Eagles' greatest irony: Future of coach, general manager and QB all resting on Jalen Hurts
The Eagles and Carson Wentz will play their little, "He loves me; he loves me not" game all throughout the rest of this season and into the offseason.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson will play the same game, as will general manager Howie Roseman.
All of them know they're in a battle to keep their jobs, sort of an Eagles' version of "The Apprentice" with Eagles president and CEO Jeffrey Lurie serving as the decider.
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The irony is all of this rests in the hands of a 22-year-old rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts, who started only his second game of his career on Sunday.
Lurie, no doubt, couldn’t help but notice Hurts' poise, leadership and attitude in leading the Eagles back from a 16-0 deficit before falling just short in a 33-26 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Lurie surely saw Hurts’ toughness on his 7-yard TD run, when he dove forward while carrying a Cardinals defender on his back.
Just as surely as he saw Hurts frantically put the Eagles in position to tie the game with two attempts into the end zone in the final seconds.
Pederson certainly saw it.
Yet Pederson once again waited until Monday to name Hurts the starter for the upcoming game on Sunday against Dallas. And once again, he would not name Hurts the starter beyond that.
But assuming Hurts starts those last two games, that would give him four starts. Is that enough of a sample size to determine his and everyone else's future?
Here is where Pederson seemed to have been caught off guard.
"That’s kind of, probably, a loaded question, a little bit," Pederson said. "But I think you have a good idea. Obviously, we haven’t had a full body of 16 games plus preseason. We really don’t know necessarily ... We still have to improve though. There’s room to grow. Nothing is perfect. And there are some mistakes that are still being made that we have to correct, even in his game.
"But it is a little bit of a small sample size to really probably make that determination overall."
Still, Hurts did show improvement.
The week before against the Saints, Hurts used his legs, running for 106 yards and throwing for 167. Against the Cardinals, Hurts used his arm, completing 24 of 44 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns. He also ran for 63 yards and another TD.
Hurts hasn't thrown an interception in his two starts, and he had a passer rating of 102.3 against the Cardinals. Wentz had thrown 15 INTs in 12 games, and his highest rating in any game this season was 91.1.
It's hard not to notice the energy the Eagles have played with on offense under Hurts, something that was missing.
"He’s encouraging. He’s poised. He’s being a leader," wide receiver Greg Ward said after catching two touchdown passes from Hurts on Sunday.
Hurts is also accountable.
Hurts criticized himself for taking a safety when he was called for intentional grounding from the end zone in the first quarter. He did the same thing when he was sacked on two plays in a row after the Eagles had reached the Cardinals' 11 yard line with under three minutes remaining. The Eagles didn't score on the drive.
"I (couldn’t) care less to hear any of the young stuff, second-start stuff, rookie stuff," Hurts said. "We have a standard we want to play to. I personally have a standard that I want to play to."
So where does that leave Wentz?
According to an ESPN report Sunday, Wentz doesn't want to remain with the Eagles in 2021 as a backup quarterback. Still, it would be very difficult for the Eagles to trade or release Wentz because of his contract, meaning that he'll likely be back as either a starter or backup.
Pederson didn't acknowledge the report, but said Wentz has been "a real pro" since losing his job. He was seen giving Hurts a fist bump on the sideline after his second TD pass to Ward.
"I get it," Pederson said. "I understand that it’s a frustrating situation, probably, for him. But at the same time, I also see him helping Jalen and helping our offense."
If Wentz can't win the job back, that's an indictment on Pederson – and perhaps Lurie would want a different coach to develop Hurts.
If that's the case, where does that leave Roseman? He spent a second-round pick on Hurts when Eagles needed help at other positions – like, for example, an injury-depleted secondary that gave up 526 yards to the Cardinals.
Then again, if Hurts is the quarterback going forward, then it can be seen as a genius pick.
Roseman's draft misses have also been well-documented. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, the second-round pick in 2019, wasn't even on the game-day roster Sunday.
Roseman has had successes, too. Sixth-round pick Quez Watkins caught a 32-yard touchdown pass, using a nice spin move and his speed down the sideline to outrun the defense.
Roseman deserves blame for bad contracts to aging and injury-plagued veterans – Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson – not to mention the four-year, $128 million albatross that Wentz's contract is becoming.
But if Hurts becomes the starting quarterback next season, does Roseman get a chance to reshape the roster around Hurts? Or does that fall to someone else, especially with the Eagles being an estimated $70 million over the salary cap for 2021?
For now, good luck trying to get Hurts to gloat about his play.
"I can’t sit here and talk about myself," Hurts said. "Those 300 (passing) yards didn’t win us the game, or whatever it was. That’s what matters."
The Eagles are in last place in the NFC East, and incredibly, they can still make the playoffs. Just as incredibly, Hurts' play in those two games could very well determine the fate of Roseman, Pederson and Wentz.
Oh, the irony.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.