The Eagles won Super Bowl LII thanks to a legendary postseason run by backup quarterback Nick Foles, who took over as the starter late in the season after Carson Wentz was injured. After the win, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie credited the team’s foresight. It wasn’t an accident that Foles was so prepared to assume control of the offense—Lurie and the Eagles don’t use the term “backup” quarterback. They prefer the term “second quarterback.”
“I cannot underestimate for us that it has always been our mantra: the primacy of the quarterback position,” Lurie told The Ringer’s Kevin Clark in 2018. “Throughout the organization we understood that you can’t succeed at a high level without an excellent quarterback. … We’ve valued [a second quarterback] for many, many years. … Our hope is to have a top-10 quarterback as our second quarterback.”
On Friday night, the Eagles put their second-round draft pick where their mouth is. Philadelphia selected Oklahoma (né Alabama) quarterback Jalen Hurts with the 52nd pick, giving them one of the league’s highest-upside second quarterbacks—and a guy who’s good enough to become Philadelphia’s first quarterback. It is a potentially wise and definitely awkward move that could signal the beginning of the end for Wentz in Philadelphia, though Eagles general manager Howie Roseman doesn’t see it that way.
“For better or worse, we’re quarterback developers,” Roseman told reporters on Friday. “We want to be a quarterback factory.”
The pick pits the Second Quarterback principle that won the Eagles their only championship against Wentz, the starter the organization has invested heavily in and whom Eagles fans love so much that they overwhelmingly favored him over Foles even after Foles was named Super Bowl MVP. The Eagles let Foles leave in free agency last year, but now they’ve added another quarterback whose career is a fairy tale.
Jalen Hurts was the no. 1 dual-threat QB prospect in America in 2016 when he enrolled at Alabama, where he became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Crimson Tide since 1984. At 18 years old, he won SEC Offensive Player of the Year and led the team to an undefeated regular season. But Alabama lost to Deshaun Watson and Clemson in the national title game. Hurts vowed to avenge that loss. The following season, he led Alabama to an 11-1 regular-season record and defeated Clemson in the College Football semifinal to reach the title game again, this time against Georgia. But at halftime, Hurts was benched for freshman superstar Tua Tagovailoa, who won the game with a legendary second-half performance, including the game-winning touchdown throw in overtime. In other words, Jalen Hurts got Carson Wentz’d one month before Carson Wentz did.
After being supplanted by Tagovailoa as the starter in 2018, most observers assumed Hurts would do what so many star quarterbacks who get blocked on the depth chart do: transfer. Surprisingly, Hurts remained in Tuscaloosa, bringing his 26-2 record to the bench as Tagovailoa’s backup. Hurts’s faith in the team was eventually rewarded. When Tagovailoa was injured in the SEC title game against Georgia, Hurts replaced him. On the same field, in the same city, against the same team when he got benched a year earlier, Hurts led a second-half comeback to win the SEC title. A year after Hurts got Wentz’d, he became Nick Foles.
“It kind of feels like I’m breaking my silence,” Hurts told reporters after the win. “I haven’t said anything all year. But this team has worked really hard. In the offseason, last spring, and we know what adversity looks like. Sometimes we may get hit in the mouth, but you know we’re going to respond.”
If anyone can replace Nick Foles as the second quarterback for Carson Wentz, it is the guy who has already been both Carson Wentz and Nick Foles.
“We didn’t look at this much different than we brought Nick Foles in,” Roseman, the Eagles’ GM, told reporters on Friday. “I bring up Nick because Jalen’s that type of teammate.”
This is the second day in a row that a team with an established quarterback has shocked the football world by drafting a high-end backup with borderline starting potential. On Thursday, the Packers drafted Jordan Love to sit behind Aaron Rodgers. It was a stunning move, but not comparable to Hurts and Wentz’s situation. Rodgers is older, healthier, and one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. He is also the NFL’s grudge-holder-in-chief, and will inevitably take the Love pick personally. Wentz, on the other hand, is a different kind of personality.
Welcome to the best football city in America brotha! https://t.co/CKAMNLO7mb— Carson Wentz (@cj_wentz) April 25, 2020
Wentz is likely going to be polite and will aw shucks his way through talking about Hurts’s arrival, and he may be happy that the Eagles are well-suited to replace him if he gets hurt, which has happened frequently in his four-year career. Last June, Roseman signed Wentz to a four-year contract extension worth $128 million to lock him in as the Eagles’ starter.
“We think in Philadelphia that we go as [Carson Wentz] goes,” Roseman said at the time. He probably meant it. There is not a realistic path for the Eagles to get Wentz’s contract off their books until 2023, so Wentz and Hurts are going to have to learn to coexist. They both have experience with that.