January 17, 2022
The Eagles' season came to a screeching halt on Sunday in Tampa when they were blown out by the defending champion Bucs, 31-15, in a game in which the final score was hardly indicative of how things went for the Birds. It was terrible, to say the least, with failures in all three aspects of the game that allowed Tom Brady and Tampa Bay to get out to a 31-0 lead before Jalen Hurts and Co. added some late garbage points to make it look a bit more respectable.
The problem for the Eagles isn't so much that they lost — not many thought they actually stood a chance at winning the game after already over-achieving just to make the postseason — but rather the way in which they lost, with some of the team's worst warts being again put on display after two-plus months of it looking like they'd been fixed. The problem was that for a team that had shown so much growth, there was nothing but regression on the field on Sunday, from Hurts to Sirianni to, well, pretty much name it. The problem was that after weeks of things trending in the right direction, that loss was a reminder of just how far this team still has to go in its quest to return to the promised land.
Making the playoffs was certainly a step in the right direction, but as Eagles fans were bluntly reminded on Sunday, there's a big difference between sneaking into the playoffs as the seventh seed and being a real contender.
The biggest question currently surrounding this team — and please stop me if you've heard this before — surrounds the most important position on the field: quarterback. Has Hurts, who went 23-of-43 for 258 yards a touchdown and two interceptions against the Bucs, done enough to convince the team he deserves another year under center? After all, that was arguably the biggest goal for the Birds this season — bigger than making the playoffs or anything — was determining whether or not Hurts could lead this team. And unfortunately for the Eagles, the jury still seems very much out on that one.
Following the loss, however, there was one person who still felt Hurts showed enough, if not on Sunday, then throughout the entire season.
"He didn't play his best game, as we all know. But you don't take the body of work that he had for 17 weeks — and I know he didn't play in two games, so 15 weeks — and say you put everything on this game," Sirianni said of Hurts. "I know we're all judged on the last game that we played, understand that, I fully get that, but I felt like Jalen grew throughout the year. And he got better as a passer, he got better reading the defenses, getting the ball to the right place. He developed so much in his ability to extend plays, not only making plays with his feet but also making plays downfield on the scramble. ...
"I feel really good with what we have in place right here at the quarterback position. I thought he had a great year and he came a long way, and that's what I expect from Jalen just because of the football character he has, just the character he has, the toughness he has, the love for football he has. I can't say enough things about Jalen the player, the person and the player. I know this is a game that none of us are going to be satisfied with — me, him, multiple guys on that football team — but I'm really pleased with how he came along this year and the leader he is on this football team."
Perhaps it's because people tend to be prisoner's of the moment or, more likely, because the Jalen Hurts we saw on Sunday was one we've seen in the past, not everyone is as convinced as the Eagles rookie head coach that the former Heisman runner-up is the longterm answer, especially with Howie Roseman and Co. having so many options through which to upgrade the position if they so choose, whether that's a trade for someone like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, signing someone in free agency, or using one of their first round picks on a QB.
Obviously, it's no surprise there are so many questions surrounding the second-year QB, especially when he did very little on Sunday to convince those watching that he's the answer. If anything, he did the opposite, creating more questions than there were when the regular season ended.
Will Hurts be back next season? And if so, will he still be starter? What else is out there for the Eagles? And how likely are they to make a splashy move?
Here's what they're saying...
Over at The Ringer, former Bleeding Green writer Ben Solak took tried to answer the Jalen Hurts question and came away believing that sticking with him for another year is "a low-ceiling approach," meaning that Hurts has some positive attributes, but by sticking with him you're making it nearly impossible to make a deep playoff run, even if he improves.
Hurts should continue getting better. But I’m not sure the offense around him can get that much better. ...
If Hurts gets better, it may mean he has a quicker trigger, becomes more accurate, and makes tougher throws. But his fundamental strengths and weaknesses as a player won’t change. The offense that created no structural challenge for the Buccaneers? That let them sit with their corners off the ball and loaded boxes, daring the Eagles to challenge them with in-breaking routes? It’s nicely optimized to Hurts’s style of play. Another legit wide receiver and a good secondary tight end threat who can move around the formation would help, but this is decently close to the final form of a Hurts-led offense. There just isn’t much more you can do to help this player beyond what Sirianni already did this season.
That offense was perfectly respectable down the back stretch. But without elite play from several positions, it sure doesn’t seem like a playoff-caliber offense. The Eagles are a rebuilding team that overachieved this year, so talking about their ceiling might be presumptuous—but, even as Hurts gets better, sticking with him feels like a low-ceiling approach.
Hurts is clearly an NFL quarterback. He deserves more starts, more opportunities to grow, and better receivers. But on the path he’s currently walking, Hurts looks like a career backup and spot starter. For a second-round pick once billed as a running back playing quarterback, that’s a great achievement. For Philadelphia, it’s a good reminder: Hurts is a step on the path from the failed Wentz experiment to another future with a yet-unnamed passer. [theringer.com]
A common sentiment from the local media is that this Hurts situation is a bit of a "the grass isn't always greener" type situation, in that Hurts might be good enough to be the QB on a rebuilding team, but he's likely not the guy to get you over the hump. And if there's other options out there, Roseman and Jeff Lurie might look elsewhere, especially if it's a veteran they believe could greatly improve this team's fortunes in one year.
It was a bad day to have a bad day. And now it’s up to the Eagles to determine if Sunday was merely a bad day or an encapsulation of the player Hurts is at this stage of his career. That’s not a determination the Eagles needed to make Sunday night. It doesn’t need to be made Monday morning, either. But it must be made because the Eagles entered the season essentially granting Hurts a season-long audition to prove he should remain the starting quarterback. ...
By any objective measure, Hurts showed enough promise this season to remain the starting quarterback. But the question in Philadelphia is whether there’s an available alternative who can help the team compete better in games like the one on Sunday. The Eagles are flush with resources, including three first-round picks and more cap flexibility than last season. If Sirianni, general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie keep Hurts as the starting quarterback in 2022, it won’t be for a lack of options. It’s hard to make a case for a rookie over Hurts, but the questions would come if the Eagles believe they can acquire someone like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson. Even then, it must be weighed against Hurts’ potential and how the Eagles can allocate the resources required to add a more established player. [theathletic.com]
Personally, this writer also believes that Hurts is the best option for next season, unless the Eagles undergo a massive roster overhaul this offseason. We saw on Sunday that it's more than just the QB that's holding this team back, and with Hurts still on a rookie contract, the best move might be to build a roster around a non-existent, hypothetical quarterback, put all the pieces in place, and then go out and get your guy, who can be plugged into a ready-to-contend roster that's just missing the final, albeit most important, piece.
NBC Sports Philadelphia's Reuben Frank believes that Hurts will be back in the fall, but he also thinks it's a no-brainer for the Eagles not to at least explore their other options on the trade market (or elsewhere). It could be a franchise-altering move, but that's precisely what you should be looking for when you're a team in a rebuild — or as the Birds called it prior to the season, "transition."
But two years in, I just haven't seen the evidence that he can consistently make enough plays throwing the football to be a championship quarterback... You can't win that way. Certainly not consistently against good teams. Certainly not deep in the playoffs.
So the Eagles have a decision to make, a decision that will determine the course of the franchise for the next several years.
And while I still think it's likely Hurts will return as the starter in 2022 -- with another year under his belt, a more experienced coach and presumably a better supporting cast on both sides of the ball -- how could you blame the Eagles if they do look elsewhere?
They have draft capital. They have cap space. They have tradeable assets. What makes this such a difficult call is that if the Eagles go out and draft a quarterback or sign a veteran or trade for someone, there's no guarantee he'll do any better than Hurts. [nbcsports.com]
Over at ESPN+, Dan Graziano took a look at some potential overreactions following Sunday's wild card games, including the idea that the Eagles will be in the market for a quarterback this offseason, and he believes there's truth to that.
Given their assets and some of the guys who could become available, it would be hard to believe Howie Roseman wouldn't at least do some window shopping, if not more given how active he typically is.
The Eagles will be in the market for a quarterback upgrade...
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The problem is, Hurts didn't do enough to make the Eagles sure he's their long-term answer. And between their resources and the possibilities this offseason's quarterback market could potentially offer, they owe it to themselves to at least consider the possibility of an upgrade.
The Eagles will have three first-round picks in April's draft -- Nos. 15, 16 and 19. That could offer them the opportunity to move up into the early part of the round to draft a quarterback if they think there's one who looks like a franchise cornerstone. But if there isn't such a player, it's still possible that this offseason will see the likes of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and others on the trade market. And a team with three first-round picks in this draft would have a head start on other teams if it wanted to make a run at players like that.
It'd be no insult to Hurts if the team decided it would be better off with Wilson or Rodgers or Watson. And while it might not be possible to get those guys and might be wiser to use the picks to build around Hurts, this is an organization that is always considering all of its options at the most critical position. That's why Hurts is on the team in the first place, remember. [espn.com]
You can add CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin to the list of people who aren't convinced that Hurts is the longterm solution at quarterback, especially given the options the Eagles should have with their three first-round picks and Carson Wentz's albatross of a contract coming off the books. They have options, and according to Benjamin, "they owe it to the team, the fans and themselves" to consider them.
Hurts has a lot going for him. The former second-round pick is just 23, the youngest Eagles QB to ever start a playoff game. He's a smooth runner who's built like a running back. He's always unfazed. And he showed genuine improvement as a passer in his first season as a starter -- under a new coach and alongside just so-so weapons, for that matter. But just because Hurts flashed in middling circumstances doesn't mean he's built for (or earned) the QB1 job in 2022, let alone beyond next season. ...
The fact the Eagles enter 2022 with literally three first-round draft picks -- a rare blessing for any organization -- puts more pressure on the guys up top. If Sirianni, general manager Howie Roseman and team owner Jeffrey Lurie believe their assets can help them secure a more talented QB this offseason, they owe it to the team, the fans and themselves to consider their options.
... There may or may not be a franchise QB in the 2022 draft, and veterans like Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson and, heck, even lower-tier starters like Derek Carr, may or may not be worth the price of potential trades. But the Eagles have the ammunition to explore everything, so they should. [cbssports.com]
Finally, there's Ed Kracz of Sports Illustrated, who would like to see Roseman do the one thing he refused to do last year (all the way through training camp) and name Jalen Hurts the starter going forward. But while he thinks that would be the right move and would bring some stability/end an offseason of speculation before it began, he doesn't believe that's what he'll do.
Instead, he also believes Roseman will look elsewhere...
Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, somebody in the NFL draft…it will be open season between now and the start of free agency in mid-March, until the NFL Draft at the end of April. All manners of upgrade will be thoroughly analyzed and dissected.
Or maybe GM Howie Roseman nips it in the bud this week when he will hold his annual end-of-season press conference.
Roseman could end it all with five words: “Jalen will be our quarterback.” ...
He should get another year and that's what Roseman should say.
That would be a surprise because my belief is he will try to upgrade the position and will if he can. [si.com]
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports