Eagles should make Jalen Hurts compete for starting QB job

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It’s time for the Eagles to develop a quarterback the right way.

With the Carson Wentz debacle in the rearview mirror, all eyes turn to Jalen Hurts and the quarterback depth chart. There’s a gigantic hole alongside Hurts, and it shouldn’t be filled with a clipboard holder.

When the new league year opens, the Eagles should prioritize the most important position in professional sports by embracing competition and acquiring a legitimate quarterback to push and challenge Hurts for the starting job in training camp. The who (Marcus Mariota, Jacoby Brissett, Tyrod Taylor, Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mitch Trubisky, Cam Newton) matters less than the why. I can be talked into any of those names, as long as one arrives.

Here’s why.

He hasn’t earned it

Hurts is my guy. I believe he can be a franchise quarterback in the NFL and can win a lot of football games in midnight green. He’s the coffee bean (good book, by the way) for this franchise. But he hasn’t earned the job yet. He didn’t perform like a clear-cut starter in his four-game sample in 2020. This isn’t Justin Herbert for the Chargers. Hurts isn’t a lock, and the Eagles need to protect themselves.

Competition will be embraced

Unlike last offseason, I don’t believe acquiring a legitimate quarterback to add to the depth chart will spook or bother the perceived starter. Hurts has been competing his entire quarterback life. He walked onto Alabama’s campus as a 17-year-old in spring practice and won the job on a team full of grown men. He stayed at Alabama after his job was taken, and competed for it back in training camp. According to Lincoln Riley, he didn’t want to be guaranteed the Oklahoma starting quarterback job during his transfer. We’re talking about a player that wants to be pushed. The Eagles shouldn’t run from that.

Nick Sirianni has to develop a program

Here’s what the new Eagles head coach said to Angelo Cataldi on the WIP Morning Show last month.

“A core value is competition. That’s competition everywhere. That’s competition with the quarterbacks, that’s competition with the wide receivers, that’s competition with the DBs. That’s competition everywhere.  Everybody is going to compete. I am going to compete with Shane (Steichen) on things. We’re going to compete in the building with coaches. If we’re going to run a play in a game, let me just use this illustration, if we’re going to run a play in a game, we have to practice that play. We have to feel good about calling that play because we practiced it over and over again. It’s the same thing in competition. Because we’re gonna have to compete against Washington and Dallas and New York, we have to practice that. Everybody. Competition is the core value for every single position we have here with the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Sure, that probably came across as spin with the Wentz trade rumors swirling. It doesn’t have to be, though. Sirianni could establish that culture by truly (with the help of the front office landing a real passer to pair with Hurts) having a competition this summer.

The Eagles will learn more about Hurts (and the team) this way

In an ideal world, Hurts is the unquestioned starter in 2021. There’s no controversy. He doesn’t have to start his career in Philadelphia looking over his shoulder after a bad game. But I’d argue that kind of thinking is more for us to debate than for the team to care about. The Eagles need to find out if Hurts is the right guy for the long term, especially with the possibility of having multiple first-round picks in 2022 that could be packaged for another passer.

If Hurts can’t beat out a Taylor or Mariota in training camp, maybe he’s not the right guy. If he struggles during the season and needs to be relieved, perhaps he’s not the right guy. If he owns the room and the huddle all year, the Eagles will have less doubts and can separate the needs of the rest of the roster compared to the quarterback depth chart heading into the future.

A good example took place in Miami last year: If, say, the Dolphins didn’t have a Fitzpatrick to pair with Tua Tagovailoa, maybe the team lets the rookie sink or swim on the way to a six-win season. Instead, a clearer picture emerged: With solid QB play, Miami is legit. Tua might just not have it. The Eagles need to know what they’ve got on the roster and the QB position by the end of 2021. Zero competition and depth doesn’t help achieve that.

Seventeen games with a running quarterback is risky business

Count me in the anti-rebuilding camp. I believe the Eagles can (and should) try to win in 2021. With the NFL likely heading toward 17 games, banking on Hurts (or any quarterback) to stay healthy all season is a big ask. It’s even bigger when considering this: Hurts averaged 11.5 rushes per game in his four starts. That’s a 195-carry pace over a 17-game season. Do you know how many *running backs* carried the ball that much last season in the NFL? Twelve.

Hurts is a unique player. He can run away from defenders, go right through the tackle, or slide before contact arrives. There’s a Lamar Jackson-Cam Newton-Russell Wilson hybrid to his style. But when you factor in all those potential hits plus the shots he’ll take as a passer, the idea of needing another legitimate quarterback for a game or two during the season feels silly to ignore. If the idea is to compete in 2021, watching a Nate Sudfeld-esque backup flail around for a game or two could torpedo any playoff hopes quickly.

Learn from the mistakes of the Wentz era

I saved this for last, but it might be the most important. Remember when the Eagles rolled the red carpet out for Wentz, allowed comparisons to all-time quarterbacks to emerge, handed him the job before he actually earned it, and boosted him up above the rest of the team? Me too. I’ve always believed his veteran teammates didn't appreciate it. Perhaps it’s where locker room discontent started. This is a chance at a fresh start with a new quarterback, and the franchise should do this the right way.

Give Hurts real competition. Push him to improve. Guarantee him nothing. If he wins the job vs. a legitimate NFL quarterback, the Eagles will learn something about him and build the right culture along the way. Don’t make it easy. Something tells me Hurts would rather it this way, and any potential controversy will be forgotten soon.