoulders turned to the target, and how his velocity just isn’t there as a result.
Second, the Cowboys have Travis Fulgham — Hurts’ target — bracketed in their two-deep coverage, with cornerback Anthony Brown up front, and safe4y Donovan Wilson bringing up the rear. It could be argued that Hurts didn’t even have to leave the pocket in the first place, and it’s pretty clear that a look to receiver Greg Ward from the left inside slot out of trips would have been the safer throw.
The pick against Washington came on a quick slant to tight end Zach Ertz, and this was a case of underrated safety Kamren Curl jamming Ertz right from the snap, Ertz neglecting to get his head around, and Hurts should have adjusted his throw for how that aggressive coverage affected the timing of the route. That’s what you expect from starting quarterbacks.
But in the grand scheme of things, these are relatively minor and workable quibbles. Obviously, Sirianni is going to want his own ideal quarterback, but unless Zach Wilson somehow falls past the Jets at 2, the Dolphins at 3, and the Falcons at 4 (the Bengals aren’t in the market for a quarterback), Jalen Hurts has shown enough to be given a legitimate shot through an entire offseason to prepare as the starting quarterback, and then show what he can do in that capacity from start to finish.