Can We Give Jalen Hurts a Chance?

PHOTO CREDT: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

For an organization that fired its Super Bowl-winning head coach and shipped its franchise quarterback to Indianapolis, the Philadelphia Eagles have enjoyed a relatively quiet offseason. Freed from the expectations of immediate playoff contention, the Eagles seem to have slipped into NFL anonymity or, more likely, irrelevance, as the army of football analysts and media personalities train their collective gaze elsewhere.

There’s drama unfolding with frustrated quarterbacks in Houston and Green Bay; the annual crowning of the perennial preseason champion Dallas Cowboys; the ongoing saga of Tom Brady and his epic battle against Father Time; and the question of whether Andy Reid can get the Kansas City Chiefs back on track after an abysmal Super Bowl performance.

As the NFL chattering class ponders these and other issues, the Eagles have been able to rebuild their franchise in relative peace. New head coach Nick Sirianni has gone to work building his coaching staff and installing his system. Meanwhile, Howie Roseman may have produced his first non-polarizing draft in his tenure as general manager.

Headlining his haul is Devonta Smith, the Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver from Alabama who projects to be the gamebreaker the Eagles have been seeking for at least the last three years. The offensive line, which was battered beyond recognition last season, looks to be rounding back into form. Center and anchor Jason Kelce has signed on for another tour, while Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks both appear to have recovered well from serious leg injuries.

The stability up front should ease the growing pains for young signal caller Jalen Hurts, who is primed to take the reins of the offense for the 2021 campaign.

Or so we think.

During a weekly guest appearance on 97.5 The Fanatic, NFL Master of Whisperers Adam Schefter did his best to throw some chum in the water for the Philadelphia sports sharks starving for content during this quiet period. Schefter observed that the Eagles were “more equipped than any team out there” to make a run at Deshaun Watson.

Watson, who has emerged as one of the premier quarterbacks in the game, has made his frustrations with his current employer, the Houston Texans, quite clear. Watson skipped out on offseason OTAs and would have ditched minicamp as well if the Texans had not cancelled it. Complicating matters for Watson is the fact that the ink has barely dried on an extension he signed with the Texans in September of last year, which keeps him under contract through the 2025 season.

Moreover, there is the ominous matter of the mountain of civil litigation under which Watson is buried. Twenty-two lawsuits have been filed against Watson by women alleging sexual misconduct and assault against the quarterback. While Watson has thus far avoided criminal liability and has professed his innocence, the optics are less than ideal for a player who would emerge as the face of any organization for which he works.

Analyzing the situation from the perspective of the Eagles, it makes little sense that they would hijack their own offseason and intentionally submarine the confidence of Hurts by telegraphing their interest in Watson to Schefter for the purpose of disseminating the information as fodder on local sports radio.

Frankly, the comments from ESPN’s NFL insider are obvious on their face and not necessarily a signal that a deal is imminent. The Eagles have replaced Carson Wentz with the inexperienced Hurts, who was not initially selected with the thought he would be the long term starting quarterback in year two of his professional career.

Roseman has amassed serious draft capital for 2022, positioning Philadelphia as a player either for Watson or a top prospect in the next class. For all of his shortcomings as an executive, even Roseman’s most ardent critics must acknowledge his proven track record orchestrating quick rebuilds. Anyone who dismisses his role in producing the Super Bowl season is either a performative contrarian or not a serious analyst.

While it would be professional malpractice for Roseman to discount Watson as an option for his roster, one wonders if he and the rest of the decision makers at the NovaCare complex are willing to give Hurts an honest chance to claim the mantle in Philadelphia?

What, honestly, is the harm in giving Hurts every opportunity to excel as the starting quarterback this year?

Watson’s legal woes will likely extend into the season, and the information that trickles out from the NFL’s investigation, subsequent reporting, or the ongoing civil litigation may harm his reputation to the point that a franchise like the Eagles might rather avoid taking a gamble on him.

It makes sense, then, to let the process unfold and monitor developments. Perhaps Watson’s vociferous claims of innocence will be validated, though his attorneys know well the burden of proof is lower in the civil arena versus a criminal proceeding, and the bar is even lower in the unpredictable court of public opinion.

Meanwhile, ensuring Hurts has the best possible 2021 campaign only benefits the Birds. If they really want to cut bait for a better option, the Eagles could include Hurts in a trade package and potentially save some of their draft assets. If Hurts proves he can emerge as a stellar quarterback, or even a serviceable signal caller, perhaps Roseman can save one of those first round picks he otherwise would need to include in a ransom for a player of Watson’s caliber.

Most importantly, Hurts has earned the right to lead the Eagles offense in 2021. Given his classy handling of a difficult situation at Alabama and the professional way he managed the turmoil of 2020, Hurts has demonstrated consistently that he possesses the mental toughness and maturity to handle whatever adversity might present itself this season. After the drama of Carson Wentz, Hurts has been a breath of fresh air in Philadelphia.

Even when Sirianni refused to anoint Hurts the starting quarterback, citing the need to create competition at every position, the young signal caller refused to allow his ego to be bruised. It was a welcome change of pace after four years of dealing with a quarterback who seemed to accumulate injuries both physical and emotional.

When the Eagles selected Hurts, Wentz decided to look over his shoulder instead of peering into the mirror. Hurts has taken the opposite approach, as NJ.com’s Chris Franklin captured in a recent piece:

“Everybody’s got to go to work. Rent is due every day. It’s always been that way for me. Always been a get better mentality every day. Grow every day, be a better leader every day, be a better quarterback every day. When that rent’s due, I don’t plan on missing payments.”

How can you not root for a guy who approaches life this way? For every caller who has dialed into a sports radio show to complain about prima donna athletes, or posted on social media to lament the state of “kids these days,” or launched into a diatribe about Millenials in some other forum, here is your chance to put your money where your mouth is. Invest in Jalen Hurts. It’s a free wager, especially in this season of transition.

The alternative is to continue to place trust in the fickle circus that is the quarterback speculation market. All of the analysts do the same things we do as fans: they react to what they see, adjusting their praise accordingly. How else to explain the way yesterday’s can’t-miss prospects like Tua Tagovailoa and Sam Darnold are brushed aside, or the way prodigal son Baker Mayfield finds his way back into the good graces of the NFL cognoscenti?

Projections are not destiny, whether they come from the Facebook feed of your buddy or the power rankings of a professional analyst. They are too often contaminated by memories and data capturing what happened in the past.

The will to improve, the refusal to settle for good and the constant drive to get better- this is a difficult attribute to measure. Hurts possesses the quality in spades. He is a proven leader, a fine representative of the organization, and reputedly a fan of the band Kiss (sorry, Russ). He also may be a bit of a miracle worker as well, injecting some life into an Eagles offense that had been left for dead as the miserable 2020 season progressed. What’s not to like?

So, bet on Jalen Hurts. It’s a calculation the Eagles should make as well. After all, they drafted Hurts in the second round. Why make such a substantial investment in a player if you don’t believe he can contribute as a starter?

Roseman and Sirianni have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain, going all-in on the development of Jalen Hurts. And who knows? Maybe the future franchise quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles is not in Houston after all.

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