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April 27, 2020

Did the Eagles draft Jalen Hurts to be Carson Wentz' backup, or do they have bigger plans for him?

No one really knows. Maybe not even the Eagles. 

But, after spending their second-round draft pick on a quarterback despite signing their starter to a massive extension last summer and having numerous other needs to address, one has to hope that Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and the rest of the brain trust at least had a plan when they shocked the world by drafting Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts with the 53rd-overall pick. 

You'd think they'd at least be prepared for the backlash they've gotten from a fanbase that has been largely won over by Carson Wentz, despite his late-season injury history. But, as Roseman told Jon Marks and Ike Reese on SportsRadio 94 WIP on Monday afternoon, that was not the case. 

"You know, I didn't [expect this reaction]... I think the one thing is that it's OK to question me, our thought process — and we'll go through that here in a bit — but I don't want it to get lost in the fact that Jalen Hurts is an Eagle, and he's ours," Roseman said. "And this is one of the great college football players of the last four years. This is one of the great character guys in this draft. This is one of the great leaders in this draft. This is an asset to any football team. And I want our fans to take a minute and just watch that guy, and just see that this is a talented guy that we've added to our football team.

"It's OK. You can be upset with me and the amount of resources, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. And let's not forget that this is guy's a person too, and he didn't pick himself. That's the only thing I'm surprised about. This guy is an asset to any football team, man. He's a good football player. And he's an asset to our organization."

Unfortunately for Roseman, that's not really the issue. 

See, the problem with this pick isn't Hurts. It isn't even the thought-process behind the pick — after all, we've seen what having a solid backup behind Wentz can do for the Eagles. No, this is all about where the Eagles decided to Hurts and the message it sends to anyone paying attention.

For starters, there's the actual cost — a second-round pick that could've been used to address any of the other glaring holes on the Eagles roster. Then there's the unknown cost — how will this play with Carson Wentz, the rest of the team and the fanbase over the next couple of months when people have nothing to do but sit at home and debate the merits of spending the 53rd pick on a position in which you've already heavily invested? To borrow a phrase from my favorite financial advisors: "You need to diversify your bonds."

Roseman, however, sees value in having a deep quarterback room. And it's hard to blame the guy, considering he drives past a Nick Foles statue on the way into the office. 

"When I came back in 2016 and we sat down with Coach Pederson, we were going to make sure that position was strong," Roseman said. "We re-signed Sam [Bradford] and then signed Chase [Daniel] to a big backup quarterback deal and then spent all those picks for Carson, it was kind of unusual. We just said, 'We're going to make sure that position is really strong.'"

But there's a bit of flawed logic there, because only one quarterback is on the field at a time — for the most part (more on that in a bit) — so your quarterback play isn't necessarily improved on a weekly basis by having a better backup. Obviously, there's something to be said about having a quality backup, and the Eagles know this better than most, but players taken in the second round of the draft tend to be starter-quality players. So, by picking Hurts, they essentially passed on taking a player who could make a meaningful impact every game for a player who they're hoping they don't have to use at all. 

The Eagles also know what a crapshoot it can be trying to find quarterbacks in the later rounds of the draft — they don't have to look back too far to find their own examples — and how expensive it can get to have quality veterans at that position if you don't develop your own picks, especially when you're now paying your starter top-tier money. 

Through that narrow window, the pick makes sense. And to hear Roseman tell it, it's all part of the delicate balancing act between trying to win now and trying to protect the longterm outlook of the team. 

"I feel like I have two jobs. My job is to do everything I can to make Carson Wentz successful. We've got so much invested in him. You know, I think I've shown it by my actions, whether it's trading up all those picks or signing him to an extension, in what we believe in him, and how talented he is, and that we can win a Super Bowl with him. We have an exceptional group of tight ends; we've got these two young backs; we've got an O-line that we're continuing to put resources in; obviously we invest in the receiver position. I think offensively, from the game we played Seattle in the playoffs, we're different. And that's a good thing. ... 

"So that's the first part of my job for this year, but I've also got a responsibility to the organization that's different than just this year... And I understand that I've got to make difficult decisions. I don't want anything more than to bring happiness to our fans, but the bottom line is they're happy when we're winning."

Roseman then went on to list some of the instances where having a strong insurance policy at quarterback has helped the team — and a few times when they failed to have one and it hurt them — before adding, "I've got to make sure I'm protecting our team., because we've got a good team. That's my job. And that's hard. It's hard not to be shortsighted, but that's my job. And I'm going to do everything possible to make sure we're protected."

So which is it, Howie? Did you bring in Hurts as a longterm, cost-effective backup or for the short-term purposes of strengthening the quarterback room and giving the Eagles the best chance to win now before ultimately flipping him? Because if it's the former, that at least makes sense in theory, even if the price paid on the front end was a bit too high. But if it's the latter, Hurts probably isn't the best option for the 2020 season. Beyond being a rookie, there's likely to be a condensed offseason which would mean limited practice reps in Doug Pederson's offense. For better or worse, Nate Sudfeld is likely Wentz' backup this coming season with Hurts taking a year to learn the ropes. If they were looking for someone other than Sudfeld to be the No. 2 behind Carson this season, they would've likely had to bring in a veteran free agent like Joe Flacco or convinced Josh McCown to come back for one more season.

That begs the question, what exactly are the Eagles' plans for Hurts moving forward? One thing Roseman made abundantly clear during his interview on WIP was that they do not view Hurts as a replacement for Wentz.

"We're not looking for Carson's replacement. I hope Carson plays, like all these guys are playing, until he's 40-42 years old," Roseman said. "We just feel like this is the most important position in sports and we feel like this player has something to him. And I think you've seen that there are opportunities there where, the quarterbacks, they're the most valued position too, and you get an opportunity to get one. You think about it, you think about what can have more of a factor in all our lives and happiness and how that affects all of us and how that effects all of us ... 

"You know, they're good players that we were considering [drafting there instead] but at the end of the day, is it going to make a difference in all of our lives if you needed the insurance? Or if this player has the talent we think, a lot of people are going to notice that as well. So there are a lot of outcomes to this, and again I understand everyone wants to win as many possible games as they can this year, and I think when you look at our roster, when you look at our team, and when you look at what we did this offseason, we're a lot better than we were at the end of last year." 

If all goes according to plan —at least if we take them at their word — Wentz will stay healthy and be the starter for at least the next four seasons, which is coincidentally the same amount of time Hurts will be under contract. At that point, Wentz would theoretically still be plenty young enough for another contract, and the Birds have gone out of their way to tell us how much they believe in him, so would they really consider ditching him for a younger and presumably cheaper Hurts? Not likely. At that point, they'd have to hope he's shown enough that they can trade him while he's still under contract. 

And this is best-case scenario, something Roseman struggled to identify in his initial press conference following the pick. You don't even want to think about the *worst case.

*OK, in case you're curious, it would probably involve Wentz getting injured again, Hurts coming in and absolutely lighting up the Cowboys after they beat a Wentz-led Eagles squad earlier in the season. This would be followed by an all-out QB controversy that swallows Philadelphia whole like in This Is The End

If, in the best of scenarios, Hurts doesn't start a game at quarterback for the entirety of his rookie contract, how can the Eagles justify spending a second-round pick on him, no matter how good they think he can be? 

Well, that's where this gets really interesting. Active game-day rosters in the NFL will be expanding this year from 46 to 48 players, which conveniently gives the Eagles the option to dress all three quarterbacks on Sundays if they want. And with a guy like Hurts in the fold, that allows the Birds to use the rookie quarterback in a variety of ways. 

Shortly after the Eagles picked Hurts 53rd overall, several plugged-in NFL writers were quick to note that the Eagles could envision the rookie as more than just a quarterback, an idea that Yahoo! Sports' Charles Robinson expanded on in a recent column:

The Philadelphia Eagles franchise that pulled off arguably the single-gutsiest play in Super Bowl history is now positioned to lay the groundwork on something even more ambitious: The NFL’s first two-quarterback staple in an offense.

“Taysom Hill [package] on steroids,” one source familiar with the Eagles’ draft evaluations told Yahoo Sports.

That was the descriptor used to explain the Eagles’ selection of Oklahoma star quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round of Friday night’s NFL draft — with a 53rd pick that flew in the face of some team needs. Chief among them: LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton, who was once believed to be a potential top-15 pick before sliding over the course of the season and draft process.

A source with specific insight on the Hurts selection said there was some offensive evolution in mind — as well as this pick being a stiff lean into the coaching staff’s preference. That’s what ultimately led to the Hurts pick, allowing head coach Doug Pederson to groom a talented backup to starter Carson Wentz while potentially lining up some two-quarterback packages that have been on the Eagles’ mind since last offseason’s passing program.  []

But the Eagles wouldn't really think about going with a gimmicky offense just to justify the Hurts pick, would they? Not if this was their plan all along.

Just last offseason, then-QB coach Press Taylor, who helped bring the Philly Special to the Birds' playbook and is now the team's passing game coordinator, had a very interesting comment about where he sees the game of football going in the future...

I do think at some point one of the big things is having multiple people on the field who can throw the ball,” he said. “I think that’s something [you’ll see] going forward. You’ve seen kind of the Philly Special, all the different versions of double passes, things like that. I think at some point something like that I could see coming into play.  []

That's certainly interesting in light of the team's decision to go out and invest serious draft capital in a mobile quarterback. Sure, the team has said that they view Hurts as a QB first, and Roseman deferred to Pederson when asked about this very topic on WIP on Monday, but it makes sense as something the Birds could keep in their back pocket this season. 

If they plan on integrating Hurts into their offense — and if they're able to do it successfully while still grooming him as a competent NFL quarterback — then the fanbase could quickly find themselves falling in love with this pick. Of course, that's assuming none of the players Roseman and Co. passed on in the second round turn into absolutely studs. 

Only time will tell whether this was the right decision for the Eagles — and the scary part for the front office is that the only way we'll ever truly know if this was worth it is if their $128 million man gets hurt. 

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