How Eagles’ obsession (still) with Marcus Mariota can help Jalen Hurts’ next contract
It was an interesting dichotomy for the Eagles at the NFL's annual meetings, held coincidentally enough about 20 minutes from Glendale, Arizona, where the Eagles lost by a field goal to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
On the one hand, there was Eagles general manager Howie Roseman saying early on during his press conference, without being asked, that he wants to sign Jalen Hurts to a contract extension as soon as possible. That contract would no doubt make Hurts, the MVP runner-up, among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL.
That's not a surprise. Roseman has made similar statements leading up to the Super Bowl, a few days after the Super Bowl and at the NFL scouting combine.
On the other hand, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni wasn't asked at all about Hurts until five minutes remained in his 30-minute question-and-answer session with reporters on Tuesday.
But Sirianni's answer about Hurts' offseason tells you why Sirianni feels the same way Roseman does. Sirianni sees Hurts working out at the NovaCare Complex during this offseason, acting like a seventh-round draft pick fighting for a final spot on the 53-man roster − and not someone who will at some point get a contract extension that could be worth more than $200 million.
"He’s still in there lifting and working it like a maniac in the weight room, just getting after it," Sirianni told reporters. "People have asked me, 'How good can Jalen Hurts be?' No one knows what Jalen’s ceiling can be, but I know, God willing, he can reach it because of all the factors that he has.
"He’s not all of a sudden different. He’s still putting in the work like you’ve seen him put in the work the last couple of years."
The Eagles are putting in the work, too. Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said this about Hurts to reporters on Tuesday night: ”Honestly, I don’t know if I ever met somebody that mature at 24.”
And that brings us to Marcus Mariota, the quarterback the Eagles recently signed in free agency to serve as Hurts' backup.
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No, there won't be a competition for the starting job. As Roseman told reporters Monday, he'd be perfectly fine if Mariota "doesn’t have to take the field other than mop-up duty."
Then Roseman added: "But I feel like he could run our offense if need be, if Jalen caught a cold or something, and he had to play."
The Eagles' entire offseason strategy has been a balancing act, knowing that they wouldn't be able to keep the vast majority of their 20 free agents, but also knowing they had to keep some while replacing those who left with lower-cost, but high-talent players, all while keeping enough room on the salary cap for Hurts' extension.
The extension technically wouldn't kick in until 2024. But by signing Hurts this offseason, the Eagles can start spacing out some of the signing bonus into this year, when Hurts' salary cap hit is $4.8 million.
"When we’re looking at this free agency period, we know the dynamics of our cap are going to have to change at some point," Roseman told reporters. "So we just can’t do that at that point. We have to look into team building, not only this year, but into 2024 and 2025."
This is where Mariota fits in.
In many ways, it's an interesting turnaround for Roseman. Back in 2015, Roseman had lost a power struggle with Chip Kelly, who became both coach and general manager while Roseman was relegated to the business side.
Kelly, who previously coached at the University of Oregon, was desperate to trade up from No. 20 to No. 2 in the 2015 draft to take Mariota, who played for him at Oregon and had just won the Heisman Trophy.
Kelly couldn't pull it off, and the Tennessee Titans drafted him.
But Mariota had an up-and-down career. He eventually lost his job in 2019 to Ryan Tannehill, spent the next two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders as Derek Carr's backup, then went to Atlanta last season as the "placeholder" quarterback for Desmond Ridder, the Falcons' third-round pick.
Mariota was benched late in the season for Ridder. The following week, Mariota had season-ending knee surgery and essentially left the team.
Either way, Mariota was a free agent, and the Eagles pounced, signing him to a one-year deal worth as much as $8 million.
As it turns out, Kelly wasn't the only one enamored with Mariota going into the 2015 draft.
"Gosh, I’ve been wanting to coach him for a long time," Sirianni told reporters about Mariota, recalling a story leading up to the draft when he was the Chargers' quarterbacks coach and Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator.
"Frank and I went and worked him out at Oregon at a private workout. And we just thought the world of him as a person, and obviously, his play spoke for itself. But he’s very talented in a lot of different things that he could do."
One thing Mariota could do that the previous two Eagles backup quarterbacks couldn't do in Gardner Minshew and Joe Flacco is serve as a dual threat.
Mariota threw for 2,219 yards last season and ran for 438 more in his 13 games.
Hurts threw for 3,701 yards and ran for 760, while accounting for 35 touchdowns (22 passing, 13 rushing) with only eight turnovers (six interceptions, two lost fumbles).
Sirianni said being a dual threat isn't a prerequisite for a backup to Hurts. But it doesn't hurt, either.
"You just want the best quarterback available to go out there and win games," Sirianni said. "Now, with that being said, there are a lot of things that we can recapture with Marcus being the backup that Jalen brings, too."
Mariota, meanwhile, might have bristled last season in Atlanta when he was replaced by Ridder. But that's not going to be the case here, not with Hurts entrenched as the starter, and soon to be entrenched with a potentially record-breaking contract.
At the same time, Roseman and the Eagles got the backup quarterback that wasn't just the object of Kelly's obsession, but Sirianni's as well.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: How Jalen Hurts' contract impacted by Eagles' Marcus Mariota obsession