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Can Jalen Hurts Convince the Eagles to Go All In?

The Eagles’ latest rebuild is nearly complete; now they must find an answer to their major quarterback question. Here are three scenarios for how Hurts’s 2022 season might play out.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

NFL teams have spent the past six months reshaping their rosters and now, finally, the 2022 regular season is nearly upon us. But which teams have truly pushed all their pieces to the middle of the table and are ready to make a serious run to Super Bowl LVII? Welcome to The Ringer’s All In Week, where we’ll examine the quarterback moves, team-building philosophies, and gambles that teams have made to compete for a championship and determine what it truly means to be all in.

Standing in a crowded media tent minutes before his Philadelphia Eagles practiced against the Cleveland Browns last week, head coach Nick Sirianni fielded a question about how quarterback Jalen Hurts has performed this summer when his first read has been taken away.

“You guys love this question,” Sirianni said, almost muttering. “Is he getting out of the pocket too early? This is a common question.”

Seven months have passed since the Eagles lost 31-15 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild-card round—a game in which Hurts and the offense looked completely flustered. Their first nine possessions in that game resulted in six punts, two interceptions, and a failed fourth-down attempt. Since that loss, Sirianni has been peppered with a number of queries about Hurts’s development. And for good reason—it’s the biggest story line surrounding the 2022 Eagles.

As “All In Week” rolls on at The Ringer, it’s worth exploring where the Eagles stand right now and how things could change, depending on how this season plays out and how Hurts performs in his second full season as the team’s starting quarterback. The Eagles came in at no. 21 in the All In-dex, with no. 1 (Rams) being the team that’s most all in and no. 32 (Texans) being the team that’s least all in.

On one hand, the Eagles have options going forward, courtesy of two first-round picks in 2023 (their own pick, and the pick they acquired in a predraft trade with New Orleans in April). On the other hand, according to the Football Outsiders Almanac, they have more future money ($354.7 million) guaranteed to non-quarterbacks than any other team in the NFL.

Team owner Jeffrey Lurie’s directive to GM Howie Roseman has long been to balance the short term with the long term. The last time Roseman was charged with a rebuild, in 2016, he went all in on Carson Wentz and then tried to build up the roster around the quarterback. This time, he’s built up the rest of the roster first. In the past year, Roseman has traded for wide receiver A.J. Brown, signed edge rusher Haason Reddick, and locked up homegrown talent like left tackle Jordan Mailata and defensive end Josh Sweat. Suddenly, the Eagles have a wealth of young talent, and the core of the roster is pretty much in place. Now it’s just a matter of finding out if they have the right quarterback.

There are three scenarios to examine in regard to Hurts’s 2022 performance, a quarterback “choose your own adventure,” if you will. The Eagles could be looking at a wide range of options next offseason, from all in on Hurts to all in on finding his replacement, depending on which scenario plays out.

1. Hurts balls out and leaves no doubt that he’s the guy.

What’s the case for this scenario coming true? It starts with Hurts’s supporting cast. Few quarterbacks are as well-positioned to succeed. The Eagles have arguably the best and deepest offensive line in the NFL. They have a true no. 1 pass-catching option in Brown. Receiver DeVonta Smith is coming off of a 916-yard rookie season and profiles as a high-end no. 2. Dallas Goedert finished first among all tight ends in yards per route run last year.

The Eagles hope that the addition of Brown can open up more of the field to Hurts. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Eagles threw just 10 percent of their passes in the middle of the field last year. The NFL average was 22 percent, and no other team was lower than 16 percent. That tendency made their passing game easier to defend. According to TruMedia/Pro Football Focus, Brown has piled up 1,331 yards on slants, in-routes, and crossing routes over the past three seasons. That’s third in the NFL, behind only Cooper Kupp and Deebo Samuel. It’s clear when watching the Eagles practice this summer that getting Brown the football is a priority. They can line him up outside and let him work one-on-one when they want to. But the Eagles seem open to using Brown in motion and lining him up in the slot to create matchup advantages.

“It’s always gonna start with the players that you have and where you focus on trying to get them the football,” Sirianni said. “That’s one of the things we’re working on, [being] harder to defend throughout the whole field.”

Bottom line: Hurts could play another 15 years in the NFL and not have as good of an offensive line/pass-catching combination as he has this year.

Another factor to keep in mind is that Hurts doesn’t need to go from bad to good. He needs to go from mediocre to good. There’s a difference. There is no perfect metric to measure quarterback play, but Hurts ranked 19th in TruMedia’s expected points added (EPA) per play and 17th in DVOA last year. Statistically, Hurts was not great, but he was not bad. Large samples are more useful than small samples, and the player Hurts looked like against the Bucs was not the same player he was for the entire season.

Sirianni has said he evaluates quarterbacks on four criteria: accuracy, decision making, the ability to create, and arm strength. The two areas where he thinks Hurts needs to develop are accuracy and decision making. There were key moments last year—like an interception before halftime in the wild-card game against Tampa Bay—when Hurts was late on throws. Sirianni has said that Hurts possesses the arm strength necessary to be a quality starter. That might be true. But Hurts’s arm isn’t so strong that he can afford to be late without suffering consequences.

Overall, the Eagles ranked 11th in offensive DVOA last year, so it wouldn’t take a massive leap to get up to sixth or seventh.

This outcome could play out in either individual or team success. If the Eagles get to the NFC championship game or beyond, it’s hard to picture a scenario in which they’d bail on Hurts. If they don’t get that far, but Hurts shows significant improvement and quarterbacks a highly efficient offense, searching for an upgrade would seem unlikely.

Under this scenario, the Eagles would feel confident that Hurts is their guy and could use their resources to continue to build around him.

2. Hurts takes a step back.

Progress in the NFL is not always linear, and most of the time teams know after two years whether they have a quarterback to go all in on. That was the case with guys like Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow. Of course, there are exceptions like Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who exploded in Year 3. (Allen is the player that Lurie referenced when talking about Hurts’s developmental timeline back in March.)

But each of those quarterbacks were drafted with the intention that he would be his team’s long-term starter. That’s not the case for Hurts. When Roseman drafted Hurts in the second round in 2020, the thought was the Eagles were getting an inexpensive backup to Wentz. Even when Wentz’s 2020 season turned into a disaster, the Eagles’ initial preference was to bring Wentz back and pair him with a new coach. It was only after Wentz expressed his desire to be traded that the organization settled on Hurts.

Viewing the Eagles’ failure to change quarterbacks this offseason as a commitment to Hurts would be a mistake. Quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson were not available to the Eagles because they had other preferred destinations (and no-trade clauses). Had either expressed a desire to play in Philadelphia, we could be having a completely different conversation right now. Hurts has already outperformed his draft slot. But the Eagles—up to this point—have shown no real signs of wanting to commit to him and build around him specifically.

Predicting what kind of season Hurts will have is especially tough because we don’t know what kind of offense the Eagles are going to run in 2022. In the first seven weeks of last season, the Eagles passed the ball at the eighth-highest rate on early downs in neutral situations.

From Week 8 on, they embraced an entirely different identity. Their early-down pass rate ranked 28th.

It’s no secret how the Eagles want to play. Lurie and Roseman believe that building an efficient passing game is the best way to sustain success in the modern NFL. Sirianni’s first try at constructing and calling an NFL offense aligned with that philosophy. But the pass-heavy approach didn’t fit the Eagles personnel, and they started out 2-5. Sirianni handed play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, and the Eagles leaned on the run. It helped that the Eagles faced just one above-average defense from Week 8 to Week 17 (the starters didn’t play in Week 18), but they finished fourth (including the playoffs) in rushing DVOA. Hurts proved to be a special runner, piling up 784 rushing yards in his 15 starts. Among 53 players with at least 100 carries, Hurts ranked second behind only Josh Allen in success rate.

Hurts’s legs—whether on designed runs, option runs, or scrambles—are going to be a big part of the Eagles offense. But in all likelihood, Hurts’s ability to improve as a passer will be the determining factor in whether the Eagles decide to stick with him beyond this season.

The numbers suggest that rushing four defenders and dropping seven into coverage is a good formula for slowing down Hurts. According to TruMedia, he ranked 25th in EPA per play when teams rushed four or fewer last year. In the playoff loss, the Bucs were able to create confusion with simulated pressures—a tactic where the defense rushes four, but disguises which four are going after the quarterback. It seems likely that opponents will copy those simulated pressures against the Eagles in 2022, and Hurts and the offense will need to find answers.

Under this scenario in which Hurts takes a step back, the Eagles are unlikely to stay patient. Given the Eagles’ ample draft resources, they’re likely to be aggressive in trying to position themselves to draft a quarterback or trade for one. If it’s the latter, the Eagles could suddenly wind up near the top of the 2023 All In-dex.

3. Hurts stays the same or takes a slight step forward.

Here’s where it gets tricky. If Hurts plays great, and/or the Eagles experience team success, sticking with him will be the obvious choice. If Hurts takes a step back and/or the Eagles disappoint, moving in another direction is likely.

But what if the results fall somewhere in between? Say Hurts performs like the 13th-best quarterback, the Eagles win the division, but they lose in the wild-card round? What’s the move then?

The Eagles have lived in the middle ground since they won the Super Bowl after the 2017 season. In four years since, they’re 31-33-1. That winning percentage (.485) ranks 19th league-wide. If we want to look at advanced stats, they’ve finished 15th, 12th, 28th, and 17th in DVOA over the past four seasons. It’s the first four-year stretch since 1984 to 1987 that they haven’t produced a top-10 DVOA finish.

Given the resources the Eagles have at their disposal and the state of the roster, it’d be no surprise to see the Eagles—under this scenario—get antsy and take a big swing. Maybe that means moving up in the draft. Or maybe it means trying to trade for a veteran in a “win now” move. Then again, it’s possible that those options aren’t available to them, as was the case in 2022. There are going to be a lot of teams trying to land a quarterback in the draft, and if they do pull off a trade, they’ll need to feel confident that the new quarterback is significantly better than Hurts.

Back in 2017, many in the Eagles’ organization were hoping for merely a slight step forward—something like nine wins and a competitive team. Instead, they messed around and won the first Super Bowl in franchise history. It’s a good example of how many variables—injuries, coaching, chemistry, younger players improving, older players declining—are at play in determining how successful a team is in any given year. If those variables fall the right way, Hurts and the Eagles could be looking at a special season in 2022. His ceiling is their ceiling. If they don’t, the Eagles could be looking to start a new chapter at quarterback six months from now.