At this time last year, the key word for the Philadelphia Eagles and their pursuit of a franchise quarterback was optionality. Jalen Hurts had just finished his first full season as a starter, and though he’d played well in 2021, his performance wasn’t so good that the organization was ready to anoint him its long-term answer.
The Eagles looked into other quarterback options last offseason, but ultimately settled on giving Hurts what amounted to a one-year tryout. When general manager Howie Roseman made a trade with the New Orleans Saints, pocketing an extra first-round pick in 2023, the motivation was obvious: The Eagles wanted to be set up with the resources to upgrade from Hurts this offseason if they needed to.
Spoiler: They didn’t need to.
Hurts made a massive leap in his third NFL season, leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl and finishing second in MVP voting. On Monday, the Eagles and Hurts agreed to a five-year, $255 million contract extension, which makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history.
What does the move mean for Hurts, the Eagles, and the rest of the QB market? Here are six takeaways:
Both Hurts and the Eagles gave up something to get something.
According to NFL Network, Hurts gets $110 million fully guaranteed at signing. That’s the third-highest total for a quarterback in NFL history, behind Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson, who signed extensions after being traded to new teams in 2022. This is a reasonable number, but not a monster number, for Hurts. To call it team friendly is probably an overstatement, but it’d be no surprise to see players like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert get more guaranteed money whenever they sign new deals.
Hurts was also willing to go to five years with his extension. For players—quarterbacks, specifically—signing shorter-term deals can be appealing. The thinking is that the cap will only go up, and if you’re a good player at a premium position, you want to be able to negotiate new deals often, not be tied down by a long-term deal that might eventually be under market value. (Patrick Mahomes signed a 10-year extension in 2020, and in 2023, has the sixth-highest average annual salary in the NFL.) But agreeing to a five-year extension that runs through 2028 was apparently not an issue for Hurts. Part of that could be linked to how young he is. Hurts turns 25 in August, so even if he plays out this entire contract, he’ll be set up to negotiate a new deal going into his age-31 season.
What did Hurts get in return for a lower guarantee and a five-year commitment? The highest average annual value for a contract in NFL history, at $51 million. The Eagles could have played hardball and tried to sign Hurts for an annual salary in the $46 million–to–$49 million range, which is where Watson, Kyler Murray, and Wilson all landed. But Roseman and the Eagles were willing to go well above those deals.
Perhaps more interestingly, the Eagles were willing to include the first no-trade clause in franchise history in this deal. When teams make huge investments like this, they have to account for a wide range of outcomes. The hope is that Hurts has the Eagles competing for Super Bowls for years to come. But Hurts had a front-row seat during Carson Wentz’s disastrous 2020 season, and surely knows how quickly things can change in the NFL. A no-trade clause gives Hurts full control of his NFL future. If things go according to plan, he’ll be in Philadelphia for years to come. But if things don’t work out during the course of the contract, he’ll be able to determine where he plays next.
The Eagles were not scarred by the Wentz experience.
Historically, the Eagles under owner Jeffrey Lurie have been aggressive in signing quarterbacks to long-term extensions. The idea is simple: If you think you have The Guy, reward him. The price will only go up. When Andy Reid was the Eagles head coach, we saw this philosophy play out with Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. Then in 2019, the Eagles signed Wentz to a four-year, $128 million extension. That ended up being a disaster. Wentz was off the team two years later.
Going into this offseason, it was fair to wonder whether the Eagles would still maintain that aggressive approach after getting burned just a few years ago. The Hurts deal shows that their organizational philosophy hasn’t changed.
There’s no doubt that the Eagles are taking on risk, given that Hurts has been a full-time starter for just two seasons. The alternative would’ve been to sit tight and do nothing, have Hurts play out the final year of his rookie contract in 2023, and use the franchise tag in 2024. But the most likely outcome in that scenario is that Hurts’s price tag would just keep going up.
Instead, the Eagles got the Hurts deal done before players like Burrow, Herbert, and Lamar Jackson ink new extensions. The Eagles don’t have to worry about beating those deals. For the time being, the Eagles reset the market. But it’s likely that at least one of those contracts (and maybe all three) will come in above what Hurts just signed for. Usually with quarterbacks, if you believe in the player, there’s little benefit to waiting.
Hurts makes the Eagles offense go.
It’s true that Hurts had an outstanding supporting cast last year. But it’s fair to expect that he will have a tremendous supporting cast for at least the next three years. The Eagles’ top three pass-catching targets (wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, and tight end Dallas Goedert) are all under 30 years old and under team control through 2025. Meanwhile, the Eagles return four of five starters on the offensive line next season.
Hurts has made great strides as a passer. He completed 66.5 percent of his passes last year and averaged 8.4 adjusted yards per attempt while throwing 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. But to judge Hurts solely by those numbers misses the mark. He is a weapon in the run game (760 yards and 13 touchdowns last year). Over the past two years, 54 players have had at least 200 rushing attempts. Among that group, Hurts ranks first in rushing success rate, according to TruMedia.
NFL coaches love to talk about how the run game is tied to the passing game. Hurts is the key to that for the Eagles. Just the threat of Hurts as a runner makes the Eagles offense go. It affects how defenses play their safeties, linebackers, and edge defenders; what coverages they employ; and how they game plan each week.
The biggest questions about Hurts’s future are: How much more can he improve as a passer? And is it reasonable to expect him to be an effective runner for the duration of this contract? The two questions are linked. The more progress he makes as a passer, the less necessary it will be for the Eagles to lean on Hurts’s legs.
Regardless, they can start making some changes immediately. There were times last year when the Eagles were still running Hurts in the fourth quarters of lopsided games. Now that he’s officially their long-term answer, that should stop immediately. Finding a balance between allowing Hurts to be a dual threat and limiting hits on him (specifically in low-leverage situations) needs to be at the top of the Eagles’ to-do list this offseason.
The Eagles ranked third in offensive efficiency in 2022. That was tied for the franchise’s highest offensive ranking in Football Outsiders’ database, which goes back to 1981. The teams that finish in the top quartile in offensive efficiency year in and year out are generally the ones that consistently compete for Super Bowls. With Hurts and that supporting cast, it’s reasonable to project the Eagles to remain in that contention.
The Eagles have a lot riding on the 2022-24 drafts.
Whenever a quarterback signs a big-money extension, the conversation immediately shifts to how the team can build a good enough roster around him to remain competitive. There’s no doubt that having a quarterback on a rookie contract is an advantage. But swapping out young quarterbacks every four years is an unrealistic team-building approach. When you find someone good, you pay him and figure out the rest.
The Eagles are better equipped than most teams to handle this. As mentioned above, they have Brown, Smith, and Goedert under contract, and overall, they return nine of 11 offensive starters from last year’s NFC champion team. That side of the ball remains largely intact. The defense, however, is a different story, given that they lost five starters in free agency. The Eagles can’t count on the same injury luck they had last year. Their depth will be tested more in 2023 and beyond.
The key to sustaining success will hinge on finding and developing players on rookie contracts into starting-caliber players to fill out the rest of the roster. Last year, Eagles rookies played the fewest snaps of any team in the NFL. That was because their roster was loaded, and they stayed healthy. But in 2023, second-year players like defensive tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean will be asked to play bigger roles.
In this year’s draft, the Eagles have two first-round picks, at 10 and 30. The Eagles are scheduled to have 12 picks in the 2024 draft. They’ll have slightly less flexibility in free agency and in the trade market in the years ahead, given what Hurts will be making. Their ability to fill roster holes through the draft will go a long way in determining whether the Eagles can be a consistent Super Bowl contender.
The Deshaun Watson deal didn’t change the QB market.
It’s important to remember how the Watson situation played out last offseason, when he dictated the terms of his departure from Houston because of the no-trade clause in his contract. In essence, he was able to choose the Texans’ trading partner based on the new contract he’d receive. The Cleveland Browns were reportedly out of the bidding, but when the Browns decided they were willing to guarantee Watson’s entire $230 million contract, suddenly they were back in the bidding, and they ended up landing Watson. What a coincidence!
But even then, there was only one known team that was willing to offer Watson a fully guaranteed contract. Afterward, a big question around the league was whether the Watson deal might signify a turning point in guaranteed contracts. But here we are a year later, and that doesn’t appear to be the case. Hurts is the third major quarterback contract since, after Murray’s deal with Arizona in July, which included $160 million in guarantees, and Wilson’s deal with the Broncos, which included $124 million fully guaranteed.
In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll likely find out where Burrow and Herbert land whenever they sign new deals. But for now, Watson’s guaranteed deal looks more like a one-off than a precedence setter.
The Hurts deal is probably good news for the Ravens and bad news for Lamar Jackson.
The wild card in all of this, of course, is Jackson. One thing we often forget when analyzing deals is that what’s important to one player might not be as important to another. While we don’t know exactly what Jackson is seeking in his contentious negotiations with the Ravens, it has sounded all along like the guaranteed money was important to him—certainly more important than it appeared to be to Hurts.
Hurts ($110 million) didn’t come close to Watson’s ($230 million) guaranteed number. Based on what we’ve seen, my guess is that Herbert and Burrow will find guarantees that are more in Hurts’s neighborhood than Watson’s. If all three quarterbacks sign similar deals before Jackson gets something done in Baltimore, what is Jackson’s move? Does he take a step back and look for a deal that’s similar to theirs? Or does he dig his heels in and point to Watson’s contract as his comp?
The Hurts signing was the first QB domino to fall. Burrow and Herbert will likely be next, and both are expected to find deals in the range of $50 million to $55 million per year. At some point, the Ravens will have to decide how high they’re willing to go with Jackson, and Jackson will have to decide whether he wants to reconsider what he’s asking for, given the additional data points in the QB market.