If you’re a connoisseur and collector of memorable or infamous Philadelphia sports quotes, especially those that are memorable for their infamy, Howie Roseman’s April assertion that the Eagles “want to be a quarterback factory” has probably occupied a prominent place in your mental display case for the last eight months.
Timing has so much to do with it. Had the Eagles won a Super Bowl in the years immediately after Jeffrey Lurie declared them the NFL’s “gold standard” in 2003, the term would have seemed a bold, confident prediction, not an off-putting example of braggadocio. Ed Snider’s angry riposte to a question about the Flyers’ stale team-building philosophy – “We don’t need a fresh approach” – might have been forgotten had the organization, less than a year later, not adopted a fresh approach by promoting Ron Hextall to general manager. Likewise, if Roseman had known that Carson Wentz would cliff-dive this season and end up on clipboard duty by Week 13, he probably would have spoken with more care when trying to justify using a second-round draft pick on Jalen Hurts.
Of course, just because Roseman might regret his choice of words about drafting Hurts doesn’t mean that he regrets drafting Hurts. The arrogance of the decision was not that the Eagles should have foreseen and planned for this steep decline in the quality of Wentz’s play. Let’s be fair; no one saw this coming. And the narrative that Hurts’ mere presence has so discombobulated Wentz that he has become the league’s worst quarterback seems overstated. Did the Hurts pick fill Wentz with joy? Surely not. But of all the possible explanations for Wentz’s regression, Carson haz a sad over Jalen should rank near the bottom of the list.
No, the arrogance of the Hurts selection lies in two of the Eagles’ flaws: (1) their inability or unwillingness to see clearly the condition of the rest of the team apart from Wentz; and (2) their inflated self-regard for how they’d previously managed the quarterback position. The first of those flaws has been discussed ad nauseam, so let’s acknowledge it – the Eagles weren’t good enough to spend a second-round pick on a player who, ideally, would be no better than a backup – and take up the second.
For years, the Eagles have tried to follow a reasonable and intelligent theory of team-building in the NFL: Quarterback is so obviously the most valuable position in the sport that a franchise should pour as many available resources as possible into it. The Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s, the Green Bay Packers of the 1990s, the New England Patriots of the 21st century: Those teams didn’t stop drafting and signing and trading for quarterbacks, even though they already had Roger Staubach and Brett Favre and Tom Brady.
The reason is simple: You never know what might happen. So you acquire a prospect who you think is or will be good, and you develop him. Maybe he never suits up for you. Or maybe you have to play him because your starter has gotten hurt. Or maybe you trade him to address another need: a player or players at other positions, draft picks, etc. The Eagles famously pulled off such a gambit after injuries to Donovan McNabb and Koy Detmer forced them to play A.J. Feeley in 2002. The Miami Dolphins gave them a second-round pick for Feeley. A second-round pick for a third-string quarterback? There are steals, and then there are steals.
The entire premise of this strategy, however, is based on a team’s proficiency in finding and developing those young quarterbacks. Boiled down, if a team can’t tell the difference between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, it doesn’t matter how many QBs it hoards. Pile up too many Leafs (Leaves?), and you’re wasting draft picks or money or both, and you’re allowing other parts of your team to atrophy.
When it comes to their batting average in this endeavor, the Eagles don’t have to be Alex Rodriguez, but lately, they’ve been Sean Rodriguez. For the sake of argument, take for granted that they got Wentz right. For four years, he validated their machinations to trade up to draft him; more, they were fortunate to avoid a quarterback controversy his rookie season by sending Sam Bradford to the Vikings for a first-round pick. (Wanna play a fun what-if game? Imagine how smart, or not-so-smart, the Eagles would have looked had Teddy Bridgewater’s knee not detonated in the summer of 2016.)
Now consider the assembly line of the alleged signal-caller production facility at One NovaCare Way. The Eagles signed Chase Daniel in 2016 to a three-year contract that guaranteed him $12 million, then released him a year later (oops) and upgraded at backup quarterback (to say the least) by signing Nick Foles. They let Foles walk away after the 2018 season, which was an excusable move given the unusual success and circumstances of Foles’ second tenure here.
What’s indefensible, though, is this: Aaron Murray, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Matt McGloin, Christian Hackenberg, Joe Callahan, Luis Perez, Cody Kessler, Kyle Lauletta, Clayton Thorson. None of them stuck.
Generally speaking, the Eagles of late either haven’t scouted well enough to recognize talent at the position or haven’t coaxed it out of those quarterbacks they’ve brought in. The only “exception” to this recent trend has been Nate Sudfeld, and he might be the franchise’s greatest failure of all in this regard. This is Sudfeld’s fourth season with the Eagles since they signed him as a free agent, and they’ve been so pleased with his growth that they … signed Josh McCown last year, drafted Hurts this year, and elevated each of them above Sudfeld on the depth chart.
That’s the bitter twist to what Howie Roseman said. That’s the stinging truth. If the Eagles really were a quarterback factory, they wouldn’t have drafted Jalen Hurts in the first place.