Jeffrey Lurie loves quarterbacks. When it comes to investing in the position, the Eagles owner’s messaging to his front office has traditionally been: Go above and beyond the accepted norm.
But Lurie offered a divergent directive last offseason when he instructed general manager Howie Roseman to refrain from acquiring competition for Jalen Hurts. He wanted the young quarterback to thrive unencumbered, according to a March ESPN report The Inquirer has since confirmed through NFL sources close to the Eagles.
The team had salary cap constraints, having just traded Carson Wentz, but it also had the sixth overall draft pick. By the end of March, though, the Eagles had traded back in the first round, thus indicating that Roseman wouldn’t select a quarterback.
He did not, of course. Trades for Joe Flacco and Gardner Minshew as backups further confirmed that Lurie’s decree had been followed.
Lurie, after all, had been the No. 1 advocate for drafting Hurts a year earlier, sources close to the situation said. Roseman was on board and made the final call, and had the support of then-coach Doug Pederson, but a quarterback isn’t getting drafted in the second round, especially with Wentz under contract, without owner input.
There’s a thin line between direct involvement and rubber-stamping personnel decisions, but it’s one Lurie has long walked, especially as it relates to quarterbacks. And Hurts had many of the characteristics, both on the field and off, the owner has prioritized.
But the quarterback’s one-year grace period is nearing its end, and the Eagles aren’t much closer to a definitive answer on his future as a starter. Hurts appeared to be trending in the right direction, but last week’s three-interception performance against the New York Giants was a setback.
He still has five more games, and an outside shot at the playoffs, to make his case. Significant movement in either direction is unlikely. If anything, Hurts has proven that he can win, but mostly with a run-based offense that offsets what he lacks as a passer.
The question of whether he can develop into a consistent thrower is probably one the Eagles ask themselves over and over. But of increasing outside interest is the question of whether the organization has the patience to find out.
Coach Nick Sirianni is unlikely to have the strongest of opinions among the team’s decision-makers, with his efforts solely focused on the present. He will have influence after the season, naturally, but Roseman will have final say.
Last week, NFL Network reported that the quarterback’s continued success could keep the Eagles from finding a replacement next offseason. But too many variables existed to put much weight into the account.
Lurie is said to still believe in Hurts, but Roseman’s assessment is less confident, two independent sources familiar with their thinking said.
The Eagles may have no other choice but to ride with Hurts next season. The draft is still a ways out, but there isn’t expected to be a first-round talent among the quarterback prospects in this class.
There could be several attractive names on the trade market. Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson have been the subject of various reports about their availability for months. But all three should have some sway in their preferred destination, should they be obtainable.
The Eagles did preliminary work on Watson and were open to the possibility of a transaction with the Texans, even in light of multiple sexual assault allegations, sources said. While this would seem to go against Lurie’s edict, Hurts would have either left in the exchange or dropped on the depth chart.
A move of such magnitude couldn’t occur without owner approval, of course. In fact, Lurie was believed to be the driving force behind his team’s interest, the two sources familiar with his thinking said.
“Jeffrey has his principles,” an NFL source who worked with the Eagles said, “until it comes to quarterbacks.”
Some still haven’t gotten over the signing of Michael Vick just weeks after he was released from prison for running a dogfighting operation. The Eagles would be vindicated, to an extent, by his repentance, but the decision was primarily motivated by acquiring quarterbacking talent.
Lurie isn’t alone among NFL owners when it comes to the position, obviously. But few entertained the Vick notion, and subsequent investments speak to the extent that he will go, for better or worse.
The Eagles forfeited a ransom to trade up for Wentz, and that was after signing Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel to multiyear deals. The following year, they went above market to sign Nick Foles as their backup. The success of that move is represented by the Lombardi Trophy that sits in Lurie’s atrium at the NovaCare Complex.
But drafting Hurts played a role in Wentz’s demise last season, even if it could be argued that he should have been unaffected. The Eagles had played in six playoff games in his tenure, but he had been on the field for only nine snaps, and acquiring Hurts was partly influenced by that.
They also saw a quarterback who had taken a giant leap as a passer when he transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma. Lurie has always had a predilection toward mobile quarterbacks, but he’s a pass-first proponent and saw Hurts’ throwing potential.
But Hurts has been inconsistent, and it wasn’t until Sirianni adopted a run-oriented attack and had him throwing on average less than 20 times over a four-game period that the Eagles offense began to click.
The threat Hurts poses has certainly contributed to the production on the ground, but few would dispute the notion that a 60-40 split in favor of the run isn’t a sustainable formula in competing for championships.
Lurie, first and foremost, wants a top offense. He also knows that the best way to achieve that is through the air and with an elite quarterback. But the narrative that he is dictating to Sirianni how to run his offense has been discredited by the coach’s recent adjustments.
Still, there are some who suggest that dropping Hurts only so many times a game denies the Eagles the opportunity to fully evaluate the 23-year old.
“Do you want to be able to see him in different scenarios? Of course you do, like in two-minute scenarios and third-and-long and third-and-short and red zone,” Sirianni said Wednesday. “You want to put him in every position so they continue to develop. But as far as just long-term, I mean, it’s whatever we got to do to win this week.
“That’s with every single player, not just Jalen.”
But this season has clearly been one of “transition” or “retooling,” the two words Lurie used in January when explaining why he fired Pederson. Whereas the Eagles favored the short-term from 2018 to 2020 following their title, they have leaned long-term in their personnel and its usage in 2021.
How else to explain the continued utilization of wide receiver Jalen Reagor, despite his season-long struggles, and Lurie’s original mandate in relation to Hurts?
While Lurie has always been hands-on with his team, more than previously reported, he is likely staying out of the way of his first-year coach. Sirianni is certainly aware of his preferences.
But Lurie’s messaging in their weekly meetings is likely as the coach said it was — Do what you got to do to win each week. -- at least for now.
As for the quarterback situation, the owner’s gamble may have paid off. The Eagles got a season to test Hurts and still have Watson or Wilson available if the current starter isn’t the answer. The jury is still out.