Williams: Can Jalen Hurts really lead the Eagles to a championship?

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Eagles graphic. - Graphics Editor / Julia Quennessen

The Philadelphia Eagles are coming off what you could call an underwhelming season, seeing that most fans were looking for the Birds to hoist up the Lombardi Trophy at the end of it.

Instead, the Eagles are left with a trip to Cancun and many questions surrounding their team going into the offseason: is Sirianni really the coach that can get the Eagles over the hump? What are the plans for Kellen Moore now that he’s their new offensive coordinator? What’s next for the defensive backs of the Eagles after a super sloppy tackling game in the wild-card round against the Buccaneers?

And the main question for the Eagles: How far can franchise quarterback Jalen Hurts really take the Eagles going forward in his career?

The $255 million dollar quarterback has been in the league for a full four seasons now and really hasn’t established himself as one of the top ten quarterbacks in the league since his name was called on April 23, 2020.

He was drafted 53rd overall, making him the fifth quarterback taken off the board behind Joe Burrow, who was drafted first overall that year, Tua Tagovailoa, who was drafted fifth overall, Justin Herbert, who was drafted sixth overall, and Jordan Love, who was drafted 26th overall.

In Hurts’ rookie year, Carson Wentz was the starting quarterback, but in spite of that, Hurts was able to start four games where he finished with a 1-3 record, throwing for 1,061 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, and four interceptions. There wasn’t much to get from those four games, but it was obvious that Hurts had upside, especially with his rushing abilities that put defenders on notice a bit in his rookie campaign, as he rushed for 354 yards and scored three touchdowns on the ground as well. The Eagles ended up finishing the season 4-11-1 and in last place in the NFC East. 

Heading into the 2021 offseason, the Eagles were ready to hand the keys to the offense over to Hurts and showed it publicly by trading Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for that year’s third-round selection along with a 2022 first-round pick. 

Hurts’ 2021-22 season as a starting quarterback didn’t really instigate as much delight as some Eagles fans were hoping for, seeing that they were a pretty mediocre team that year. They ended the year with a 9-8 record and snuck into the playoffs as the seven-seed.

Hurts showed flashes of what he could do that season, putting up 3,144 passing yards with a 61.3 percent completion percentage and 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions. These numbers however don’t knock your socks off or scream franchise quarterback, which made Philadelphia fans worried.

And to really put the icing on the cake, GM Howie Roseman drafted first-round draft pick, and former Heisman trophy winner Devonta Smith to their roster that year to add some star power to the developing offense.

The Birds ended that season losing 31-15 to the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers in the Wild Card round. The game featured some sloppy tackling on the defensive side, but more importantly, a few bad throws by Jalen Hurts, who went up against a really tough top-ten defense that year. That game left a bad taste in Eagles fan’s mouths, leaving them to wonder if Jalen Hurts is really the guy for them.

During the 2022 offseason, the Eagles had two options with their two first-round picks: Keep the pick and draft a quarterback you believe can get it done if Hurts has another season like he did the year prior, or have faith in him, trade one of the picks and get him some help offensively.

Roseman and the Eagles eventually chose the latter and made a blockbuster trade that led to them acquiring former Tennessee Titans breakout star wide receiver AJ Brown. Roseman then immediately signed him to a four-year extension that would keep him with the team through 2026.

Immediately after the trade, the team produced exceptionally well. That season following the trade, the Eagles were a different team. They finished with a 14-3 record (with Hurts playing, the team was 14-1), won the NFC East, and secured a first-round bye heading into the playoffs.

Hurts transformed into an MVP candidate after throwing for 3,701 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, and only six interceptions. He was also very productive on the ground, posting 760 rushing yards and 13 more touchdowns with some help from the “tush push”.

There seemed to be some good chemistry between Hurts and his receivers too, as Brown and Smith combined for 2,692 yards on 183 receptions.

With the first-round bye, the Eagles had more time to prepare for whoever was to come to Lincoln Financial Field that next week. The Giants ended up being the lucky winners, and the Eagles beat them 38-7. Hurts would put up decent numbers, recording 154 passing yards and two touchdowns.

The game following that was against the San Francisco 49ers, but it was pretty much over by the first half. The 49ers ran out of quarterbacks, due to their starting rookie, Brock Purdy getting injured early in that game. Later on, Josh Johnson went down with a possible concussion, and they had no choice but to simply run the ball the rest of the game.

It ended as another blowout win that delivered the Eagles a ticket to their first Super Bowl since 2017. The 49ers defense kept Hurts in check though, as he had one rushing touchdown and under 150 passing yards along with a 60 percent completion percentage.

Two weeks later in the Super Bowl, Hurts answered the call and nearly led the Eagles to their second Super Bowl victory, but ultimately fell short in a game that went down to the wire. Hurts had a costly fumble that the Chiefs returned for a touchdown when the Eagles had a chance to go up two scores, but he still kept them in the game.

It was a back-and-forth shootout that was determined by who had the ball last. Hurts’ numbers were so good this game that he outperformed the great Patrick Mahomes, going 27 for 38 for 304 passing yards, as well as rushing for 70 and scoring four total touchdowns.

The performance by Hurts didn’t go unnoticed because months later, he became one of the highest-paid players in the NFL at the time with the $255 million dollar contract mentioned prior. This basically stamped him as the Eagles’ franchise quarterback and put him on the map celebrity-wise.

With all the fame and hype that Hurts was getting that offseason, it didn’t carry over and Hurts’ stats took a dive compared to the year prior. The Eagles would start the season with a 10-1 record, however, they never played up to their record.

The team didn’t really look like the team that went to the Super Bowl the year prior, they only looked good enough to win the game that was in hand. While it was a plan that worked for the first 11 weeks of the season, it started to backfire as they lost six of their last seven games, with Hurts being part of the problem. He finished the season with 3,858 passing yards, 38 total touchdowns (15 rushing thanks to the tush-push), and a career-high 15 interceptions. 

The regular season may not have ended how Hurts and the Eagles may have planned it, but there was still hope for the Eagles to go back to the Super Bowl. They may not have won the division, but they were headed to Tampa Bay to face the Baker Mayfield-led Buccaneers for what seemed to be a game they could’ve easily won, but boy were we all mistaken.

The Buccaneers would end up pulling out a 32-9 win against the confused Eagles, due in large part to the Eagles’ poor tackling on defense and poor judgment from the supposed franchise quarterback. There’s no doubt that Hurts still had a productive season, but it was ultimately a downgrade, since the Eagles and their fans, as well as the NFL, know what Hurts potential is.

Overall, looking at Hurts’ whole career and seeing what the future holds for the Eagles, I don’t see Hurts excelling in the top 10 quarterback spot in the NFL. There are so many talented quarterbacks in the league right now, even some guys in the draft could potentially be better than him.

I would put Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, CJ Stroud, Dak Prescott, Brock Purdy, Matthew Stafford, incoming rookie quarterback Caleb Williams, Justin Herbert now that he has a winning coach, Jordan Love, and Anthony Richardson above Hurts. Some of these quarterbacks may not be in the top ten as of now, but I feel like they are or have the potential to be better than Jalen Hurts just because they are playmakers themselves.

No matter if a play breaks down and things don’t work out, these quarterbacks are able to work with what they have and get the ball either for a first down or a touchdown in almost every situation. If Jalen Hurts wants to reach that status that his paycheck reflects, he needs to become the playmaker that the Eagles need and want out of him, as he showed in the Bills game last season. He basically called the game with the draw play and stole the show. He needs to be the X-factor quarterback that the Eagles so desperately need.

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