The spring of 2023.
That’s when the Eagles will finally decide if they want to commit to Jalen Hurts.
There will be no more kicking the can down the road in 12 months’ time because Howie Roseman booted that thing as far as he could when he pulled off the trade with New Orleans that pushed one of his three first-round picks this year into next year when the quarterback class is expected to be much stronger.
To date, Philadelphia has been trying to serve two masters in both a macro and micro sense. When it comes to building its roster it’s been an eye on competing now while building for the future. At QB, meanwhile, it’s been talking up Hurts when a microphone appears while flirting with others in private.
The business of the NFL demands the hemming and hawing stops in a calendar year, however, because, as a 2020 second-round draft pick, Hurts will be eligible for a contract extension after the upcoming season.
The obtuse will quickly point out that Hurts is still under contract at a very cost-effective number through the 2023 campaign and the Eagles could let him play out a final season under his rookie deal. Heck, from there Philadelphia could even put the franchise tag on Hurts in 2024 if need be.
As one former NFL GM likes to tell me, though, that’s laboratory stuff and it’s simply not practical, something defined even further in the rapidly unfolding player-empowerment era of the NFL.
Understand, on top of any leverage Hurts might capture with an effective 2022 campaign, most competent organizations typically never want to build any season around a lame-duck coach or QB.
The lone exception from the player side of that equation would be a Kirk Cousins-like mindset of betting on one’s self.
That unlikely scenario would require Hurts not pushing for an extension after playing well this upcoming season but also not quite well enough for the Eagles to commit past thinking about a future franchise tag, a number that reached beyond $29 million this year and will only be spiking over the next two after the explosion of contracts with players like Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson and now Derek Carr.
The Eagles would be extremely lucky if a contract extension with a Hurts that performs similarly to this past season starts at a $30 AAV.
Paying Hurts under $2M for competency and some nice playmaking skills like Philadelphia did this past season is not the goal when the Brinks truck arrives.
Although somewhat counterintuitive, the only real uncertainty surrounding Hurts since the onset of the 2021 campaign was if he would get two full seasons to change enough minds in the organization when it comes to his ceiling as a player or if he would be a one-and-done bridge.
A solid campaign bolstered by an unlikely playoff berth and a Pro Bowl-alternate tag coupled with both Russell Wilson and Watson refusing to consider the Eagles as a potential trade destination and the somewhat maligned 2022 draft class at the position bought Hurts the extra 12 months.
An NFL source familiar with the Eagles’ thinking when it comes to the draft later this month notes that Pitt’s Kenny Pickett is the only signal-caller deemed worthy of what would be considered a mid-first round grade by those outside the NovaCare Complex.
In addition to that, though, Philadelphia has four other QBs, a group that includes North Carolina’s Sam Howell, that has been deemed worthy of bridge-pick status (think late first-round or early second). The three others are presumably Liberty’s Malik Willis, Matt Corral of Ole Miss, and Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati, although not confirmed.
All five of the Eagles’ top-ranked QB prospects in 2022 are ahead of where Hurts himself was in 2020 when the Eagles drafted him at No. 53 overall, according to the source, yet the Eagles are moving forward with Hurts.
The disconnect is player development.
Too many outside observers assume you draft a good player or a bad one, but Hurts’ evolution as a player had impressed multiple people at the top of the organization. Typically young players have ebbs and flows when it comes to their progress but Hurts has flashed a consistent upward trajectory dating back to college.
That’s why there has been no talk of Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo on the veteran market. A slight upgrade over Hurts or lateral move is not the goal, especially when you factor in the third-year player’s much-discussed intangibles which rub off on the entire organization in a positive fashion.
As far as those in the 2022 class theoretically starting in a better place, that doesn’t factor in Hurts’ improvement in two seasons as a pro.
EAGLES QB DEPTH CHART:
EAGLES TODAY TOP 10:
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1. Kenny Pickett, Pitt
2. Malik Willis, Liberty
3. Sam Howell, North Carolina
4. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
5. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
6. Carson Strong, Nevada
7. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
8. EJ Perry, Brown
9. Jack Coan, Notre Dame
10. Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan
Sleeper – Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M
Boom or Bust – Malik Willis, Liberty
BUILDING THE PERFECT QB
Accuracy – Carson Strong, Nevada – Even in the modern era a 70% completion over two seasons is nothing to sneeze at.
Arm Strength – Malik Willis, Liberty – As shown off by his viral pro-day throw that went about 65 yards in the air off the wrong foot, Willis can certainly sling it. The mechanics on the same throw are another story but we digress.
Setup/Release – Matt Corral, Ole Miss – A quick setup and release are a big part of modern football for QBs and Corral can get the ball out lightning fast.
Extending Plays – Sam Howell, North Carolina – A more athletic Baker Mayfield is the description more than one has given Howell. Extending things isn’t just about running, although Howell can do that effectively. Off-platform throws are just as important and he excels there.
Football IQ – Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati – Ridder has seen it all after playing a ton at the college level and processes things quicker than anyone in the class with only Kenny Pickett pushing him.
Intangibles – Kenny Pickett, Pitt – Despite his small hands, Pickett is almost universally regarded as the one plug-and-play possibility in this often-maligned class.
Eagles Potential Picks:
Day 1 – None.
The trade with the Saints is a clear indication Roseman kicked the can down the road to the 2023 class expected to be spearheaded by Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, and perhaps Phil Jurkovec. The passing of Justin Fields in 2021 is also an indication the Eagles will stay disciplined with the plan even if Pickett falls.
Day 2 – Sam Howell, Matt Corral.
At No. 51 overall. Howell or Corral may be too much of a value to pass up but either player falling that far is unlikely.
Day 3 – E.J. Perry, Jack Coan
Getting a smart kid like Perry or a big, traditional dropback passer like Coan to push Reid Sinnett for the developmental job might make some sense later in the draft.
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com’s Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube. John is also the host of his own show “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen