If Philadelphia was a ’90s teen rom-com, Eagles fans would be the popular girl who pines for the star quarterback before realizing that the lovable loser is The One. Except, the star quarterback goes on to found a unicorn tech company, retires at 38, and dedicates the rest of his life to achieving heretofore unseen levels of emotional intelligence and relationship satisfaction. Meanwhile, the lovable loser turns out to be an actual loser whose crowning achievement comes one Christmas Day, when he wins a Call of Duty battle royale after draining his savings to purchase a slightly used PlayStation 5 off a cash-strapped single mother.
Kiss me beneath the milky twilight! Lead me out on the moonlit floor!
I don’t mean to imply that Jalen Hurts is a loser, or that Carson Wentz has multiple Lombardi trophies in his future. Recent events suggest that neither is the case, and recent events matter.
In benching Wentz for Hurts, the Eagles have made the only decision they could defensibly make, given the circumstances. Hurts deserved the chance to start against the Saints. He played well enough to warrant a longer runway. At the moment, Wentz is a broken quarterback, and, at the moment, that’s all that matters, regardless of his potential for rehabilitation, or how he got this way.
But the entirety of the future is rarely foretold by one moment of the present. I speak from experience here. Once upon a time, the No. 1 item on my Christmas list was a Bobby Hoying jersey. I know what it feels like to fall in love. In fact, I have spent every day since in a near-constant state of self-evaluation, the scar tissue like a fortress around my heart, guarding against that most human of follies, the mistake of emotion for pure reason. (I also had a Chris T. Jones jersey, for what it’s worth.)
I know what you’re thinking. Well, Dave, this certainly explains a lot. And maybe it does. But I know a vulnerable emotional state when I see one, and right now this city is a couple of weeks away from collaborating with Taylor Swift on a re-release of Fearless. Something that once felt so close is now on the sidelines playing Candy Crush Saga with Nate Sudfeld on a Surface Pro. Into that void has swept a sensation named Hurts. It sounds so poetic. Except, that’s actually his name.
As anybody who survived adolescence undoubtedly will attest, this is no time to be making life-altering decisions. However heightened the magnitude of the present might feel, our long-term happiness and emotional stability demand that we navigate the short term within the context of both our immediate biases and our ultimate goals. Which is what makes this city’s relationship with quarterbacks so fraught.
For any Eagles fan, the ultimate goal is finding a franchise quarterback who makes the team a perennial contender. The goal is so ultimate that it casts a halo effect on any quarterback who has yet to rule himself out of consideration. That effect is magnified for any such quarterback who immediately follows a quarterback who has “proven” that he is not The One.
Compounding matters is a uniquely Philadelphia mindset that finds a huge amount of meaning in an athlete’s performance relative to his physical pedigree. In this town, it is better to be an underdog who overachieves than a blue-chipper who underachieves, even if the underachiever out-achieves the overachiever.
This sets the stage for a nasty feedback loop, especially at the quarterback position, where blue-chippers rarely begin their career on the bench, which means they are most often followed by underdogs, who then overachieve relative to their predecessors, and put their bosses in the position of having to pry them from our cold, desperate hands.
If you objected to the Eagles’ decision to draft Hurts, you probably did so because of the inevitability of this cycle starting anew, and that, whenever he got his first start under center, the consensus on his performance would suffer from the same flaw that has previously led some of us to see the makings of a permanent answer in everyone from Jeff Garcia to Kevin Kolb. The Last Guy wasn’t The Guy. This Guy isn’t the Last Guy. Therefore, This Guy.
But an honest accounting requires us to compare This Guy to guys who were actually The Guy, or who are vying to become The Guy. At least, in the beginning. Individual moments are shaped as much by the variability of circumstance as by the exposition of fate. It is only through an accumulation of these moments that an individual reveals his or her ability to succeed in any given moment.
The more moments a quarterback accumulates, the more we can judge him strictly on results. In the meantime, the only way to evaluate him is by looking at the manner in which he achieves those results. That is, how he “looks” relative to other quarterbacks with longer track records. The eye test, in other words.
The eye test says that Hurts gives the Eagles a better chance to win than Wentz does in his current state. But it also says he is nowhere close to the quarterback that a guy like fellow rookie Justin Herbert already is, let alone the one that he could become
.Rewatch the Chargers win over the Raiders on Thursday night. Watch how Herbert’s size allows him to stand tall above the defense. Watch how his feel and presence allow him to navigate the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. Watch how his arm strength allows him to deliver tight, on-target throws at all angles and distances. If he reminds you of anyone, it should be Wentz in his second season.
Hurts? The guy I see profiles closer to Herbert’s backup than Herbert himself. And that’s fine. Tyrod Taylor is a nice player. If the Eagles’ goal was really to land themselves a quality backup who can give them a chance, well, that would be mission accomplished.
I’m not sentencing Hurts to that fate. I just don’t see a guy who is fast enough to be Lamar Jackson, nor polished enough to be Russell Wilson, nor accurate enough to be Drew Brees. And they are his physical cohort.
Is it possible Hurts creates his own mold? Sure. Does he deserve a fair chance to do it? At some point, yes. But given the odds he faces, the Eagles had better be sure before they rule out the guy who has looked the part in the past. Root for the kid. Just don’t buy the jersey.