Howie Roseman likely wouldn’t have drafted Jalen Hurts had there not been a consensus among Eagles decision-makers that the quarterback had the ability to become an NFL starter.
But there wasn’t like-mindedness when it came to spending a second-round pick on the Oklahoma prospect, considering the team’s other needs and how the expenditure could affect starter Carson Wentz, team sources and sources familiar with the Eagles’ draft plans said.
Roseman has final say, so the call is always ultimately his. But the general manager was the driving force behind the selection, and with owner Jeffrey Lurie’s blessing, he chose Hurts when safety Jeremy Chinn would have likely otherwise been the choice, the sources said.
When the Hurts pick was announced, Roseman, coach Doug Pederson, and vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl all defended it during conference calls from their respective homes.
Asked again Tuesday if he was on board with the selection, Pederson said that he was, even though the addition of Hurts has seemingly undermined Wentz and the coach’s offense.
“Every year we look at quarterbacks,” Pederson said a day after the Eagles lost to the Seahawks, 23-17. “Every year, if we have an opportunity to take a quarterback, we’re going to take a quarterback; at least look at the position.”
The Eagles are 3-7-1 and one of the NFL’s worst teams for many reasons. But the Hurts pick is a significant one because it represents an organizational hubris that has weakened the team since it won the Super Bowl, and if it has wounded Wentz’s psyche, it is a franchise-altering one.
While Pederson has accepted some ownership for the selection, his actions suggest otherwise. Using Hurts as a part-time weapon on offense was always cited as justification for the draft capital. But the coach, for whatever the reason, has hardly used him.
The two snaps Hurts played Monday night upped his season total to 33 for an average of three plays a game. The initial results warranted his usage, but the plays have become less imaginative and thus less productive.
Pederson finally seemed intent on giving Hurts plays in which Wentz was at least on the sideline or even a series on his own. The rookie took more first-team practice repetitions last week, sources said.
But it took until the second quarter for Hurts to beon the field. Offensive inefficiency was one reason it took so long, but couldn’t an earlier change have helped? After a false start, Hurts’ lone play without Wentz on the field was a 7-yard pass to receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Pederson reinserted Wentz on third-and-8, and he was promptly sacked. Asked why he didn’t give Hurts more plays, the coach gave no reason other than to say it was his decision.
“Would I like to get into a flow and use Jalen in a couple of situations? I think that’s feasible. It’s possible. It’s been productive for us,” Pederson said. “But our first- and second-down production has to be better.”
While some continuity could help Hurts, the same could be said of how his insertion has affected Wentz. Pederson knows firsthand how it feels to have any rhythm interrupted, and he alluded to the 1999 season, when he shared time with then-rookie Donovan McNabb.
But Pederson was a stopgap then. Wentz is the franchise. And it’s likely Pederson has been taking his quarterback’s perspective into account in his handling of Hurts. A successful series with the backup could also have ramifications and give the coach a full-blown controversy.
It’s unclear where Lurie and Roseman stand on Pederson’s usage of Hurts. There was a report that the owner gave a directive to play Hurts if Wentz struggles. But that’s either untrue, because if ever a situation called for the backup it was five straight three-and-outs to open the game, or Pederson blew it off.
Roseman, meanwhile, can’t be pleased with how little Pederson has gotten out of a second-round investment. But should the coach, in turn, be content with the situation in which he’s been placed? If he is to be taken upon by his word, then he’s as complicit.
The plan, first and foremost, was to develop Hurts as a quarterback. Roseman saw value in him as, at worst, a backup to Wentz, and, at best, a starting-caliber option they could either trade for compensation or eventually use themselves.
But the last part would require Wentz to either suffer a significant injury or regress to the point at which he wouldn’t play out the four-year, $128 million extension he signed in June 2019.
The Eagles likely never foresaw that he would worsen to the point at which he is arguably the worst starter in the league. But even if they have their investment to consider, the fact that Pederson hasn’t benched Wentz suggests that Hurts isn’t ready.
“That one is my decision, if and when we make that change,” Pederson said, asserting his authority. “But right now we’re not doing it.”
If Pederson can’t fix Wentz, who’s to say he can get Hurts ready? He did, of course, help develop the former into an MVP candidate by 2017, and in 2018-19, at least a top 10-15 quarterback.
But Wentz hasn’t been as dynamic, and the athleticism that once made him so attractive to the Eagles isn’t as much of a factor. Lurie has always been enamored with dual-threat quarterbacks. It is one reason he gave Roseman the green light for Hurts.
Pederson has had experience working with mobile quarterbacks, first with Michael Vick as Eagles quarterbacks coach, and then with Alex Smith as Chiefs offensive coordinator. But he’s never had to juggle a two-quarterback dynamic.
When you’re the coach with little personnel clout, there’s a lot you have to adapt to. In Pederson’s case, it goes beyond just players. Lurie and Roseman influenced coaching staff changes this past offseason.
Pederson took the high road and declined to answer when asked about the role the front office may have played in the Eagles’ struggles this season. And while he wasn’t asked directly about his current relationship with Roseman, he said that he and Lurie are good.
“We communicate a lot throughout the week,” Pederson said. “We have our typical weekly meeting and cover a lot of ground. But that relationship is good.”