The last time the Eagles did something this crazy, it won them the Super Bowl.
In March of 2017, the Eagles signed Nick Foles and released Chase Daniel. The moves cost them a combined $12 million. It was, by far, the most any team had ever spent on the backup quarterback position. It still is.
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By comparison, taking Jalen Hurts in the second round of the NFL draft seems relatively sane — especially if they think he can be the next Russell Wilson.
Consider the circumstances: In 2017, Carson Wentz was coming off a stellar rookie season in which he started all 16 games. The Eagles cut Daniel — a career backup who was one year into a three-year, $21 million contract to be Wentz’s nonthreatening mentor — to sign Foles. Their combined cap hit accounted for more than 7% of the entire salary cap, but no one made much of it. Maybe they should have.
Now, consider what Foles was: A 28-year-old who’d gone to the Pro Bowl as an Eagle and was the MVP in that game just four years earlier. He’d been drafted by the same people that had just signed him. He’d been reacquired with the owner’s enthusiastic blessing.
A team source said Jeffrey Lurie is just as enthusiastic about drafting Hurts as he was about signing Foles.
Lurie believes what Joe Gibbs always said: The most important player on any team is the quarterback. The second-most important player is the backup quarterback. Joe Gibbs is so smart he’s in the halls of fame for two sports.
If you’re outraged, that’s outrageous. No NFL city should understand the value of a legitimate backup quarterback better than Philadelphia. It’s been 11 years since the Eagles’ Game 1 starter played an entire playoff game. Foles came off the bench three times to lead the Eagles to the playoffs. He replaced Michael Vick in 2013, replaced Wentz in 2017 and won the Super Bowl, then replaced Wentz in 2018 and won yet another playoff game.
The Eagles need Wentz insurance like Donald Trump needs hurricane coverage. Wentz has missed all or most of 25% of the Eagles’ games the past three seasons — 14 of 54 games — and he has played just nine playoff snaps. This all stems from his thrilling, reckless style of play. He won’t change his style, so he will continue to get hurt, and when that happens you can’t bring in Josh McCown.
That’s who replaced Wentz when he left with a concussion early in the Eagles wild-card game playoff game in January. McCown, a 40-year-old high school assistant coach who’d unretired when the Eagles called after backup Nate Sudfeld was injured, went 0-for-3 in the red zone. The Eagles lost by eight points. Sudfeld was so unimpressive in the preseason last year that McCown kept the backup job the rest of the season. Sudfeld is back. Hence, Hurts.
If you think Hurts can’t play quarterback in the NFL, that’s one thing. You’re wrong, but at least it’s a viable argument. But if you think the Eagles should spend the next four years scrambling for a viable backup just so they don’t offend Wentz, that’s quite another thing. Lurie doesn’t care if Hurts makes Wentz nervous now. He shouldn’t care. Lurie wants to win games. Lurie also knows that, if Hurts’ presence affects Wentz, then Wentz will never win anything, anyway.
Might a different pick have been more valuable? Perhaps, in your eyes.
Maybe you’d have taken one of two linebackers: Josh Uche, who went to the Patriots, or Willie Gay, who went to the Chiefs. But the Eagles haven’t drafted a true linebacker as high as the second round since they took Mychal Kendricks in 2012, and that’s the only time they picked a linebacker as high as the second round since Roseman 2005. Maybe you’d have drafted one of two receivers: Denzel Mims, who went to the Jets, or Van (yawn) Jefferson, the Rams’ latest mistake. The Eagles had already drafted Jalen Reagor 21st overall, and they simply weren’t going to take two receivers that high.
Hurts went 53rd overall. Might he have been available when the Eagles chose again at No. 103? Perhaps. No quarterbacks were drafted in the next 50 picks.
However, Jacob Eason went at No. 122 to the Colts, where he’ll be coached by former Eagles coordinator Frank Reich. James Morgan went at No. 125 to the Jets, where former Eagles personnel director Joe Douglas is now the GM. Both Reich and Douglas covet QBs like the Eagles do. The Jets had two picks in that 50-pick gap, and the Colts had one. Reich or Douglas might have snatched Hurts.
You couldn’t have blamed them. Hurts is a very good football player.
He ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the NFL draft combine. That’s as fast as Cam Newton ran in 2011, and it’s faster than 11 receivers and 12 running backs ran this year. Hurts accounted for 53 touchdowns at Oklahoma in his last season: 32 passing, 20 rushing, one receiving. He ran for 1,298 yards, which ranked 18th in the country, but he also finished with 3,851 passing yards, which ranked eighth. His 191.2 passer rating was second only to LSU’s Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick, to whom Hurts also finished second in Heisman Trophy voting.
That’s quite a pedigree. Of course, the Eagles would prefer that Hurts never throws a pass as a starter for the length of Wentz’s current four-year, $128 million contract. But comparisons to Tim Tebow, a three-team flop, are misguided, while comparisons to Taysom Hill, the current flavor of the month, are insulting.
Hill was a mediocre college passer who was constantly hurt at BYU; went undrafted in 2017; got cut by the Packers; and has been a Saints roster gimmick ever since. When Drew Brees was injured last season, they used Teddy Bridgewater, not Hill.
Hurts, meanwhile, is a legitimate NFL quarterback prospect, an elusive glider who throws a wonderful deep ball. He is as plug-and-play as any passer in the draft; he’s played in 56 college games over the last four years, all at the highest possible levels. He is much more like Russell Wilson than Taysom Hill. Eagles GM Howie Roseman told NBC Sports Philadelphia on Sunday that the Eagles considered taking Wilson with one of their two second-round picks in 2012, when they drafted Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry, because they planned to take Wilson in the third, but the Seahawks snagged him first. The Eagles settled for Foles.
Like almost any rookie, Hurts has plenty to polish. That might take longer than usual, considering the current offseason restrictions imposed by the coronavirus lockdown. Assuming the best for the Eagles — that Wentz stays healthy while Hurts develops — the worst this pick will bring them is greater value down the road, the way Jimmy Garoppolo, taken 62nd overall in 2014, brought the Patriots the 49ers’ 43rd pick in the 2018 draft.
The Eagles have always invested lavishly at the backup quarterback position. They have seldom regretted it. They drafted Kevin Kolb with the 35th overall pick in 2007, then flipped him in 2011 to Arizona for both a second-round pick and starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. In 2009, with Kolb already on the roster, Lurie green-lighted the acquisition of Michael Vick for the next two seasons at a cost of about $7 million. Vick entered 2010 as Kolb’s backup, then led the Eagles to the playoffs. Two years later, when Vick was only 31, in the second year of an $80 million deal, and was one season removed from his fourth Pro Bowl, the Eagles drafted Foles in the third round with the 88th overall pick. That’s just 35 picks lower than Hurts.
Nobody blinked at any of those moves. Remarkably, the Foles pick carried plenty of value down the road. The Eagles eventually traded Foles and a second-round pick for Sam Bradford, then eventually traded Bradford for a first-round pick, who became Derek Barnett, who recovered the fumble that helped clinch Super Bowl LII.
The same game in which Nick Foles, in his second Eagles life, was the $12 million MVP.
“We utilized about $12 million to have a second quarterback,” Lurie said that week. “And it may have seemed irrational.”
Drafting Jalen Hurts in the second round might seem irrational, too.