All it took was months of righteous berating from the Philadelphia media: the Eagles finally pulled starting QB Carson Wentz and played rookie QB Jalen Hurts.
Since the stunning moment in which he was selected with the 53rd overall pick, Hurts has been an object of debate and controversy. He’s been lauded as a farsighted masterstroke for Eagles GM Howie Roseman, held up as the idol of the coaching staff’s “quarterback factory,” since broken down and shuttered. He’s been blamed for Wentz’s regression and miscast as a Taysom Hill knockoff.
But now that Hurts finally got his foot in the door before it closed and snagged a few series against the Packers, that which has seemed inevitable has come true: He played better than Carson Wentz.
Of course he did — it’d be almost impossible to play worse. Hurts threw his first touchdown, took his first sack, gave up his first interception, and kept his head above water in a difficult situation in Green Bay, and with his passable play, forces a question for the Eagles’ beleaguered brass: who is the starting quarterback from here on out?
This will be called a tough question; it isn’t one. It must be Jalen Hurts.
There is no short-term or long-term benefit to playing Carson Wentz anymore.
The Eagles still technically have a shot at the NFC East championship. At 3-8-1, they’re 1.5 games back from the Giants, who grabbed a surprising win against the Seattle Seahawks today to jump to 5-7 atop the NFL’s worst division. FiveThirtyEight makes it an 8% chance, and while the Eagles clearly should not be trusted to make good on that chance, the best offense they’ve played in over a month came with Hurts at the helm.
Hurts makes the team better because he takes the pressure off of the rest of the players. The offensive line has been leaking sacks to the statuesque Wentz, who has lost all of his characteristic escapability in this jumpy season — with Hurts’ combination of explosiveness and contact strength, a quick pressure doesn’t equal a sack nearly as often. Hurts’ willingness to tuck and run was also a relief for the Eagles offense, as he scampered for multiple first downs — those double-digit gains were some of the biggest plays of the day for Philadelphia.
The wide receivers are similarly relieved, as they don’t have to separate immediately in their routes to give Wentz an option under that quick pressure. Of course, with Wentz’s recent processing issues, often the first open receiver doesn’t get the football. Hurts missed a read and a short throw here and there, but he was no more inaccurate or frozen in his progression than Wentz was, and he hit first-read throws successfully.
And of course, the running game benefits from the threat of the QB run.
Wentz does not help this team. Hurts does. Hurts might be a bad quarterback right now, as most second-round rookies are, but Wentz is definitely a bad quarterback right now. So if you want to win now, put in the guy who actually has a chance to do something positive. This has been true for weeks, and is certainly true now.
The Eagles should still be mightily concerned that it seemed a majority of Hurts’ good plays were of his own creation. They got a couple of first reads open, but he was also still throwing contested underneath balls much like Wentz was, and he had about as many scrambles as he did passing attempts. That’s a referendum both on protection and on receivers. The reality of the Eagles’ poor roster had been used as a defense of Wentz when he struggled, and rightfully so.
But even if this roster won’t help Hurts, the experience will. You don’t want to burn these key developmental reps by constantly putting him under pressure or asking him to be the whole offense — and certainly, putting him on his first career start against the fearsome Saints defense is worrying — but experience is the best teacher for young passers. Hurts has always been a gamer, and unlike many rookies, has always had an impressively level head in both his highs and his lows. He should be able to handle, and benefit from, starting reps — even if those reps come in overwhelmingly losing efforts.
If Hurts reps will be to his benefit — and perhaps the benefit of other important young players like Jalen Reagor, with whom he showed an instant connection — then that long-term growth is more valuable to the Eagles than any short-term competitiveness.
It’s no secret that the roster must be blown up. It’s no secret that Wentz, if he is salvageable, presents a massive reclamation project that will take at least until next season to complete. The team must recognize in this moment that their short-term “competitiveness” is not worth any long-term benefit, especially at a quarterback position in which they currently have no starting-caliber players.
But Wentz’s contract ties him to Philadelphia for at least the 2021 season, if not longer. Barring a rather unprecedented trade-and-restructure, he’s going to be here. Shouldn’t fixing him be the priority over developing Hurts?
Arguably. But at this point, that argument is very thin. The sunk cost of Wentz’s contract should not prevent you from doing that which benefits the team most, and sinking more time and effort and losses into Wentz’s resume is not to the team’s benefit, especially when there is another quarterback who may be worth it available on the depth chart. If there is any value to be had in Hurts, whether as a future starting quarterback or as a trade piece to another team, it has to be cultivated and displayed. That requires reps. It requires starts.
Furthermore, you have no reason to believe you can fix Wentz under the current circumstances. Is there something left that could magically turn Wentz around that this coaching staff could, but has not yet tried? Of course not. If the franchise wants to commit to fixing Wentz, it must surround him with new coaches and new players — impossible to do in the middle of a season. If Wentz is not to be fixed this year, then you might as well give him a break, and let him compete with Hurts for the starting job in 2021 under new management and with a clean slate.
Wentz may end up impossible to move. Hurts may end up like most rookie quarterbacks do — pretty bad. Wentz may end up even turning things around at some point in his Eagles tenure. There are a lot of ways this thing could go, but off of the information available, and a reasonable, humble evaluation of it, it’s clear that the Eagles need to start Hurts from here on out.
Will they? There is no reason to have faith in the current power structure of the Eagles’ ownership, front office, and coaching staff. Let’s cross out fingers and hope.
Which Eagles quarterback should start for the rest of the 2020 season?
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