Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, the first of the two-part discussion will focus on Jalen Hurts and the team’s decision at quarterback going into the offseason.
EJ: We’ve talked about Jalen Hurts probably more than any other player this season, but I wanted to start off by asking you what the playoff performance added to his evaluation.
JB: This was the game where he was going to get tested with some of the things that I maintained we hadn’t seen. Those were things like facing a front that’s really difficult to run against, facing teams that were going to be a little bit better in coverage, teams that are unpredictable in how they attack a quarterback. Just like I didn’t feel it was fair to overly credit him for some of the successes we saw because they didn’t include these things, I don’t want to declare that you can make a definitive decision based on one game in the other direction.
I still do consider it very informative because things you can legitimately and objectively be concerned about, he had one chance in a key moment to refute them and he didn’t. The issues around accuracy and processing and whether you can develop a sophisticated and developed passing attack, to me the question mark became even more concerning. As you know, it’s always been there for me. I wasn’t watching the wins and going ‘Oh, they got the guy.’ I also wasn’t eliminating the possibility that he’d be the guy. What happened in the game added to my concern that they don’t have the guy.
When you get to the playoffs, you’re playing teams with relatively few weaknesses. That’s when you have to prove you can succeed in a significant way. The game against Tampa is concerning and can’t be dismissed, but I was even more concerned about them falling behind to Washington in a must-win game. I think Washington is a terrible team with a fair quarterback who was coming off an injury. The Eagles had a must-win to get into the playoffs and they were actually losing and were fairly dominated in the first half of the game. That was a big yellow flag, red flag, call it what you want. Then you add the Tampa Bay game, and you have to be very concerned about whether he can do all these things — and this is the key — against good teams.
EJ: What do you think Hurts’ ceiling is? I’m sure this is central to the conversations Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman are having right now. Do you think, even with the progress we expect him to make with experience, he can be one of the league’s best quarterbacks?
JB: I have serious concerns about being able to say yes to that, and that is the exact question. Whether it’s us talking or the team talking. That’s the question. We anticipate progress, it’s virtually guaranteed that he’ll make progress. Can he actually get to the point where he can beat good teams? My answer is that I’m seriously doubting it, but I would sure love to be in a position where I could accumulate even more information before I had to make an absolute decision.
That’s why I lean toward the probability that he gets another year, for two reasons. One is, and I haven’t started studying myself yet, I’m really relying on reports, but the indication is the pool of quarterbacks isn’t what you’d hope it would be. And the fact that they’d definitely like to have more information before making such an important decision that you can’t turn back from.
But if you asked me my guess, I’d say I think it’s more likely that his ceiling isn’t as high as you need it to be. I’m saying that — and I know this is true from Jeff and Howie’s perspective — you’re playing the games to win the Super Bowl. They’re not satisfied to just get in the playoffs or win a round. I’m sure they feel good about the progress they made this season, but that’s not their goal. Their goal is to win Super Bowls. So when you say to me, “If he improves, do you think you get to that level?” That’s what I’m talking about. Can he get to the point where he legitimately has you among the better teams in the league over a period of time. Based on what I’ve seen and what I know, I’d have a hard time saying yes to that question right now.
EJ: There is a consensus forming that it’s a bad year to take a quarterback in the first round, but there are still quarterbacks projected to go there. Do you think the Eagles’ perspective is that Hurts is good enough not to risk it with someone in this class, either early or later in the draft?
JB: No. We used to have this idea, where you could either just go and get somebody you know is good, which is what you need to do at the more important positions. Or you can use what we called, “Throwing a lot of darts” at the problem. We never did that at really important positions, but for example, if you need a safety, we could take a guy in the fourth round and sign two undrafted free agents and maybe pick up undrafted free agents and maybe sign a guy who we thought had potential but hadn’t proven it.
So if the Eagles said, “We’re going to give Hurts another year, but we’re going to position ourselves where, if we’re wrong, we’ll have the ammunition next year,” which is a very possible scenario, what they could do in the meantime is pick a guy in the middle of the draft. If they saw some attributes and could at least create a possibility that he could end up being the guy, it’s kind of like throwing some extra darts at it. If the “darts” don’t work, we’ll just go out and get the guy we really believe in. I wouldn’t be shocked, if there isn’t a true standout in the draft and if their opinion of Hurts is similar to mine, I could see them wanting to give him more time but also creating a second possible guy who could emerge. It’s totally consistent with how they do things and what they believe. In my mind, it’s totally plausible. Any given round, they could pick someone. I mean, listen, there are Tom Bradys and Kirk Cousinses out there. Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent.
If you don’t see an answer that you’re really confident in, then why not, in the meantime at least, try to keep your eyes open in that marketplace, too?
EJ: We’ve talked about the Eagles’ possible interest in a trade for Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson. Do you think anything has happened since the last time we discussed their situations that would change either their potential availability or the Eagles’ interest?
JB: I think a few things have changed that are subtle and one significant one. There’s more information about Hurts and maybe more grounds to doubt if he is the answer. That’s a small change for me, for others, maybe it’s a big change.
The other thing that’s changed is, I think Houston is now being very open about the fact that they’re going to trade Watson. Before, it seemed obvious that they were going to trade him, but they hadn’t actually basically said, “he’s not going to be here.” So now it’s not likely he’ll be available, he’s just available.
Now you have to deal with all the other issues. Whether you’re comfortable from a principle and morality perspective or whether you can count on him staying on the right track going forward. All that kind of stuff. I personally don’t think there’s any question about the talent level and what he brings to the team if you acquire him, but there’s intangibles and off-field issues you have to resolve.
The fact that Pete Carroll is staying in Seattle, I think, actually makes it more likely that Russell is available. If I had to predict, I’d still say it’s more likely he’s not available. If it was a 25% chance, now maybe it’s a 35% chance. The key to the other part of this is, if it isn’t Watson, all the other guys are pretty old. Do you really think the rest of the roster is good enough to have big wins in the next two-to-three years, which is all you should really be counting on with those guys.
And if the answer is, even with Russell Wilson next week, they’ve still got enough holes on this team that they’re probably not going deep in the playoffs or all the way, that would affect my enthusiasm for him and what I’d be willing to give up.
EJ: Do you think Watson trade rumors are about to pick up again?
JB: We’re going to know this next six to eight weeks, at worst. If Watson’s going to get traded, it’s going to be almost certainly before free agency starts. Financially or asset-use wise, whoever is going to acquire him is going to need to know before that period fully kicks in. If it doesn’t, then his value is really crashing.
This isn’t something that we’re not going to know until next June or anything. This is something we’re actually going to know in the relatively near future.
It changes everything you plan. They may be sitting here saying, “Listen, we’ve got to really upgrade the talent on defense,” But if you run out and give a bunch of assets away to get Deshaun Watson, that may change what you prioritize.
EJ: With Wilson and Watson, there’s some skepticism about whether they’d want to be traded to the Eagles. What are your thoughts on that?
JB: Those are real questions. Nick Sirianni has done some things that make you encouraged and hopeful, but purely from the eyes of the Watson’s and Wilson’s, they will still not be sure if he’s a winning coach. And do they have a defense that can complement the offense if they go there and try to win.
They’re going to see the team the way I was encouraging people to throughout the season. There was progress, there were things to be hopeful about, but the fact that they were beating teams that were terrible and oftentimes with backup quarterbacks will be a factor in people’s optimism about where the team is at and where it’s headed.
That’s going to be a challenge. Nick will be considered unproven but hopeful. People won’t reject the job because of this, but they’ll be a little nervous. There are certainly opportunities that will be perceived to be more desirable. You look at Denver, who probably really is a quarterback away from at least being a highly competitive team in such a tough division, but they’re seriously good. A good team and a good organization.
The Saints are a real possibility. You’ve got an excellent offensive coach, you’ve got a very good defense. You’ve got an organization that appears committed to winning. If I was advising somebody, it’s hard for me to take the situation that would be better for one of these guys than the Saints.
I don’t think they’d be first on people’s list, but they’ve made progress. A year ago, there were guys who would have said “No, not Philly. I have no interest in that.” I think they’ve at least moved in a positive enough direction that the chances the situation is considered reasonably appealing is better.