Jalen Hurts? Draft? Trade? What will the Eagles do at quarterback now that Carson Wentz is gone? | Jeff McLane
Roseman, as previous history suggests, will consider all options at quarterback, and will not be shy about acquiring one.
It was possible to watch both the Eagles’ and Carson Wentz’s Zoom news conferences at the same time Thursday. While the juxtaposition wasn’t exactly alarming a month after Howie Roseman traded the quarterback to the Colts, it did illustrate a divergence between the two.
There was Wentz in a Colts blue blazer vaguely answering questions about his breakup with the Eagles but mostly spinning the narrative toward his future in Indianapolis. And there was Roseman and new coach Nick Sirianni talking up the lone quarterback on the roster, Jalen Hurts, but also leaving the door open at the now-unsettled position.
The incongruity doesn’t necessarily mean that Wentz will succeed in Indy, or that the Eagles won’t find a quality starter. But if each is getting a fresh start, as Roseman said Wentz asked for, the former seemingly has the better opportunity to thrive right away.
“We only have one quarterback on our roster, and it’s definitely not going to stay that way,” Roseman said. “And we’ve always tried to value that position and to have depth at that position. I don’t see any of that changing here as we go forward.”
Roseman, as previous history suggests, will consider all options at quarterback, and will not be shy about acquiring one. In 2016, he signed Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel before forfeiting a fortune to trade up and draft Wentz. In 2017, he brought back Nick Foles to be the backup.
And just last year, despite inking Wentz to a franchise extension less than a year prior, he drafted Hurts in the second round. Some of the moves worked, some didn’t, but what each spoke to was Roseman’s aggressiveness in stocking the most important position in team sports.
Hurts could end up the starter, but the Eagles general manager declined to publicly hand him the job, even though a recent ESPN report said that owner Jeffrey Lurie told Roseman to prioritize the second-year quarterback’s success as opposed to creating a true competition.
“We have not been told to do anything other than to try and strengthen the football team,” Roseman said when asked to confirm or deny the report, “and make sure we’re doing the right things going forward.”
The GM has essentially four possibilities for next season, and he hopes, the long-term future.
He could sign a free agent who wouldn’t be viewed as an obvious starter to compete with Hurts.
He could pull off a blockbuster trade for a franchise-caliber talent (i.e. the Texans’ Deshaun Watson).
He could draft a rookie with the No. 6 overall pick next month.
Or he could follow the supposed Lurie directive and simply roll with Hurts and bona fide backups.
The first option appears unlikely after Roseman passed on free agents who would have fallen under a “competition/backup” category. The second is a long shot, even if two independent NFL sources confirmed a CBS Sports report that the Eagles recently inquired about trading for Watson.
Which leaves the two more likely scenarios: Drafting a prospect in the first round or handing Hurts the job. And of those two, the latter at least has a name attached and a sample of NFL games in which to evaluate.
Hurts’ four starts in place of the benched Wentz might not be enough to deem him the future. There was good, bad and ugly. But there was not enough evidence to suggest the contrary, especially without a full offseason and the many restrictions he encountered as a rookie because of the pandemic.
“When people start talking about Jalen the first thing that they go to is his athleticism and his strength as a runner, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily fair,” Roseman said. “This is a guy who completed over 70% of his passes at Oklahoma. He’s got a feel for the passing game. He’s got a plus arm.
“And I think he’s going to continue to get better and better.”
Hurts was accurate in his one season with the Sooners, but downfield throws were an issue, and the same held true in the NFL. He completed only 51% of his passes after he took over for Wentz. But he was dynamic on the ground, rushing for 301 yards and three touchdowns on 51 carries (5.9 average) over that span.
Sirianni said that he and his coaching staff have already started looking at Hurts’ film from college and the NFL to scheme up plays that accentuate his skills. The Colts offense that he’s bringing with him will be the base system, but as he noted, three quarterbacks with three different styles – Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers – had varying degrees of success in it.
“We feel like good offensive football is catering to your players, particularly first and foremost your quarterback,” Sirianni said.
Brissett was considered a free-agent option because of his experience with Sirianni, but he signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins. Tyrod Taylor was probably the next-most mentioned candidate to either come in and push Hurts or mentor/backup him. He just spent two years with new Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.
But he inked a one-year contract with the Texans. The Eagles also passed on Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andy Dalton, who went to Washington and the Bears, respectively, to compete for starting jobs. Mitch Trubisky signed with the Bills to be their backup on Thursday.
Of the remaining free agents, most qualify as backups. There are aging former starters like Alex Smith or Joe Flacco. There are long-time No. 2′s like Geno Smith, Colt McCoy, Blake Bortles, and A.J. McCarron. And there are Eagles retreads like Matt Barkley, Nate Sudfeld and Daniel.
A trade for any caliber of quarterback is possible, but nothing would move the needle like an exchange for Watson or the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. It would take significant cost. Seattle reportedly turned down three first-round picks, a third rounder, and two players for the 31-year-old Wilson.
Watson is five years younger and would presumably cost more. He reportedly wants out, and has a no-trade clause, but Houston has said it has no intentions of trading the quarterback.
“Howie will give up everything he has for Watson,” an NFL source familiar with the Eagles’ thinking said.
The Eagles’ roster is thin, though, and Watson, as good as he played last season, couldn’t compensate for the rest of a Texans squad that finished 4-12. The Eagles have a high first-rounder this year, and potentially two first-rounders next year if Wentz hits certain playing time conditions.
But if Roseman and Sirianni love one of the quarterback prospects this year, would it make more sense to just draft one?
“We haven’t had a chance to see all those guys throw live. We haven’t completed our evaluations of all of them,” Roseman said of the class. “But when you talk about how many quarterbacks will go in the first round ... maybe five guys going in the top 10.”
Trevor Lawrence is widely expected to go No. 1 to the Jaguars. Zach Wilson could be next. Justin Field and Trey Lance, in most rankings, place next. And then there’s Mac Jones. The Eagles are likely behind the curve in their evaluations because of Wentz. It’s fair to question the process after his 2020 regression and forced exit.
“Obviously, didn’t think we’d be in a situation where Carson wouldn’t be on this team in 2021,” Roseman said. “I think it makes sense for us to kind of go back and think about some of the things we did and go through that process again.
“I think they’ll be more time to do that, too, when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic and not trying to do everything we can to get this ship back straight.”