It’s apparently Jalen Hurts’ time.
After agreeing to trade Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts Thursday, the Eagles have moved back into the swath of teams searching for a franchise quarterback. Unless Howie Roseman and Co. decide to use their first-round pick on the position in April’s draft, Hurts will be the first signal-caller with the chance to lock down the job.
As it stands, the former Oklahoma and Alabama star is the only quarterback on the roster under contract, with Nate Sudfeld again going into free agency. A lot can change from now until the start of training camp, but the decision to move on from Wentz should set up Hurts to enter next season as The Guy.
The Eagles’ messaging around Hurts this offseason had been mostly even-handed with praise for Wentz and Hurts, but new head coach Nick Sirianni said he considered Hurts a “top-notch” quarterback.
“We have two quarterbacks, Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts, that are top-notch,” Sirianni said. “A lot of teams don’t have any. Just really excited to work with both of them.”
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie had a similar sentiment last month, calling both players “really interesting assets.”
“A coach is going to have an ability to fix what he feels is necessary in our offense and have a potential star in Carson and a potential star in Jalen,” Lurie said Jan. 11 after Doug Pederson’s firing. “That gives us an asset, also, so that if we end up deciding on one someday, the other is a really good asset.”
The first year of Hurts’ career was a strange one. The Eagles surprisingly had taken him in the second round of last year’s draft with the idea that he’d serve as Wentz’s low-cost backup, with the upside to become trade bait if he developed into a starting-quality quarterback. The plan obviously backfired, as did Roseman’s claim that he wanted the team to be a “quarterback factory.” Instead, Hurts’ presence will allow the team a cleaner transition from Wentz after the 28-year-old had the worst statistical season of his career, leading to his benching.
Hurts, 22, started the last four games of the year and had mixed, albeit promising, results. He completed 52% of his passes and threw six touchdowns to four interceptions in an offense that was dysfunctional and beset with injuries all year. His completion rate over expectation was minus-3.4%, one of the lowest in the league, although it was an improvement over Wentz’s minus-4.1%.
Hurts’ running ability gave the Eagles’ stagnant offense a spark. In his first start, he rushed for 106 yards and led the Eagles to an improbable win against a top-ranked New Orleans Saints defense. That was his lone win in his four games as the starter, something he said he needed to improve on during his year-end news conference last month.
“I care about nothing but winning. I’ve been so invested in doing that,” Hurts said. “Nothing else matters. How can I grow into the player I know I can be? What does that look like? Who’s around me? Who’s going to help me get there? That’s where my head is. I’m all about growth. I’m all about learning. And I just want to continue to grow as a player and help this team. That’s where my head has been these last four weeks. I’m very appreciative of this opportunity and I want to take advantage of it. I’m all about how can I help this team get to where we want to be.”
Hurts seemingly won over much of the Eagles’ locker room throughout the year with his even-keel personality. In college, he had quickly become the face of two prominent college football programs, first as a freshman starter at Alabama and eventually as a transfer at Oklahoma.
Several Eagles players, including receiver Greg Ward and running back Miles Sanders, called Hurts a “natural leader” once he took over as the starter.
“He’s a playmaker, a natural-born leader,” Ward said after the Saints game in December. “He went out there and showed that, he made plays, and he made plays on his feet and in the air, and he had that spark, and we all rallied behind him and came out with the win.”
Even with his standing in the locker room and the promise of his rookie season, there’s still a chance Hurts’ path to next season’s starting job will grow murkier by summer. According to an Inquirer report, the Eagles will consider drafting a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in April. They could also bring in a free agent, although it’s worth noting the team now has league-record $33.8 million in dead salary-cap money allocated at the position in the aftermath of the trade.
This year’s class features a handful of high-rated quarterback prospects, including Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, and Trey Lance from North Dakota State, Wentz’s alma mater. Lawrence is virtually guaranteed to go to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first pick, but the Eagles could be in a position to get one of the other three.