More than two weeks have passed since the Eagles drafted Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, and it may have taken you that long to understand and reconcile yourself to the reasoning behind the decision. Me, too. In its immediate aftermath, the move seemed to flout the conventional and sensible thinking about what the Eagles needed to do to improve. They already had Carson Wentz, and they had recently signed him to a contract extension. So presumably they should and would draft players who can help Wentz directly. Another team, in another situation, might draft a prospective franchise quarterback in the second round. The Eagles weren’t such a team. So why waste a pick on Hurts?
The parochial answer – parochial, because there can be a tendency here to view everything the Eagles do through an Eagles-only prism – is that the Hurts pick isn’t a waste because Wentz, like just about every starting quarterback the Eagles have had over the last decade-plus, gets hurt a lot, and they’ll need to be prepared if he gets hurt again. After all, they were so well-prepared in 2017, with Nick Foles, that they won a Super Bowl without Wentz, and just as they paid a premium price to sign Foles and dump Chase Daniel then, they were willing to spend a high draft pick on a cost-effective backup now. To which the natural response is, If you want to allocate valuable resources toward the slim chance that you can make a miracle championship run with a backup quarterback, you do so at your own peril. And 'round and 'round we go ...
But there was another, recent example that proves the Eagles’ point, except the example doesn’t involve them. It involves the team so many around here love to hate: the Dallas Cowboys.
Entering the 2016 season, Tony Romo was still the Cowboys’ starting quarterback. Sure, Dallas had gone 4-12 in 2015, but a broken left collarbone – as random an injury as, say, a concussion from a cheap shot during a playoff game – had caused Romo to miss eight games, and a shoulder injury had caused him to miss another four. Over their 12 games without Romo, the Cowboys had gone 1-11, using a trio of backups, each of whom had been in the NFL for several years: Matt Cassel, Kellen Moore, and Brandon Weeden.
Still, though Romo was 35, the Cowboys had won three of the four games he had started, so they had reason to think they could be a playoff team again with him. More, because they had the No. 4 pick in the 2016 draft, they had a chance to add a player who could help them right away, which they did. They drafted running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Then they made another pick, in the fourth round of that draft, that was arguably just as important as Elliott, if not more so. They selected Dak Prescott, and when Romo fractured a vertebra in his back during the preseason, Prescott became Dallas’ starter. Instead of having their season sunk again because Romo was hurt, the Cowboys went 13-3 and won the NFC East as Prescott completed nearly 68% of his passes and threw for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Brian Johnson, Prescott’s quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State, said in a recent phone interview that Prescott was well-suited to adjust quickly to the NFL. He had been the Bulldogs’ starter for three years, and Mississippi State’s playbook already called on him to carry out many of the responsibilities and requirements of a typical NFL quarterback, such as making run checks and pass-concept reads and identifying coverages, fronts, and pass-protection changes at the line of scrimmage.
“So there wasn’t much for him to learn in terms of conceptual football,” Johnson said. “You just kind of had to translate terminology. That helped him get used to it because he had been exposed to the actual plays that they were running already in his college career.
“We had the feeling that he was the best player in that draft, just knowing what we had and what he had to do for us on a week-in, week-out basis. It was something that was spectacular to watch.”
Could Hurts do the same thing if necessary? Johnson’s perspective on that question is unique. Hurts’ father, Averion, was an assistant coach at Baytown Lee High School in Baytown, Texas, when Johnson played there. “I’ve known Jalen since he was 4,” Johnson said. And when Hurts was a star at Channelview High, Johnson recruited him. Hurts’ decision came down to Mississippi State and Alabama. He chose the latter.
“You never see him sweat,” said Johnson, now the quarterbacks coach at Florida. “I do think he and Dak have similarities in their games – not only in their games, but in their approach and their mindset. Both of those kids are two of the mentally toughest people I’ve ever seen or been around – how they handle themselves, the competitive nature they have.
"They have an enormous amount of self-discipline, and they’re just true warriors, ready for whatever at any time. More importantly, they’re really, really good people. They’re great teammates. I don’t think you can have enough great teammates in your locker room.”
So though the Eagles may have to deal with a quarterback controversy, it’s unlikely they’ll have to deal with a quarterback conflict between Wentz and Hurts. They had established a similar dynamic with Wentz and Foles, and that situation worked out just fine. As for whether it was smart for the Eagles to draft Hurts in the first place and what the move says about their trust and confidence in Wentz, I’m not sure it says anything other than the obvious: that as much as they love Wentz, he has been hurt before and might get hurt again; that they have previously thrived in spite of losing their starting quarterback; and that they are not the only team to have done so.
If the counter complaint is that Dallas took less of a risk by drafting Prescott in the fourth round than the Eagles did by drafting Hurts in the second, well, perhaps the Cowboys did. Every pick in every draft comes with risk. But suppose you knew the Eagles’ second-round pick would turn out to be J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Or Sidney Jones. Or Jaiquawn Jarrett. Or Nate Allen.
Ask yourself: Would you have minded their taking a chance on Jalen Hurts then?