Jalen Hurts might not be the best of the best, but he might be the best of the Bridgewaters
The Broncos and Teddy Bridgewater offer an interesting prism through which to view the Eagles and their current quarterback dilemma.
Maybe we’re looking at the whole Jalen Hurts issue the wrong way. By now, it should be clear to anybody who watches the kid that he isn’t Justin Herbert or Joe Burrow or Patrick Mahomes. He isn’t the next Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. He probably isn’t even the next Matt Ryan or Matthew Stafford.
But maybe that isn’t the question that will define the Eagles for as long as Hurts is under center. Maybe it never was. Rather than holding Hurts to the standard that for so long has shaped the debate about Eagles quarterbacks — is he That Guy? — perhaps we should hold him to the standard that decides each game. Is he better than the other guy?
On Sunday, Hurts and the Eagles will square off against a quarterback who personifies the reality of the position in the year 2021. Look at the NFC standings and you won’t struggle to find a team that took a look at Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings, the Saints, the Panthers — Bridgewater could easily be starting for any of them right now. The fact that he isn’t is attributable largely to the dominant paradigm in NFL organization in the 21st century: If you don’t have The Guy, you keep auditioning until you find him.
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You can argue how deeply that applies to each of Bridgewater’s employers — the Vikings paid big money to Kirk Cousins, the Saints had another year of Drew Brees, etc. — but the fact remains, if any of these teams viewed Bridgewater as The Guy, he would not be a member of the Denver Broncos.
What you can’t argue is that at least two of those three teams are no better off without Bridgewater, and are arguably much worse. Not only did the Panthers give up valuable draft capital in a trade with the Jets for Sam Darnold, they are considering benching the guy.
The Saints spent the preseason auditioning Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill for a job that is manned by former Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian. The Vikings? They are what they always will be with a guy like Cousins, which isn’t a whole lot different than the team the Broncos are with Bridgewater.
The Eagles might not be facing a Super Bowl contender in Denver on Sunday, but they are facing a team that has been a whole lot worse than they are now.
Which brings us to Hurts, and the Eagles, and the school of thought that says Jeffrey Lurie should do everything in his power to avoid the place he seems headed. Quarterback purgatory is not an ideal destination, but it is a whole lot better than quarterback hell.
You might not know very much about quarterback hell, because it’s a place we don’t talk about much. It’s where the Bears have been since they drafted Mitch Trubisky at No. 2 overall in 2017. It’s where the Titans were until they lucked into Ryan Tannehill. It’s where the Jets have been for most of their history. And, frankly, it’s where the Broncos were until they decided to see where mere competence could take them.
Two years ago, Denver spent a second-round draft pick on Drew Lock. Three years before that, they spent a first-round pick on Paxton Lynch. Four years before that, they spent a second-round pick on Brock Osweiler, which came two years after they spent a first-rounder on Tim Tebow. That’s a considerable amount of draft capital burnt on a single position in the span of 11 years, all of it on players who were dead on their arrival in an NFL huddle.
The fact that Peyton Manning won them a Super Bowl during this stretch only underscores the reality of where the Eagles are now: Sometimes, the right guy just arrives.
It’s something the Eagles should consider as they continue this process of figuring out where Hurts fits in their grand scheme. He might not be the best of the best. But maybe the question is whether he can be the best of the Bridgewaters. Can he be a guy who keeps you competitive each year? Can he win more games than he loses? Bridgewater may not be a guy who is a perennial fixture in marketing campaigns, but he is a professional, and that alone makes him better than a third of the league.
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Instead of trying to talk ourselves into believing that Hurts might someday become something he is not, it might do us some good to consider who Hurts is.
He is better than Darnold. He is better than Jared Goff. These are not controversial claims. Hurts has led the Eagles to victories over the Panthers and the Lions this season. He passes the eye test, and the numbers test.
By the end of this season, we will learn that the Eagles are a more competitive team with Hurts than Washington is with Taylor Heinecke. We have yet to learn that they will be any less competitive than the vast majority of teams that have spent first-round picks on quarterbacks over the last couple of seasons.
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Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance all have higher ceilings than Hurts, but the early returns suggest that all have much lower floors. Tua Tagovailoa may have beaten him out at Alabama, but would it surprise anybody if Hurts is the one with the longer NFL career?
The Broncos, the Bears, the Jets, the Titans all have spent multiple first-round picks on quarterbacks over the last decade-plus without yielding anything close to a once-in-a-decade quarterback. That doesn’t mean the Eagles should commit to Hurts for the long run. It just means they should take careful stock of who he is before blindly grasping for something better.