This isn’t Howie Roseman’s first rodeo. He’s had his football judgment questioned more times than he can count in the years he’s been running the Eagles’ personnel department. Comes with the territory.
But even he was a little taken aback this spring by the level of furor caused by the team’s decision to draft University of Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round.
His wife’s 91-year-old grandfather, who lives in Mobile, Ala., which is just a three-hour drive from Tuscaloosa where Hurts spent three years playing for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, sent him a cartoon from a local newspaper that featured Hurts being harassed by an angry mob of Eagles fans.
“It’s not every day that you draft the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy and people are mad about it,’' Roseman joked last month.
They were mad because the Eagles already had one of the league’s top quarterbacks on their roster -- Carson Wentz -- and they didn’t see the need to waste a high draft pick, the 53rd overall, on another one when they had other needs they could’ve addressed.
And they were mad because the Eagles had signed Wentz to a $108 million contract extension less than a year earlier, and here they were bringing somebody else in who might cause poor Carson to start looking over his shoulder.
But Roseman and the Eagles knew Wentz would be just fine. He’s a big boy. He can cope with a little competition.
QB insurance for Wentz
What the Eagles were concerned about was solidifying their backup quarterback situation. Wentz is one of the league’s top passers, as evidenced by his plus-62 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential in just four NFL seasons. He also had the fifth most rushing first downs among quarterbacks last season.
But the fact of the matter is he’s been hurt a lot. He’s missed 13 of 54 games over the last three seasons, including five of six postseason games. And he lasted just nine snaps in that sixth playoff game before suffering a concussion, which forced the Eagles to turn to 40-year-old backup Josh McCown and his balky hamstrings.
The Eagles love Wentz. They hope he will be their starting quarterback for the next 10-12 years. They aren’t trying to replace him. But with his injury history, they can’t ignore the possibility that he’ll probably get hurt again at some point.
Throw in the fact that the NFL is increasing the number of playoff teams from 12 to 14 this year and will be adding a 17th regular-season game probably as soon as next year, and the need for a dependable backup quarterback increases even more.
The Eagles hit pay dirt in 2017 when Nick Foles, who they signed to back up Wentz the previous spring, led them to a Super Bowl title after Wentz tore his ACL late in the regular season.
The Eagles considered signing a veteran backup prior to this spring’s draft. But there are a lot of factors that contribute to a player being the right fit. Jameis Winston obviously was available, but the Eagles didn’t think he was the right guy for their quarterback room. Joe Flacco was an option, but there were injury concerns with him.
They had some interest in ex-Bengal Andy Dalton, but his asking price was too high. He ended up signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Cowboys after the draft, but that was because he had family in the Dallas area and was willing to take less to play there.
The problem with signing veteran backups is you’re not getting any return on your investment. They’re there for a year and then they’re usually gone. If they get an opportunity to play, like Foles did in 2017, and play well, their price tag goes through the roof and you can’t afford to keep them.
With Wentz’s cap number set to jump from $18.7 million this year to $34.7 million in 2021, the Eagles really can’t afford to be paying another $7-8 million to his backup every year. It impacts their cap flexibility at other positions.
They decided that the ideal solution was to draft a rookie who they could develop and who would have a minimal impact on their cap for at least the next four years.
Could they have taken one later in the draft? Sure. But, as with any position, the hit rate on quarterbacks dramatically decreases after the first two rounds.
Not including this year’s draft, 52 quarterbacks have been taken in Rounds 3-4 since 2000. Just 16 of those 52 have thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in their careers. Just 12 have started 25 or more games. Only eight have winning records as a starter. And just two -- Russell Wilson and Nick Foles (both taken in third round of 2012 draft) -- have started in a Super Bowl.
Forty-nine quarterbacks have been taken in Rounds 5-7 since 2010. Thirty-three of those 49 have never started a game. Four more have started two or less. Of the 12 who have started at least three games, just two -- Trevor Siemian (7th round, 2015) and Tyrod Taylor (6th round, 2011) -- have winning records as starters. Siemian is 13-12. Taylor is 23-21.
The Eagles view the quarterback position much like they do left tackle. If you’re going to take one, you’d better do it early. Because the odds of finding a good one later on decrease dramatically.
The Eagles have drafted three quarterbacks in Rounds 3-4 since 2000 – Matt Barkley (4th round, 2013), Foles, and Mike Kafka (4th round, 2010). Foles was the only keeper.
They’ve also drafted three quarterbacks in Rounds 5-7 since 2000 – Clayton Thorson (5th round, 2019), Andy Hall (6th round, 2004), and A.J. Feeley (5th round, 2001). Thorson and Hall never threw an NFL pass. Feeley started 18 games with the Eagles and Dolphins. Finished his career with 28 touchdown passes and 31 interceptions, though the Eagles did get a second-round pick for him when they traded him to the Dolphins.
The Eagles did a thorough job of scouting Hurts prior to the draft. They watched every snap he played at Alabama and Oklahoma. They talked to his coaches at both schools, including Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley.
Listening to Lincoln
Roseman and the Eagles have cultivated a good relationship with Riley, who is one of the nation’s top college coaches.
Two years ago, the Eagles were considering drafting Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown in the second round, but viewed him as more of a right tackle than a left tackle, and they weren’t really interested in moving Lane Johnson back to the left side at this stage of his career.
Riley agreed with their assessment of Brown and the Eagles ended up drafting tight end Dallas Goedert, who has quickly emerged as one of the league’s top all-around tight ends. The Baltimore Ravens took Brown in the third round. He’s been their starting right tackle for the last two seasons.
In an interview with the Inquirer in late May, Riley said the Eagles, “were very detailed in the discussions and the homework that they did’' on Hurts. “They’ve got a plan for him,’' he said. “I think it’s a great situation for him.
“With Carson being there, he’s going to get an opportunity to learn from one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Jalen is a team player and a sponge. He’ll soak up everything he can.‘'
Riley even had some influence in the Eagles’ decision to take TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor in the first round. Riley had recruited Reagor when he was a high school star at Waxahachie (Texas) High School. His team also played against him for three years in the Big 12. He spoke glowingly of him to Eagles scouts when they talked to him about Hurts. He indicated that Reagor would’ve been a 100-catch-a-year receiver. in Oklahoma’s offense.
Hurts had an impressive 69.7 completion percentage at Oklahoma last season, threw 32 touchdown passes, and averaged 11.3 yards per attempt. He also ran for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns. His 52 total touchdowns were seven more than Lamar Jackson had his last year at Louisville in 2017.
Hurts’ dual-threat ability definitely was one of the things that appealed to the Eagles.
“His skillset is kind of where the league is going,’' said one Eagles personnel executive. “You like him because he’s a good quarterback and a good runner and he comes from a system, even at Alabama” that translates well to what the Eagles do.
The Eagles didn’t go into the draft targeting Hurts with their second-round pick. They entered Day 2 with a list of players at several positions that they felt were Pro Bowl-caliber prospects.
They assumed most of the players on their list wouldn’t drop down to them at 53, and they were right. One player who reportedly was on their list who still was available when they were on the clock was Southern Illinois safety/linebacker Jeremy Chinn.
Inquirer draft analyst Ben Fennell called Chinn “the Day 2 version of Isaiah Simmons,’' who was the eighth overall pick in the draft.
Chinn or Hurts
The Eagles really liked Chinn and thought he’d be a great fit for their defense.
But Roseman and the Eagles kept going back to Wentz’s first-quarter concussion four months earlier in the Eagles’ 17-9 playoff loss to Seattle and what might’ve been if they had had a more dynamic backup than 40-year-old Josh McCown, particularly one with Hurts’ skillset.
Given what Foles managed to do in 2017, the Eagles understand better than most the value of a good backup quarterback. Last year, Teddy Bridgewater helped the Saints to a 5-0 record in Drew Brees’ absence. Andy Reid’s Super Bowl-champion Chiefs managed to go 2-1 last year after Patrick Mahomes injured his knee and was replaced by Matt Moore. Moore had a 100.9 passer rating in the three games he started.
As the saying goes, the most important position on a football team is quarterback, and the second most important position is backup quarterback.
So, the Eagles took Hurts. Chinn ended up going to Carolina 11 picks later.
The Eagles view the draft as a full picture as oppose to indvidual picks. If the Eagles had taken Chinn with the 53rd pick, they likely would’ve targeted another quarterback in one of the later rounds. According to league sources, they were one of the teams that liked Florida International’s James Morgan, who was taken by the Jets in Round 4, two picks before the Eagles selected Clemson safety/slot corner K’Von Wallace.
Are they better off with Hurts and Wallace than they would’ve been with Chinn and Morgan? Only time will tell. But the Eagles have no regrets.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out spring OTAs and about 1,200 valuable practice reps that Hurts could’ve gotten as he learns the Eagles’ complicated offense.
But the Eagles are confident that he’ll pick things up pretty quickly. He was a four-year starter in high school. He’s the son of a high school coach.
He played for three different offensive coordinators in three years at Alabama, then had to quickly master an Oklahoma offense that was nothing like what he ran in Tuscaloosa.
“He’s been a phenomenal worker,’' Eagles passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Press Taylor said. “That’s something we knew about him coming in. He’s very serious about his work. He asks good questions.‘'
“It compares well to some of the things I’ve done in college at Oklahoma and Alabama,’' Hurts said Wednesday. “I’m just trying to learn as much as I can. Soak it all in. I know I have a great quarterback room. I have great coaches. I’m excited to learn from them and grow.’'