Smile broadly, Doug Pederson. Pump your fist and get gleeful, Jalen Hurts. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a gigantic win—Philly’s 24-21 stunner over New Orleans in Hurts’ starting debut—greeted with such . . . caution? It sure wasn’t joy.
I get that Pederson knows he may have to rebuild Wentz from the ground up next spring, and so he can’t exactly make Hurts his BFF. But Hurts is Philadelphia’s December quarterback, at least, and of course it’s a bummer that Wentz is going through a crisis of confidence right now. But that’s life in the big city. The Eagles had their biggest win of the year Sunday, and it’s okay to be joyous—for once this season, at least—even though Wentz is probably the one guy in the locker room not feeling any joy.
So it’s a complex time in Philadelphia. Nothing got proven with any finality Sunday. But five things seem obvious this morning about the Drama of Week 14 and the future of the Eagles at quarterback.
1. Hurts is the right man for this time in Philadelphia. He played confidently, with no fear. It was amazing to see Pederson go for it on fourth-and-two at the New Orleans’ 15-yard line early in the second quarter. Hurts threw a perfect back-shoulder pass to Alshon Jeffery (he’s still on the team?) at the left pylon. Touchdown. At the end of the first half, Hurts took the Eagles 75 yards in 55 seconds with one timeout, scrambling for 24 and then 16, weaving through a terrific defense like he was running ‘Bama again and the Saints for a moment were Vanderbilt. Hurts ran for 106, threw for 167, didn’t throw a pick, wasn’t sacked, and turned it over once on a strip-tackle. He was as in command as a first-time starter could be. At the very least, the Eagles learned the kid can take the heat and deliver under pressure.
2. Hurts has the perfect background for this gig. His coach at Oklahoma, Lincoln Riley, told me Sunday night: “I know he’s an NFL rookie . . . but I don’t know that he could’ve experienced a whole lot more to get him ready for this than what he did in college. I mean, he goes into Alabama, starts as a true freshman, part of championship teams, and all of a sudden, he’s not the starter. Comes back in in a championship game and leads them to victory. Transfers to [Oklahoma], where they just had two Heisman trophy winners in a row, knowing he’s only gonna have one year, comes in and has a great year, new system, new teammates. He’s always got supreme confidence in himself and he trusts his preparation. I think part of him is like, ‘Man, if I’ve made it through what I’ve made it through, I trust myself that even in a new situation that I can do it. So no, not surprising to me at all that he would go play the way he did today.”
3. Howie Roseman will figure out the Wentz contract if he needs. All we’ve heard about the Wentz deal is it will tie Wentz to the Eagles for the next two years, because moving him or cutting him is too cap-onerous. “No contract is untradeable,” former Eagle exec Joe Banner says. Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap has the best and most tolerable possibility for moving Wentz: If the Eagles trade him after June 1, 2021, he’d count $19.27 million on the cap for Philly in 2021, then $24.5 million in dead money in 2022, when the cap should finally be rising again. Especially with Hurts’ second-round rookie contract making the Wentz cap hits hurts less, it’s doable.
4. The Colts are the most logical suitor. Makes total sense. Wentz reunites with former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, the ultimate patient and calm teacher, and the Wentz mental makeover happens in the decidedly low-pressure-cooker of central Indiana. There’s no WIP there. GM Chris Ballard never met a big deal he was afraid to make. But—and this is a very big but—the Eagles most assuredly have not decided to deal Wentz. As of this morning, I bet the majority of their top people think he’ll be back in 2021. But if Hurts has three more games like Sunday’s? We’ll see.
5. The NFL still likes Wentz, so his future, while cloudy in Philadelphia, is brighter than you think. One GM whose team will be in the market for a quarterback this offseason told me last week he will seriously study Wentz when the season ends. He said: “What’s happened with him concerns me. But I’ve seen him play well too many times to think there’s some fatal flaw there. I don’t think the Eagles will move him. I wouldn’t if I were them.” It’s tampering for a GM to say, “I’m interested.” But I can sense there will be some interest if the Eagles decide to trade him, questionable contract and all.
For now, Hurts will prepare to make his second start Sunday in Arizona. (For some reason Sunday night, Pederson wouldn’t name Hurts this week’s starter.) Funny game: the 2018 Oklahoma quarterback, Kyler Murray, versus the 2019 Oklahoma quarterback,…