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Can Jalen Hurts be the Eagles’ franchise QB? The Giants show how important and difficult that is to answer. | Mike Sielski

The Giants had a franchise QB for a long time in Eli Manning. They've floundered since his prime. Did the Eagles stumble into one with Hurts?

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) celebrates with the home crowd after a 40-29 win over the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) celebrates with the home crowd after a 40-29 win over the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Is Jalen Hurts a “franchise quarterback”? That is the question, and that is the term, that will define the Eagles’ season and their future. That is the question, and that is the term, that we are quick to wield whenever a team uses a high draft pick on a young college quarterback or, in Hurts’ case, whenever a quarterback who was not drafted so highly gets an opportunity to play and strings together several excellent performances in a row. The Eagles’ game this Sunday against the Giants offers an occasion to explore that question, and that term, because the Giants’ history serves as a relevant and interesting case study.

Why? Well, let’s start with this: The Giants, for going on nine years now, have been horrible, one of the worst teams in the NFL by any available and relevant measure. They have one winning season since 2012. They won six games or fewer in six of their previous seven seasons ahead of this one, and they’re 3-7 now and just fired Jason Garrett, their offensive coordinator. Their general manager, Dave Gettleman, has become a punchline for his antiquated roster-building methods and his oft-arrogant assurances that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he knows what he’s doing. Their last three head coaches — Joe Judge, Pat Shurmur, and Ben McAdoo — have struggled, to put it kindly, to convey the impression that they’re competent.

So yes, the reasons for the Giants’ decay are legion, and one of the biggest of them is that they’ve messed up the quarterback position. They held on to Eli Manning as their starter for too long, then decided that his successor should be Daniel Jones. It has been a long time since the Giants got above-average play from their starting quarterback, let alone elite play, and such a handicap makes it difficult to win games. Duh.

But it’s easy to forget or overlook that this prolonged awfulness came after a period in which the Giants, with Manning as their quarterback, achieved the sort of consistency and relevance for which every NFL franchise strives. For eight years, from 2005 through 2012, the Giants made the playoffs five times, won two Super Bowls, and did not have a losing season.

During his tenure as the Eagles’ president, Joe Banner frequently noted that a franchise quarterback can keep a team in the playoff/championship hunt every year. Manning may or may not be a Hall of Famer, but he started every one of the Giants’ 139 regular-season and postseason games over that period. He met Banner’s standard, which is exactly what former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi hoped for when he traded for Manning at the 2004 draft. Accorsi’s first job in the NFL was with the Baltimore Colts, and he saw firsthand the influence that the right quarterback — for the Colts, it was Johnny Unitas — had on the team.

“The whole attitude of the organization was in him,” Accorsi said in a 2014 interview. “I realized that the whole cast had changed. All those Hall of Famers had left, and a whole new cast came in. And we kept him. We had good players, but we still had him as a constant. It just molded my whole philosophy.”

The Eagles followed that philosophy in drafting Donovan McNabb and Carson Wentz. Hurts’ situation, though, is different — and not just because, as a second-round pick who was drafted to be a backup, the organization has less invested in him. He is a more expendable asset than either McNabb or Wentz was, and the Eagles have been treating him as one. Yes, for the last several weeks, they have employed a style of offense that has played to Hurts’ strengths and to those of their offensive personnel. They have a tough, mobile quarterback. They have depth at running back. They have arguably the NFL’s best offensive line. So they are pounding opponents by running the ball, and it’s benefiting them and Hurts. Extrapolate his statistics over a 16-game season (an easier and more familiar point of reference than a 17-game season), and he would finish 2021 with 3,354 passing yards, 19 touchdown passes, just seven interceptions, and 899 rushing yards, which would be the seventh-most by a quarterback in league history.

Sounds like the Eagles have the makings of a “franchise quarterback,” right? Perhaps they do. Just bear three things in mind:

1. The more that Hurts and the Eagles play this style, the more opportunities that opposing teams will have to study it and figure out how to counteract it.

2. Any strategy that relies on a quarterback to carry the football so much necessarily leads to that quarterback sustaining more hits and opening himself to a greater risk of injury.

3. Because the Eagles didn’t presume Hurts to be their long-term starting quarterback when they drafted him, he has a higher bar to clear to prove to them that he is that quarterback, especially since they’re likely to have three first-round picks in next year’s draft. If Hurts burped up the football as often as Jones does for the Giants, he might be on the bench already, and the question of whether the Eagles would use one of those picks on a “franchise quarterback” would answer itself.