Back in 2015, Jalen Hurts attempted to recruit fellow high school senior A.J. Brown to attend Alabama with him. As the wide receiver weighed his college options, Hurts aggressively got in his ear, but the quarterback’s efforts came to no avail. Brown wound up attending Ole Miss, while Hurts played three seasons at Alabama before transferring to Oklahoma.
Nearly seven years later, Hurts found himself recruiting Brown again — this time, to bring him to the Eagles. Following a repeated pursuit from Hurts — paired with Brown’s fallout with the Tennessee Titans and his new squad waving $100 million in front of him — they finally are teammates.
The Eagles acquired the star receiver Thursday from the Titans in exchange for two draft picks. The team subsequently signed Brown to a four-year deal worth $100 million, including $57 million in guaranteed salary.
“[Hurts] made it a lot easier to make this decision,” Brown said Monday afternoon, sporting a savvy teal suit during his introductory press conference at the Eagles’ NovaCare Complex. “Because I know he has my back and he knows I have his.”
Brown continued: “I’m one of the top guys in the league. I’m confident in how I play and what I bring to the table. I’m glad the Eagles believe in me.”
Although he’s only 24, Brown has quickly established himself as one of the better receivers in the NFL. Despite playing in a run-heavy scheme, Brown recorded 24 receiving touchdowns, plus one rushing touchdown, over three seasons. With Ryan Tannehill as his primary quarterback, Brown has caught 185 passes for 2,995 receiving yards with an average of 16.2 yards per reception.
“He’s a bigger guy with a lot of play strength,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said of Brown, who is 6-foot-1, 226 pounds. “There’s a lot of different things — his strength, skill set, body quickness. The biggest asset he has is the one that’s so vital to the position — this guy catches everything. We can see him on a lot of different routes and how he can fit this offense. That’s where he’s so tough. You want guys that can win one-on-one matchups, and he’s shown he can do that. The way he wins with his play strength and quickness — he’s intimidating getting off that bus.”
The Eagles led the NFL in rushing last season, so this should serve as familiar territory for Brown, who played with the 2020 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Titans running back Derrick Henry. The Eagles’ run-first formula will likely carry over into the upcoming season based on team philosophy and roster makeup.
But Brown undoubtedly adds another dynamic in Sirianni’s passing offense. He sees himself as a “physical” complement to fellow star receiver DeVonta Smith (64 catches, 916 yards, five touchdowns as a rookie).
“Smitty reached out to me. I know he’s excited, and I’m excited to work with him,” Brown said. “He has a lot of talent. He’s a speedster who gets in and out of his breaks. He’s a great route runner. I’m a guy who brings more physicality. ... We had a lot of talks. My style of play is going to fit in regardless, [with] my physicality and running after the catch.”
Of course, Brown’s ceiling is only as high as his quarterback’s. Hurts is now surrounded by multiple weapons, a strong offensive line, and a potent rushing attack. Hurts has proved his ability as a dual-threat quarterback; he broke the franchise record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season. But he’s shown limitations as a passer. His struggles were most evident during the team’s 31-15 loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC wild-card round, when he completed just 23 of 43 passes, with two interceptions and one touchdown.
Brown is hoping his arrival helps elevate Hurts in his second season as the full-time starter.
“I see a guy who is talented,” Brown said of Hurts. “He believes in himself. He has a strong arm, he’s on time. This is all coming from me — this [opinion] is from all the times we’ve worked out together. I think the sky is the limit for him. I’m going to go to bat for him every Sunday. There’s a different mentality you bring when you’re playing with somebody that is important to you. I’m going to go above and beyond for this team and him.”
Coincidentally just a few days before the trade, Hurts attended Brown’s 2-year-old daughter Jersee’s birthday party. That same weekend, the two players got in an on-field workout session with Brown running routes and Hurts throwing.
“We stayed in contact this entire time,” Brown said. “We became really good friends. I’m extremely excited to play with him. We always joked about it, but we never thought it would be reality. To be honest, we talk all the time. We can hold each other accountable, we know what makes each other tick. Just getting everybody on that same level — it’ll be different.”
Such is a testament to Hurts’ ability to raise those around him. While there are lingering questions about his traits as a passer and whether he can develop into a franchise quarterback, Hurts has proved a good teammate and team captain. Brown is just the most recent example. Following nearly every offseason transaction the Eagles have made, each player has described Hurts as one of the first players to reach out and express his excitement.
Asked exactly how and why he chose to maintain his friendship with Hurts despite not choosing Alabama, Brown replied: “I’m not sure. When you run into good people, you just try to stay close with them. He’s one person I consider really good friends because he’s always looked out for me. He put a bug in my ear [about joining the Eagles].”
On multiple instances, Brown declined to discuss specifics regarding his fallout with the Titans. However, he recently told ESPN the disagreement with his former team had to do with his contract negotiations. Entering his fourth season, Brown was seeking a large extension, but it appears the Titans weren’t willing to meet his asking price. Brown briefly reflected on his time with Tennessee.
“I just want my work to be appreciated, that’s pretty much it,” he said. “There was no explanation [from the Titans]. They were just sorry things couldn’t work out, and it’s a business. Things happen and you move on. I appreciate the Titans and everything they’ve given me. There’s no bad blood with the Titans ... they got my career started.”
Eagles release OL Nate Herbig
Just eight days after signing his restricted free agent tender, Herbig was released by the Eagles on Monday afternoon, a league source confirmed to The Inquirer.
Herbig served as a versatile piece, considering his ability to play at multiple positions, including both guard spots and center. Herbig, 6-foot-4, 334 pounds, primarily played at right guard, appearing in 33 games with 17 starts over three seasons. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Stanford in 2019.
With Herbig gone, other primary interior linemen in addition to veteran center Jason Kelce include Landon Dickerson, Sua Opeta, Isaac Seumalo, Brett Toth, and Kayode Awosika. The Eagles drafted Nebraska center Cam Jurgens in the second round Saturday. Jurgens was a center-only prospect in college, but Sirianni noted Saturday that Jurgens could take reps and be tested at right guard during training camp.