Everyone knows there is one overarching question for the Eagles this season, along with a series of related questions.
Is Jalen Hurts the answer at quarterback?
The answer isn’t simple. No one has answers, frankly, including Hurts. There are layers of complexity deep within each attempted analysis of the quarterback.
With the regular season only days away, let’s analyze who Hurts is and who he can be.
IS THIS A ONE-YEAR AUDITION?
The NFL demands results. It’s not a league for remedial quarterbacking.
Every pass Hurts throws, every read of the defense he makes, every run he takes will be scrutinized. The team wants to examine what he does and how he can improve.
If Hurts wins games while showing improvement in his skills and decision-making abilities, he will pass the audition. Let’s not forget, Hurts is 24 years old and will start only his 20th NFL game on Sunday in Detroit.
IS A ONE-YEAR AUDITION FAIR?
Welcome to the reality of the NFL. Players are on one-year auditions, even those with extended contracts. The NFL largely is a win-now or else.
Players are under enormous pressure to succeed and for their teams to win. Think of the financial rewards for getting a contract, then a contract extension.
Players can make life-changing money if they play X-number of years.
When you listen to Hurts at news conferences, you hear a composed player who appears confident in his abilities. He talks about improving every day. He does not seem overwhelmed by this moment.
Coach Nick Sirianni was asked how Hurts has improved from the start of camp.
- “A lot of different things,” Sirianni said. “I think he’s seeing the field really well. He’s building that memory bank of plays versus different coverages and knowing where to go with the football from that.
- “I think his decision-making process is just continuing to get better, which is common among quarterbacks that are on it and that are getting better.
- “I just think his decision-making is happening fast. It’s happening quickly, and he just keeps getting better at that.”
The Eagles expect Hurts to take a big step this year from his inconsistent 2021 season. The Eagles started 2-5 last year and easily could have finished 6-11, or something.
The fact that they fought back to 9-8 and earned a wild card spot says plenty about the coaching staff, the players and … the starting quarterback.
Stars have aligned properly for the Eagles this year. They traded for top-gun wide receiver A.J. Brown. They filled defensive holes. Their rookie class shows promise. Their coaching staff stayed intact. They have one of the league’s easiest schedules.
With a high degree of certainty, you know how Jason Kelce, Darius Slay and Lane Johnson are going to play, if healthy. No one is certain about Hurts. An inordinate amount of responsibility for the team’s success rests with Hurts.
And he knows it.
DOES HE HAVE LEADERSHIP SKILLS TO LEAD A FRANCHISE?
From all indications, Hurts oozes leadership. He reportedly is the first one to arrive at the NovaCare Complex, the last one to leave. Brown said when a play isn’t run perfectly at practice, Hurts demands they run it back.
Hurts has worked to build relationships with teammates, who speak in glowing terms about their quarterback.
Leadership isn’t quantifiable. You know it when you see it. You see it in Hurts.
DOES HE HAVE PHYSICAL SKILLS TO LEAD A FRANCHISE?
Yes. He has arm strength and accuracy. He probably is the best running back on the team. He takes a hit and bounces right up — as he did against the Jets in the preseason. He’s tough and determined.
The one area of concern is Hurts’ ability to read defenses — to pick the correct (and most open) receiver and deliver the ball and deliver the ball quickly.
From the time the ball is snapped, Hurts has about 2.7 seconds to scan the field and pick out the receiver — while 300-pound, angry defensive players are trying to tear his head off.
Reading defenses was an admitted weakness last season. Coaches and teammates say Hurts has shown improvement in that area. Hurts is not the only quarterback who struggles with this; most quarterbacks do at times.
DOES HE HAVE THE INTANGIBLES TO LEAD A FRANCHISE?
Hurts always has been a winner. He started at Alabama and Oklahoma— two titans in college football. Both of those schools basically can recruit anyone. They chose Hurts. That tells you something. He also won a national championship at Alabama.
WHAT HAPPENS IF HE ISN’T THE QUARTERBACK MOVING FORWARD?
Unless Hurts bombs in 2022, I think he’s the starter in 2023 — or at least competing for the starting job. What options do the Eagles have? Gardner Minshew?
They have two first-round draft picks next year in which they *might* be able to draft his successor.
Even if they land the hot rookie quarterback, how soon would he be ready to play in the NFL? Teams measure rookie quarterbacks and their availability in years, not games. Draft someone in 2023 and he might not be ready to play until 2024 or 2025.
That’s another reason everything is riding with Hurts this year.
SO … ?
Is Hurts the man? He might not be now, going into 2022. You hope he is learning and improving. You can’t inject experience and savvy into his veins.
But you see good signs, you feel good vibes.
I look at Hurts and see potential and a huge upside. Can the potential be realized? Can he move to an elite level? I think he can.
Will that happen this year? Will he light up defenses this year? Some games, yes. Some games, no.
There will be games where you see a successful, franchise-type quarterback and you can imagine him playing at that level for a decade. There will be puzzling performances where you wonder if he is the right guy.
Now, he takes on his greatest challenge — being a winner at football’s most demanding level.
This season might be his greatest opportunity for success. If nothing else, he seems ready for the challenge. He’s always been a winner.