“No one in the league, no team knows the value of an insurance policy at quarterback more than we do after what we went through in the 2017 season and what we experienced.”
New Eagles Vice President of Player Personnel Andy Weidl is speaking to reporters late on Friday evening, as Philadelphia puts a bow on what was a shocking second day of the 2020 NFL Draft. Weidl and the rest of the Eagles’ brass — general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson — are in their second bout now of explaining their 53rd overall selection: Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts.
The pick stunned Philadelphia and national media alike. The Eagles have a starting quarterback in Carson Wentz — not an aging veteran or stopgap solution, but a bonafide starting quarterback. As Roseman likes to call him, a “young, Pro Bowl” quarterback. Teams with such players — a young, Pro Bowl anything really — tend not to draft their backups in the second round. Why did Philadelphia take Hurts?
It goes back to the sentiment expressed by Weidl, and repeatedly alluded to by Roseman and Pederson: the Eagles know the value of the backup quarterback. The implication here is that they do and everyone else doesn’t. Whether that’s league analysts, league media, or other teams: the Eagles understand the value of the backup quarterback better than anyone else.
The proof is in their success with backups; their unmatched and unmatchable success with a backup. The Eagles won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles in for Carson Wentz in 2017, and apparently must now feel prepared, at any point, to have a backup QB with whom they can win a Super Bowl again. This year, that player is Nate Sudfeld, who is on the last year of his deal and likely on his way out the door — next year, that player will be Hurts.
But is it ever a reasonable expectation that you should win a Super Bowl with your backup quarterback? Certainly not. I know this because you don’t make statues of reasonable or expected things, and there’s a statue outside of Lincoln Financial Field of Nick Foles winning a Super Bowl for the Philadelphia Eagles. Foles’ success in 2017 does not prove to us the value of backup quarterbacks is greater than we think it is; rather, it reminds us that Foles greatly exceeded the value we expect from the backup quarterback. He caught lightning and bottled it, just for long enough to explode into national relevancy and Philadelphian sainthood.
To expect anyone to achieve what Foles did is unrealistic. In drafting Hurts this early and displaying him as a grand example of their advanced understanding of roster management, the Eagles show not that their eyes were opened to an exploitable edge by Foles’ ascension, but that they were blinded by the flash of brilliance. What was primarily dumb luck struck in a chaotic universe, Roseman believes to be something he can harness and order. There’s even a dash of retroactive justification here — for undoubtedly, a team that knew that Foles could win them a Super Bowl when they signed him in 2017 would also be willing to spend a top pick on a backup QB when they have much bigger needs...right?
Beyond valuing quarterbacks better than anyone else, the Eagles also believe they develop quarterbacks better than anyone else, and that their strength as developers will ensure that Hurts ends up a good pro and return value on the pick. “For better or worse, we are quarterback developers,” Roseman said in his opening statement following the Hurts pick. “We want to be a quarterback factory. We have the right people in place to do that. No team in the National Football League has benefitted more from developing quarterbacks than the Philadelphia Eagles.”
In the last four seasons, the Eagles have arguably developed two quarterbacks: Carson Wentz and Nate Sudfeld. There is no on-field argument to be made for Nate Sudfeld’s development, as he has attempted 25 passes in the NFL, 23 of which came in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Dallas Cowboys. As such, Wentz’s development is the entire crutch of the argument here.
Wentz’s development has been good. He’s a better player now than he was when he came into the league; he’s a Pro Bowl caliber QB with a stretch of MVP-caliber play already under his young belt. The Eagles’ offensive coaching staff deserves credit for the steps he’s taken, especially in his throwing mechanics and eyes as a passer.
Wentz also deserves credit — that street goes both ways, as any player must buy in to his coaching, with effort and offseason work, for that coaching to take. This is a reasonable expectation from Hurts, as well. Hurts has improved mightily as a passer across the course of his college career, and his work ethic is renowned. If there is coaching to take on and improvements to be made, trust Hurts to put forth the effort.
Experience also deserves credit for Wentz’s development, however — and that’s something that Hurts will not. Wentz was put on the field as a rookie in Week 1 of 2016, not because he was perfect or ready or even showing signs of improvement yet, but because playing would help him get better. The Eagles cannot play Hurts; he is QB3 for now and will not get higher than QB2 for as long as Wentz is here, healthy, and being paid $130M dollars.
When the Eagles attempted to justify taking Hurts, they expressed that they know the value of the backup quarterback, and that they can develop passers. Perhaps these things are both true. But even if they are, they leave out a critical point, around which they danced all night:
The Eagles’ backup quarterback has value because he’s expected to play. The Eagles can develop backup quarterbacks because they’re expected to play. There will be a time for QB2 to take the field, because QB1 is going to go down.
The Eagles made this pick to protect themselves against a Carson Wentz injury both in the short term (Hurts might beat out Sudfeld for QB2, especially if there’s camp this year) and in the long term.
The Eagles expect Wentz to be healthy long-term — that’s why they gave him the deal they did. Roseman said in response to a question about Wentz’s long-term health: “I want to be very clear, and I think I’m speaking for Doug and Andy, Carson is 100 percent. He is a Pro-Bowl, young quarterback that we’re totally excited about.” And I believe him! I don’t think there’s an identified long-term injury on Carson Wentz’s current sheet — but with Carson’s physical style of play and injury history, that injury could be coming. And the Eagles want to be prepared.
This desire is not misplaced or foolish. At its root, it makes sense — that’s why, when the Eagles had rumored interest in Hawai’i rock star Cole McDonald or met multiple times with Florida International slinger James Morgan, we loved the implication. Carson does get banged up; Sudfeld is out the door next year. The Eagles needed to add to the room.
But the need to add to the room was grossly overvalued, distorted through the lens of Foles’ magic and skewed through the Eagles’ overconfidence in their recent quarterback success. The backup quarterback job, especially when considered a 2021 need and not a 2020 need, is appropriately addressed with developmental players on Day 3 and buttressed by cheap veteran additions. It is not addressed with the 53rd overall pick — especially when the current roster, which would be forced to support and account for a backup quarterback in the event of a Wentz injury, has significant holes at cornerback, safety, and wide receiver.
Roseman lauds the value of Hurts selection at 53, saying that he was worth an even higher pick. This is transactional utility, and it is nearly pointless in the conversation of team building — it is the cornerstone of Best Player Available, which is a theory of draft strategy, but not a tenable approach. It is the sweater you bought on sale, not because you loved it, but because the deal was too good to pass up. Now it lives crammed in the back of a dresser drawer.
The Jalen Hurts pick reminds me now of the Saquon Barkley selection made by Dave Gettleman at the top of the 2018 NFL Draft. Barkley is a doggone good football player, filled a need on the roster, and has football and personal character that you just can’t help but root for. He is both thrilling and easy to root for. Hurts is much the same: a good player, a tremendous man, and like Barkley, a fan favorite — if not for how starkly he was overvalued.