I hope you’re all managing their quarantine as best as you can, and if you are on the front lines dealing with the pandemic - thank you. Even in a pandemic, the majority of the Eagles’ roster overhaul is now complete, with free agency and the draft occurring since I took a stab at both in my last post. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and while I prefer to cram everything into one needlessly long post, I know that Jalen Hurts will dominate the discussion of any post he’s mentioned in, so I decided to keep the discussion about him in its own needlessly long post, separate in from pretty much everything else in the offseason discussion. Keep an eye out for Part II of this post tomorrow! In this article:
- Howie’s 2-year plan to get back to the Super Bowl
- Jalen Hurts, Andrew Breiner, and... Tommy Stevens? Why drafting Hurts isn’t really so unprecedented for the Eagles
- Assessing the Eagles’ strategy for finding and developing backup quarterbacks
We’ll get in to all of that in a minute - but before I offer what is now probably the billionth take on Jalen Hurts, it needs some perspective. How does the Hurts pick fall into Howie’s vision for the Eagles’ roster? What is Howie’s vision for the Eagles’ roster? While I obviously don’t know what that is for sure, I think a bird’s eye view of his offseason moves paints a picture of what that might be.
Howie Roseman and the Two Year Plan
The Eagles’ championship run in 2017 was forged in the fires of the 2016 and 2017 offseasons. It took two years for that team to come together, and I think that is the deadline Howie is being held to after conceding that their window with the current core of players had closed after falling to the Seahawks in the wild card round. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to surmise that, in whatever meeting Howie had with Lurie after the playoff loss, he was given one year to win a playoff game with Wentz and another to make a deep playoff run, if not win the Super Bowl. We can see bits and pieces of this “Two Year Plan” by taking stock in the offseason as a whole:
- He bolstered the defensive line depth with young, up-and-coming talent to complement Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson, two formidable players in their own right who are nonetheless exiting the prime of their careers.
- He traded two draft picks for Darius Slay, and then immediately signed him to an extension, although with the contract details released it is essentially a 2-year deal.
- He declined Malcolm Jenkins’ option. While I think he wanted Jenkins to stay - if he didn’t the option would have been declined with Nigel Bradham’s - he didn’t want to give Jenkins the financial security the safety demanded. Jenkins is good enough to help the Eagles compete in 2020 - will he still be good enough to help them win a Super Bowl in 2021? At the price tag he would demand? While his leadership cannot be understated, and likely will never be replicated, at some point a leader will leave and create a void, and you need to trust that other players will step up to the plate. It’s better to get in front of that now than later.
- He essentially ignored the offense entirely in free agency, opting instead to inject youth into that side of the position through the draft.
Put all of these moves together and a picture starts to form of this two year plan:
- Shore up the defense with aggressive moves in free agency 2020 while also freeing up cap space for future years
- Establish a new, younger offensive core in the 2020 draft
- Compete in 2020 and evaluate contributions of older players
- Let go or trade older, underproducing talent in 2021 and plug remaining holes on offense in free agency
- Use 2021 draft to snag an impact player at a luxury position
This isn’t a sexy plan for us fans, who root for our team to win a championship every season, but Howie isn’t merely a fan. He’s responsible for the long-term trajectory of the team, and there’s little you can do to reload for a championship run in a single offseason if you’ve come around to the idea that your window has closed. So while we may be frustrated as fans that some of the moves the Eagles have made won’t move the needle in 2020, this offseason has never been about 2020. It’s been about 2021.
Which brings us to the Oklahoma-sized elephant in the room: Jalen Hurts.
Everybody Hurts Sometimes
No matter how well all of the other players in the Eagles’ 2020 draft pan out, it will always be known as the “Jalen Hurts draft” after Philadelphia shocked the football world by taking the Sooners’ quarterback in the second round. A lot of interesting ideas have been thrown around to explain (if not defend) the pick. I see it as the Eagles trying to be clever and kill two birds with one stone:
- In 2019 (and 2018), the Eagles had a boring, predictable offense as injuries to key players eliminated the potential for much creative flash or flair.
- The Eagles have appeared in 6 playoff games since Carson Wentz was drafted, and he’s only attempted 4 passes in them due to injuries. As good as he is, and as much as his injuries have been freak accidents, the Eagles need a cheap insurance policy with his hefty contract on the books.
I’m going to address both of these points, as they also coincide with most of the reasoning I’ve seen people use to defend the pick. (Tangent: I wanted to go this post without mentioning Taysom Hill, but since recent reports literally described Hurts as “Taysom Hill on steroids” that ship has sadly sailed.)
Stone 1: The Eagles Have a Boring, Predictable Offense
I don’t need to beat a dead horse with how lethargic and frustrating the Eagles’ offense has been for the past two seasons. Given the whispers we’ve been hearing from the front office, the Hurts pick is part of a plan to rectify that, albeit an unorthodox one. But while it may be... odd... it is not without precedent - at least, not within the ranks of the Eagles’ coaching staff.
When Doug spoke about picking Jalen Hurts, he mentioned brainstorming the pick with his assistants Marty Mornhinweg, Rich Scangarello, and Press Taylor. One coach (of many) he did not mention was Andrew Breiner, which I firmly believe was a smokescreen. I’m not a reporter and I do not have sources to back this up. It’s just a gut feeling, because this whole “Taysom Hill on steroids” idea has his fingerprints all over it.
As Bleeding Green Nation wrote about when he was hired, Breiner is a coaching disciple of Joe Moorhead, the former Mississippi State head coach whom the Eagles presumably pursued but opted for the Oregon Ducks offensive coordinator position instead. I am very familiar myself with Moorhead as a Penn State alum - he was their offensive coordinator from 2015-2017. During his tenure, the Nittany Lions catapulted into national relevance with the dynamic duo of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley.
Their best season under Moorhead was 2017, when they were legitimate national championship contenders before a heartbreaking 1-point loss to Ohio State in the Horseshoe. And while the story that season was about Saquon Barkley, the Lions got meaningful production from another player on their roster: backup quarterback Tommy Stevens.
Although most of Stevens’ highlights in 2017 come from when he relieved McSorley in blowouts, he was often on the field with the first string offense, taking the ball as a running back or catching it as a receiver out of the backfield. (For those who are worried about Carson Wentz lining up at receiver, it was very rare that Stevens was the passer if McSorley was still in at quarterback.)
His final stat line from 2017 is wholly unimpressive - he rushed 27 times for 190 yards (7.0 average) and 4 touchdowns, caught 12 passes for 60 yards (5.0 average) and 2 touchdowns, and went 14/27 (51.9%) passing for 158 yards (5.9 YPA), 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. He was used even less sparingly in 2018 as Moorhead left Penn State to take the Mississippi State head coaching job (where Breiner followed him), and then transferred there in 2019. After a largely unremarkable senior season as the Bulldogs’ starter, he was drafted in the seventh round this past weekend... by the New Orleans Saints, who of course employ Taysom Hill.
I would not be surprised if Breiner brought similar ideas about the “Tommy Stevens package” he may have picked up (or developed with) Joe Moorhead to Doug. They appear to have caught on to the point of making them a foundational part of the offense, way beyond what the Saints do with Taysom Hill - perhaps 25-30 snaps per game. This would explain the late hiring of Marty Mornhinweg, who was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator in Lamar Jackson’s rookie season - as the idea grew and matured, Doug wanted an NFL perspective on how it could work.
How is this any different from what New Orleans does with Taysom Hill? Superficially, it’s not, but the point is that this isn’t just Doug watching the Saints and Ravens and wanting to copy them. He actually has someone with a real, tangible connection to this kind of offensive package that may have original ideas we haven’t yet seen in the NFL. I’ll admit the prospect of that is intriguing, even if it’s at the same time a bit contrived.
As fans, we’ve been moaning about how unexciting the Eagles’ offense has been, and now that they appear to be trying to fix that, it doesn’t seem exactly fair to lambaste them for it. Granted, this would be quite the roundabout way of doing it, and a major risk in the allocation of resources (there were other electrifying players on the board at 53 that could have made the offense more explosive in conventional ways). But Doug seems determined to leave his mark as an innovator in this league. He has certainly done that with fourth downs to much success, and while I can’t say I’m optimistic about this newest experiment, I feel he has at least earned the benefit of the doubt. At the very least, trying to blaze new trails in the NFL takes a lot of guts, and that is something I can respect.
How do you feel about Jalen Hurts in a beefed-up "Tommy Stevens" type role?
This poll is closed
It sounds exciting! I’m cautiously optimistic.
It’s trying too hard to be clever. Hard pass.
I like it, but it’s a bad use of resources in the 2nd round.
I’m ambivalent - I need to see it on the field first.
Other (explain in comments)
Stone 2: The Eagles Need a Cheap and Viable Option at Backup Quarterback
Howie has said many things about the Jalen Hurts pick, but one of the first things he brought up was Nick Foles’ miraculous run in 2017. I believe he said this because it is superficially his strongest argument, but if I were a betting man I would put my money on this pick being more about 2019 than 2017.
As we are all painfully aware, the Eagles lost in the wild card round to the Seahawks by one score. In the game, they entered the red zone five times, but came away with only three field goals and two turnovers on downs. One of those turnovers in particular was a missed opportunity to a wide-open Miles Sanders as Josh McCown, who battled valiantly on a torn hamstring, simply underthrew him.
For the sake of the argument, let’s say the Eagles needed McCown to be 80% of Carson Wentz to win that game. As a 40-year-old journeyman quarterback, he simply wasn’t capable of it. This is not a knock on McCown - he’s a Philly hero and I almost cried at the end of All or Nothing because of him - it’s just reality. But imagine if the Eagles had won that game. Wentz likely would have been cleared to play against the Packers. DeSean Jackson would have been available, instantly adding a vertical element to the offense that had been absent all season, save for two 50-yard bombs in Week 1. Green Bay, having already lost to the Eagles in the regular season, would have little 2019 tape to prepare for whatever plays Doug would be itching to run with Jackson back. It is not hard to imagine they could have won their sixth straight game and found themselves vying for the NFC Championship for the second time in three seasons as one of the NFL’s hottest teams. Whether they would have beaten an efficient and hungry San Francisco team is another question, but when you’re 60 minutes away from the big dance, anything is possible.
Since the draft, many people have asked, “Would you trade Jalen Reagor and Jalen Hurts for CeeDee Lamb?” I think this is a fair question, but I don’t think it’s the one Howie is asking. To him, the question feels more like, “Would you trade a second round pick to win that playoff game against the Seahawks?” It’s a tempting proposition, but a rhetorical one that I’m not going to explore here. What’s done is done - the Eagles needed at least 80% of Carson Wentz in that game, and they couldn’t muster it.
The Eagles clearly think that, with some good developing, Jalen Hurts can provide that “80%” that they needed, on a cheap rookie deal. Hurts has all the physical tools, and seems to have the right character, and will cost just a hair over $6 million for the next four years combined. For comparison, the Eagles have spent about $34 million on backup quarterbacks since 2016.
It seems perfectly reasonable that “80% of Carson Wentz” is attainable for Hurts. In that regard, I don’t take issue with their process - I just think they’re trying to solve the wrong problem. They asked themselves, “Where can we find 80% of Carson Wentz for dirt cheap?” when they should have asked, “Why are we asking our backup to be 80% of our starter?”
The Kansas City Chiefs, who won the Super Bowl last season, lost MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes to injury for 2 games. Under the guidance of backup quarterback Matt Moore, the Chiefs went 1-1 while Mahomes recovered, losing to the Packers by a touchdown and then squeaking out a win over the Vikings with a last-second field goal. Both games were at home, against 2 eventual playoff teams that went a combined 23-9 in the regular season. It was about as much as you could ask from a backup quarterback.
Moore made $645,000 last year, consuming approximately 0.34% of the Chiefs’ salary cap. He came so cheaply and delivered admirably not because he was underpaid, but because the Chiefs didn’t need him to be another Pat Mahomes to keep the team competitive. When you have Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins and Damien Williams and Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman on your team, you don’t exactly need such lofty expectations of your backup quarterback. They just need to be good enough.
The Eagles had an opportunity in the second round to add more talent to the offense not only for Carson Wentz’ benefit, but also to take some of the load off of the cheap backup that may need to step in if (and when) Carson misses time. They passed on this opportunity in favor of a flashier backup who might have what it takes to play hero ball with a less star-studded supporting cast. In that respect, while the idea behind drafting Hurts is shrewd, it feels like it’s an attempt to solve the wrong problem, or at least was the wrong way of viewing the problem.
(Also, for those of you thinking that I overlooked a much better example in Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 filling in for Drew Brees but was more expensive than Matt Moore, he still only made about $3 million last season - the same amount the Eagles paid Sudfeld to ride the bench as the third quarterback.)
How do you feel about Jalen Hurts as a cheap, viable backup quarterback?
This poll is closed
He’s still a project. It was a questionable move at best.
The dude’s a playmaker, and he’s cheap. Definitely a better strategy than signing Cam Newton.
The Eagles are trying to find a great backup QB when they should be trying to build a great team.
Other (explain in comments)
As far as presumed 2-year plans go, this is certainly an ambitious one. I like the overall thought process behind the Eagles’ moves so far, even if some are more questionable than others. As for Jalen Hurts, his use as a “do-it-all” player is strange but intriguing, while his value as a backup quarterback is questionable, especially as a second round pick. In any case, the Eagles - as always - have managed to keep things interesting, and in fairness “interesting” is something I think we could all use now in times like these.
Keep an eye out for Part II tomorrow, where I apply the “2 year plan” lens to other moves (or lack of moves) the Eagles have made this offseason!