Everything is on Jalen Hurts. Everything the Eagles’ offense does this season will revolve around Hurts. Every morsel of success the Eagles have is contingent on Hurts’ performance. Every level of the playoffs they reach will be dictated by how Hurts plays.
Hurts is ready for everything.
The Eagles showed their faith in him, after showing interest in Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Kenny Pickett, and Malik Willis. They traded a first-round pick for game-breaking 6-foot-1, 225-pound receiver A.J. Brown. Teamed with DeVonta Smith, the Eagles could have the best starting receiver duo in the NFC East. Hurts will be behind one of the best offensive lines in football. The Eagles bolstered their offensive line by drafting Jason Kelce’s heir apparent, Cam Jurgens out of Nebraska.
The Eagles also threw the ball 494 times over 17 regular-season games in 2021—the fewest of any team in the NFL. There may be a reason for that. The coaching staff wanted to take incremental steps in Hurts’ progression as a passer. They coddled Hurts. Parts of the media and fanbase did the same, explaining that 2021 was like a rookie season for Hurts, since he came on so late in 2020 to relieve the leaking Carson Wentz.
The excuses are gone.
The first one to come forward, not surprisingly, is Hurts.
“It’s my opportunity, it’s my team, it’s pretty much what it is,” he said in March. “I’m ready to go. The work has been put in to go out there and achieve what we want to achieve. This has been a time for us to come together, spend time together and do all those things. We’re still building. We’re not going out there and playing a game tomorrow, so there’s always work to be put in and any day there isn’t work put in that’s a day missed, that’s an opportunity missed. It’s been the mentality.”
Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie followed by stamping his own personal endorsement on Hurts. “I think what you do know is you have a guy that is incredibly dedicated, (an) excellent leader of men,” Lurie said in March. “Players around him gravitate toward him. He will do anything and everything to get better and work on every weakness he has and try to maximize every strength that he has. That’s why we’re committed to Jalen at age 23.”
So, now, the excuses are gone. Hurts has a one-year audition to prove he’s a capable NFL quarterback. No one will question his leadership and integrity. When the Eagles were struggling with Wentz in 2020, many in the Eagles’ locker room wanted Hurts to take over. Wentz knew it. He was so threatened by Hurts, many confirmed, he barely acknowledged Hurts in meetings and on the practice field. Hurts didn’t care. His primary concern was to get better and win, not fall into the throes of dressing room petty politics. It’s one of the many character traits that his Eagle teammates came to be enamored by.
The invisible pieces are there—leadership, character, unbending commitment.
The tangible ones will draw skepticism until proven otherwise.
In 2021, Hurts threw for 3,144 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns. Of the Eagles’ 14 opponents in the 2022 season, 10 had a better passer rating than Hurts. If you include Pickett in that equation, it means Hurts had a better quarterback rating than three of the opposing quarterbacks the Eagles are scheduled to face in 2022 (Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Daniel Jones).
This offseason, Hurts sought out pitching guru Tom House to hone his throwing motion. Hurts knows he must be more accurate. In 2021, Hurts was better than only five of 32 starting (qualified) quarterbacks with a 61.3 completion percentage. He was better than only nine in passer rating (87.2).
“That’s my whole entire approach going into Year 3 for me,” Hurts said. “Consistency in this league is everything. Ultimately, the work is being put in now, but that’s what I’m chasing.”
The Eagles believe Hurts can get there.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.