While the adage “watch what they do, not what they say” is a safe one to heed in regards to the Eagles, when it comes to quarterbacks, their words can often forecast their actions, or at the least, reveal their motivations.
“That’s why we’re committed to Jalen at age 23,” owner Jeffrey Lurie said last week when asked about the Eagles’ commitment to quarterback Jalen Hurts. “Who knows what the future holds, right? That’s where it goes.”
Translation: Hurts gets the 2022 season and then all bets are off.
Six days later, the Eagles all but confirmed their quarterback plans in writing. They traded picks No. 16, 19, and 194 in this year’s draft to the Saints for picks No. 18, 101, 237, a 2023 first rounder, and a 2024 second rounder on Monday.
In essence, they went from having three first rounders to having two this year and two next. There are trade charts that value the exchange as fair, but if the 18th and 19th picks (first rounders), as well as the 194th and 237th (sixth and seventh rounders) can be considered washes, the Eagles were able to get first-, second- and third-round selections for a mid-first rounder.
There is projection involved, but Eagles general manager Howie Roseman gets to push draft capital into future years, which often isn’t as easy to accomplish as it may seem. The GM needed a willing partner and he found one in the Saints, who seem to be positioning themselves for a quarterback in this year’s draft.
The Eagles, though, were never likely to be in that conversation with the draft pool shallow with projected top-tier quarterbacks. Hurts showed enough promise in his first full season as the starter to get another, and enough to be compared favorably to prospects Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis.
But that’s as far as the Eagles are willing to go.
Can Hurts still claim the job for the long term and earn a contract extension next offseason when he’s first eligible? Sure. Assuming Roseman doesn’t have another blockbuster trade up his sleeve, the Eagles aren’t taking a pass on 2022. They still have two first rounders, five picks in the first 101, and 10 overall.
They aren’t going all-in either, as Roseman blankly stated last week.
It’s possible the Eagles went into the offseason with two plans, both obviously centered around the quarterback. If they had gotten either Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson — and there was interest, especially in the former — a Plan A that would have involved allocating resources into the present would have seemingly gone into effect.
And if they couldn’t get either — which increasingly became apparent when neither would waive their no-trade clauses for the Eagles — they would approach free agency conservatively and push forward assets in case they need to find Hurts’ replacement next offseason.
Just having two first rounders doesn’t guarantee the Eagles will get one of the quarterbacks some have projected to be of higher quality in 2023. The Texans, Lions, Seahawks, and Dolphins, all of whom may have a similar need in a year, also have two first rounders.
Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, and whatever college quarterback that may warrant mention as a top prospect next draft still have a season, predraft process and greater scrutiny to experience before any one of them can be labeled legitimately elite.
And even if the evaluation merits significant draft capital, and the Eagles are able maneuver into position, doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily solved their quarterback conundrum (see: Carson Wentz). Bypassing a quarterback in this year’s draft also doesn’t mean they might not have missed finding an upgrade (see: Mac Jones).
But the trade, on paper, has considerable upside potential if the Saints struggle this season. They appear to believe they have an opportunity to improve upon last season’s 9-8, non-playoff campaign. Otherwise, why invest more in this year’s draft?
Sean Payton is no longer the coach in New Orleans, though. Jameis Winston is the lame-duck quarterback. And top talent like tackle Terron Armstead and safety Marcus Williams left as the Saints cleared salary-cap space in case they were able to deal for Watson.
They fell short and it’s fair to speculate whether long-term GM Mickey Loomis, with Payton long viewed as the brains of that operation, has something to prove. Whether his trade with the Eagles was for the present or for a quarterback, a potentially lopsided swap suggests impatience.
Roseman’s patience, meanwhile, should be noted.
The Eagles’ quarterback situation made a trade for the future expected, but that doesn’t mean it was an obvious move nor an easy one. But the tough part of finding the answer, should Hurts remain a question, is still to come.