The Jalen Hurts Era begins Thursday; or, the beginning of its end.
The most annoying element of the Eagles’ offseason lies in new coach Nick Sirianni’s petulant refusal to name Hurts his starting quarterback. Sirianni does this with the full blessing of his bosses, general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie. After their last quarterback sulked out of town and left them in a $34 million hole, they’ve picked a fresh fight with his replacement.
It is a foolish game. Further, it’s insulting. Joe Flacco, Hurts’ backup, hasn’t taken a snap with the first-team offense. Worse, after 11 seasons, Flacco no longer seems able to throw proficient NFL passes, if the flock of hospital balls he loosed to wideouts Sunday night is typical evidence. He must hate these receivers as much as — if he continues to invite their helpless collisions — they soon will hate him.
Nick, Howie, and Jeff have continued this ruse into the first preseason game, Thursday night, when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit. From this we will begin to gain answers to questions.
Has Hurts, after a full offseason, progressed enough as a passer to warrant a Week 1 start? You can equivocate with dump-offs and drops all you like, but his 77.6 passer rating as a rookie in 2020 was precisely indicative of his performance.
Is Hurts hopeless, even as a long-term project? Will the Eagles have to swallow their morals, as they’ve so willingly done in the past, and trade a wealth of assets for Deshaun Watson, who’s facing multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment?
At this moment, Sirianni not only won’t name Hurts the Week 1 starter, he won’t even commit to how much he will let Hurts play in the preseason opener. Come on. It’s the preseason opener. He’s No. 1 on the depth chart. The kid has four NFL starts; he’s essentially a rookie. He needs every snap he can get, at least with the starters. That means the entire first half, and, ideally, the third quarter, too. If Flacco gets a series, great. He entered the NFL when Michael Vick was still in prison. Flacco needs preseason reps like Guy Fieri needs sandwich recipes.
“I don’t want to tell you, ‘This is what they’re playing,’ because that could change,” Sirianni said Tuesday when asked about players’ playing time Thursday. “I have a plan in place, but I just don’t want to disappoint you if I don’t follow through with what I’m saying.”
Trust us, Nick, we won’t be disappointed. Your quarterback might get mad if you bench him when he turns it over twice in the first half, but us? We’re cool.
Asked about Hurts specifically, Sirianni said this: “With Jalen, there are things, too. One of the things we have to our advantage is that nobody really knows what we’re running.”
This made ... no sense. He’s saying his Eagles staff is an NFL unknown, which means they’re unpredictable, and that’s the advantage — but will he judge Hurts only on tailored plays he’s saving for regular-season games? Of course not.
Sirianni won’t commit to how much playing time Hurts will get because Sirianni thinks he’s saving the kid from possible embarrassment. As it stands if things go well, Hurts stays in. If Hurts struggles, he sits.
And Roseman dials the Texans and says, “Houston, we have a problem.”
This is problematic on several fronts.
First, if they pursue Watson, the Eagles will have to put some sort of non-nauseating spin on the acquisition of a massage addict who’s the subject of a Houston police investigation and is being sued by 22 women in civil court for sexual assault or misconduct — a spin cycle they appear to be willing to run.
Then again, having dealt with the bizarre controversies surrounding Andy Reid — his mishandling of Terrell Owens, his son Garrett’s death while on staff, signing Vick — Lurie is an old hand at holding his nose and soldiering on.
Second, as the trade talks stew, the Eagles will have to deal with Hurts. By then, he will be furious at the position in which he finds himself. If the trade falls through, then they will have another disgruntled QB on their hands.
They’re so bad at this.
The solution is simple.
Name Hurts the starter. Explain his prescribed playing time. Ride with him through the preseason, no matter what warts arise, and give him eight games to sink or swim.
Roseman can always trade for an accomplished veteran by the trade deadline, Nov. 2.