Mar 9, 2021
Tim McManusESPN Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA — For the second year in a row, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is pointing the franchise in the direction of quarterback Jalen Hurts — raising questions and concerns in the process.
Lurie was influential in the selection of Hurts in last April’s draft, according to sources. He wasn’t alone on an island — former coach Doug Pederson was seeking a young QB to develop and general manager Howie Roseman was said to be on board — but Lurie wanted Hurts. And when bosses want something they usually get it.
Philadelphia used its second-round pick (No. 53 overall) on the Oklahoma product despite being financially committed to quarterback Carson Wentz to the tune of four years and $128 million. Hurts showed promise in four starts as a rookie, but using a high pick on Hurts, and later starting him in favor of the struggling Wentz, played a major role in the deterioration of the relationship between Wentz and the organization.
Last month the Eagles agreed to deal Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a pair of draft picks. When the trade becomes official March 17, Philadelphia will absorb the largest dead-cap hit in league history at $33.8 million.
Hurts is the lone quarterback standing from last season’s roster. Even with NFL free agency and the 2021 NFL draft still to come, Lurie is handing Hurts the keys for the 2021 campaign. He has instructed the team to prioritize making Hurts successful this season as opposed to creating a true quarterback competition, sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen — yet another sign of how hands-on the Eagles owner has become.
Lurie’s involvement in personnel and football operations began ramping up following the coach Chip Kelly era (2013-15), when Lurie felt alienated from his own club at times and reportedly told confidants before firing Kelly he wanted to “take back the team.”
Signs emerged he was doing it as Lurie led the charge to re-sign Sam Bradford in the 2016 offseason and went to the Senior Bowl that January to evaluate Wentz and the 2016 draft class. He held weekly meetings in-season with Pederson and Roseman during Pederson’s tenure to dive deep into football matters. He blocked then-quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo from interviewing for the New York Jets‘ offensive coordinator job in 2017, preventing Pederson from granting the request as his mentor, former Eagles coach Andy Reid, typically had.
And Lurie fired Pederson this offseason when the coach failed to provide a vision for the future the owner could embrace, even as other power brokers attempted to de-escalate the situation to keep the Super Bowl winning coach in the fold.
Lurie’s influence is felt far and wide, from the organization’s heavy lean into analytics to coaching-staff considerations. But the quarterback position is of particular interest. Knowing how important QBs are to the overall success of a franchise, Lurie has become a student of the position. He is involved in the process when acquiring one. His philosophy of investing heavily in quarterbacks has become a key organizational tenet, and has led to great success stories, like the Nick Foles-led Super Bowl run, and cautionary tales, like the one that unfolded with Hurts and a disgruntled Wentz.
Perhaps Lurie’s directive on Hurts is with recent Eagles’ history in mind. The 2020 season showed the kind of disaster that can strike when QB1 doesn’t feel fully supported. Instructing his staff not to bring in legitimate competition for Hurts can be viewed in part as a reaction to that.
It’s fair to wonder whether it’s an overreaction. Hurts, after all, is far less proven than Wentz was entering last season. He showed strong leadership in an awkward spot and gave the offense a jolt when inserted into the lineup, but he cooled down the stretch and finished with a 52% completion rate and six touchdowns to four interceptions while rushing for 354 yards and three scores.
Four games is too small a sample size to determine if he can be a quality starter in the pros.
The Eagles are limited in the type of veteran they can bring in because of their salary-cap situation, but they hold the No. 6 overall pick in the upcoming draft and there are a lot of interesting quarterback prospects in this class including Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones. The Eagles don’t often draft in the top 10, making this a potentially unique opportunity for them.
If a first-round quarterback falls into the “competition” category, then Lurie’s decision to abstain comes before coach Nick Sirianni and his staff have had the chance to meet and fully evaluate prospects. The Eagles’ staff typically gathers in April once all pro days are over to account for the coaches’ assessments as the team shapes its draft board.
All relevant voices, in other words, haven’t been fully heard from.
It would be naïve to think owners across the league aren’t involved in big personnel decisions, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. The question is: Where is the line?
There were mixed opinions of Hurts inside the Eagles’ building leading up to last year’s draft. He wasn’t the highest player on Philadelphia’s board when he was picked, sources said. Was it wise for Lurie & Co. to be aggressive and take the QB they wanted a little early so they didn’t miss out, like they did by waiting too long on Russell Wilson in 2012? Or, did the owner’s excitement about the player steer things off course?
Should an owner be involved in personnel evaluation or does it warp the process and infringe on the experts hired to do the job? What message does it send to the locker room about the new coach if the quarterback decision is being made above his head?
Those are the questions swirling around the Eagles as they pick up the pieces from a disastrous 4-11-1 season, which included a divorce from their onetime franchise quarterback.
Meanwhile, one answer has crystallized: Yes, Lurie is heavily involved, and increasingly so, for better or worse.