The Eagles aren’t the first team in the NFL to expend a high draft pick on a quarterback when they already had an established starter, nor are they the first to envision using him in an unconventional role on offense. But their selection of Jalen Hurts on Friday night stands alone in its peculiar timing.
Call it bold or bird-brained, no team in recent league history has drafted a quarterback in the second round or higher so soon after signing its starter to his first franchise contract extension.
There have been prospects chosen when the starter was far into his career, or had shown significant regression, or was near the end of his contract, or in one renowned case, had yet to play out his rookie deal.
But the Eagles’ drafting of Hurts with the No. 53 overall pick a year after they inked Carson Wentz to a four-year, $128 million extension is unprecedented during the salary-cap era. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong decision. But to say it raised eyebrows across the NFL, and rankled many local fans, would be an understatement.
Of greater interest is how Wentz received the news. While the 27-year-old tweeted out a welcome to Hurts, he hasn’t yet been asked publicly about the newest member of the Eagles’ quarterback room.
“We have shown how we feel about Carson by our actions,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. “We showed it by the amount of [draft] picks we put into him, and we showed it by the contract extension, and we believe this is a guy to lead us to our next Super Bowl championship.”
Wentz will likely say all the right things once he does hold a news conference. He is seemingly of great character and has already dealt with career setbacks – the most significant being season-ending injuries the last three seasons.
But he is only human. While few could fault the Eagles for having contingencies in place should Wentz suffer yet another injury, the addition of Hurts could suggest to him that the team lacks full confidence in his durability.
The drafting of the former Oklahoma and Alabama quarterback was so far outside the box that Roseman was asked if Wentz – who has endured knee, back, and head injuries the last three years – was indeed currently healthy.
“Carson is 100 percent,” Roseman said. “He is a Pro Bowl, young quarterback that we’re totally excited about. The decision to draft Jalen Hurts is independent of Carson Wentz. This is about who we are, what we believe in, and what we think this player is about. Period.”
The Eagles have long invested significantly in the quarterback position. Every team does, of course, but they have previously stretched those boundaries. They drafted Kevin Kolb in the second round when they had Donovan McNabb. They acquired Michael Vick when they had both McNabb and Kolb. And they signed Nick Foles and reworked his contract when they had Wentz.
Having invested in the backup has paid off, most prominently in 2017, when Foles stepped in for Wentz and led the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory. The Eagles have also been able to flip reserves for compensation greater than their original investments (see: A.J. Feeley and Kolb).
But their record isn’t spotless, and with the current regime, there have been errors either in evaluation or instruction with free agent Chase Daniel and 2019 fifth-round pick Clayton Thorson.
“For better or worse, we are quarterback developers,” Roseman said. “We want to be a quarterback factory. We have the right people in place to do that. No team in the NFL has benefited more from developing quarterbacks than the Eagles.”
That is up for debate, but the Eagles wouldn’t have needed to develop so many quarterbacks if they had a guy who could sustain success over a period longer than a decade. Wentz was supposed to be that guy. He may still be.
But the Patriots and Packers and other teams with Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks didn’t toss a highly drafted rookie into the mix until long into Tom Brady’s, Brett Favre’s, and Aaron Rodgers’ careers. Wentz hasn’t yet earned that kind of regard, but to draft Hurts so early into his career undercuts that premise.
When Rodgers was selected in the first round of the 2005 draft, Favre was 36 and entering his 15th season. When Jimmy Garoppolo was chosen in the second round in 2014, Brady was 37 and entering his 15th season. And when Jordan Love was chosen Thursday in the first round, Rodgers was 36 and entering his 16th season.
There have been younger starters with franchise contracts who watched their teams take quarterbacks with high draft picks. But Mark Sanchez had been regressing by the time the New York Jets chose Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 draft. He also had only one guaranteed year left on his contract.
The same applied to Alex Smith when the 49ers drafted Colin Kaepernick in the second round in 2011. He had played all 16 games that season for only the second time in his career, but he suffered another injury the following year and Kaepernick took over for good. Smith would be traded the following offseason.
Teams have doubled down on young quarterbacks. The Chargers memorably drafted Philip Rivers with the No. 4 overall pick when they already had Drew Brees in 2004. Brees held off Rivers for two years, before signing as a free agent with the Saints.
The Packers expended a second-rounder on Brian Brohm in 2008, three years after Rodgers and before he had even started in a game. That ended up being a wasted pick. The Redskins took Robert Griffin III with the second selection overall in the 2012 draft, and followed three rounds later with Kirk Cousins.
The closest comp to the Eagles’ circumstances could be the Ravens in 2018. Joe Flacco may have been five years older than Wentz, regressing, and near the end of his contract when Baltimore drafted Lamar Jackson with the last pick of that first round. But Jackson, like Hurts, was viewed as more than just a quarterback.
The Ravens utilized Jackson on offense – like the 49ers did with Kaepernick in his second season, or the Saints currently do with Taysom Hill – as another dynamic weapon during his rookie season. With Flacco starting the first nine games, Jackson averaged 9.6 snaps and 4.4 touches.
Marty Mornhinweg, who returned to the Eagles this offseason as a senior assistant, was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator that season and was a resource for the Eagles during the Hurts evaluation. The Eagles intend to incorporate Hurts into next season’s game plan, but as coach Doug Pederson emphasized, he is a quarterback first.
And the Ravens thought the same of Jackson.
“It is a fair comp,” Pederson said Saturday of how Jackson influenced the Eagles’ decision to acquire Hurts. “Marty was obviously a part of that team that brought in Lamar Jackson. Obviously, he was a part of the evaluation process. … He felt very similar in Jalen as he did Lamar.”
Jackson, of course, eventually took over for the injured Flacco and a year later become the league’s MVP. But he did so not in Mornhinweg’s offense but in a run-based one coordinated by Greg Roman.
Hurts may not have Jackson’s physical skills, but he is athletic and has arm talent, as well. But the jury still remains out on whether the Eagles could have waited and drafted him in the third or fourth rounds.
Roseman said other teams were ready to pounce, but Sports Illustrated reported that the Patriots and Ravens, two teams some had expected to have interest in Hurts and who had selections after the Eagles in the second round, were not interested at that price.
Drafting a quarterback has increasingly become an all-in or toes-just-in enterprise. In the last five drafts, 20 quarterbacks have been chosen in the first round, four in the second, eight in the third, and 10 in the fourth. If you think a guy is the future, you’re willing to forfeit draft capital. If you’re not sure, you wait. Most teams don’t waste picks on prospects they only believe will be backups.