PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles have been slow to name quarterback Jalen Hurts the starter for next season, but their actions in the 2021 NFL draft signaled continued support as he enters a critical Year 2.
The Eagles could have stayed at No. 6 overall and selected Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. After trading back to No. 12 in a deal with the Miami Dolphins, they had the opportunity to take Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
Instead, the Eagles reunited Hurts with Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith in Round 1, grabbed fellow Tide alum/interior offensive lineman Landon Dickerson in Round 2, and did not use any of their nine picks on a signal-caller.
They reportedly added undrafted free-agent quarterback Jamie Newman (Wake Forest/Georgia) on Saturday, bringing the number of quarterbacks on the roster to three as Newman joins Hurts and veteran Joe Flacco.
The quarterback room construct and overall behavior of the front office this offseason was forecasted in early March by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, who reported owner Jeffrey Lurie instructed the team to prioritize making Hurts successful in 2021 as opposed to creating a true quarterback competition.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) April 30, 2021
Flacco, the Super Bowl XLVII MVP, should push Hurts and help create the type of competitive atmosphere Eagles coach Nick Sirianni prioritizes. But at age 36, Flacco is not at the stage of his career in which he is a legit threat to claim the starting gig, barring injury or a complete Hurts meltdown.
In stark contrast to the instant controversy that struck when the Eagles took Hurts in the second round last April — a key domino leading to the eventual collapse of the organization’s relationship with Carson Wentz — Hurts spent his Friday casually getting reacquainted with an old friend in Smith, who caught 12 balls for 207 receiving yards with two touchdowns from Hurts during their time together at Alabama.
Hurts was all smiles as he watched Smith get photographed in the NovaCare Complex auditorium before the duo joined Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham at the Sixers game down the street. For a night, anyway, things with the Eagles were all good.
Soon, calmer vibes will give way to the intensity of the NFL season, and reality will set in about what 2021 is: a trial run for Hurts. There have already been reports connecting the Eagles to Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Houston’s Deshaun Watson.
After going 1-3 as a starter and completing 52% of his passes his rookie season, questions remain internally as to whether Hurts is the long-term answer at quarterback. Philadelphia has as many as three first-round picks next season — capital reserved for a quarterback should Hurts underperform in 2021.
But barring a late move, Hurts will have a chance to prove he can be the franchise quarterback Philadelphia is in constant pursuit of. He has been set up fairly well for the tryout, surrounded by an aging-but-talented offensive line, young playmakers such as tight end Dallas Goedert, running back Miles Sanders and wide receiver Jalen Reagor, as well as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Smith.
By focusing on building up the team around him instead of bringing in direct competition, the Eagles should be able to conduct a full and fair evaluation of Hurts in 2021. And that’s about all he can ask for.