It Hurts To Make A Choice: Breaking Down The Philadelphia Eagles 2022 Quarterback Options

The options might be painful, but only one makes sense for the Philadelphia Eagles at the quarterback position

Caleb Steindel, News Editor/Staff Writer

The roar of the Raymond James Stadium crowd echoes in the ears of the Philadelphia Eagles on January 16 as they make the long, painful, disappointing trek from the field to the team plane. A deflating 31-15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round (one that was worse than the final score indicated) signaled the end of young Philadelphia’s season. In the span of seven days, the jubilation of their postseason berth became a mist that vanished with the dawn. 

The season had its ups and downs, and it is no secret that their rise and fall hinged on the arms and legs of Jalen Hurts, the second-year quarterback out of Oklahoma. In a season that produced more questions than answers, the biggest one centers around Hurts, his future with the team, and Philadelphia’s plans at quarterback. With the Eagles now eliminated from playoff contention and the long, dark, treacherous path of the offseason awaiting, it is time for the front office to buckle down and make the difficult decisions about the most important position on the field. If history has taught us anything, it’s that making the right choice at quarterback can easily be the difference between a Lombardi trophy and a losing season. 

SEASON RECAP

The 2021 season was a tumultuous one for the birds of Philly. The team experienced massive personnel turnover, moving on from Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson in January and three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz in October. They brought in former Colts Defensive Coordinator Nick Sirianni as their new play-calling head coach and drafted the Heisman-winning receiver out of Alabama, DeVonta Smith, in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. However, perhaps the transition that had the greatest impact on the team was the one at quarterback, where the team moved on from their former No. 2 overall pick, Carson Wentz, and handed the reigns over the young dual-threat from Oklahoma, Jalen Hurts. The result was a massive step forward from their 4-win 2020 season, and they managed to secure a 9-8 record and a playoff berth. The rollercoaster ride included a disappointing 2-5 start, a strong 7-3 finish, and blowout postseason defeat at the hands of Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite the relatively successful season, the end of the year proved that the Eagles are just playing at a level below the NFL’s best teams. They’re clearly in rebuild mode with a talented but unproven offensive core. After all, 26-year-old Dallas Goedert was the team’s oldest skill position player by a full two years.

So how do the Eagles fulfill their potential and recapture their postseason glory? It all starts with the quarterback position.

It’s safe to say that expectations were exceeded in Jalen Hurts’ first full year as a starter. He captained his crew to a robust 25.5 points per game and flashed glimpses of Vick and McNabb by leading all quarterbacks in rushing with 784 yards. He demonstrated his strength and mobility the entire year, extending plays when he needed to and running with strength and power. However, his weaknesses cannot be overlooked, and in some instances, they stuck out like a sore thumb. He was erratic, missing open receivers and making poor decisions, sometimes directly after making a great play. The passing game was certainly not a strength, and his QBR was 48.6, good for just 19th in the league and barely above the hapless likes of Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Ryan. It plummeted even further in the playoffs. Pundits and peers alike frequently commented on his inability to read defenses and his tendency to get the ball out too late. The Hurts concerns reached a pinnacle in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, when he struggled massively against the Tampa Bay defense throughout the first three quarters of the game, going 16/32 with 140 yards and two interceptions in the first 45 minutes. Hurts left a sour taste in the mouths of many Philly fans at the end of the year, and what’s worse, they’re left to watch young stars like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow tear it up in the playoffs. Many are left to wonder whether Hurts will ever be able to ascend to the heights of the other young QBs around the league or if his ceiling is just lower. Can Hurts ever be the one to lead them to the promised land?

“Our job is to look at everything, to evaluate every position, every player.”

— Howie Roseman

General Manager Howie Roseman and Head Coach Nick Sirianni have a lot to evaluate this offseason. There seems to be an initial desire to bring Hurts back from Sirianni.  “Jalen knows where he stands with us. He knows he’s our quarterback,” Sirianni said during a press conference after Philadelphia’s playoff loss. “I thought he did a great job of getting better throughout the year. There’s no secrets there. He knows he’s our guy.” 

At the same time, Rosemann left the door open for the position to be fully evaluated in 2022. “Our job is to look at everything, to evaluate every position, every player,” he said. “We do that not only for right now in this moment, but we also do it so we have information when players become available at any position.”

All things considered, we can help out the Eagles’ front office out by breaking down their decision down into four options. The team can hit free agency, draft a replacement, make a trade, or stick with Hurts. We’ll examine each one.

HITTING FREE AGENCY

This is option No. 1 for our list today because it is clearly the most unlikely scenario for one reason. The free-agent market in 2022 is utterly devoid of starting quarterbacks, and even those that could compete for a starting job would all be a major step down from what the Eagles have in Hurts. Jameis Winston of the New Orleans Saints is clearly the best option available, and there is no logical reason for them to sign him. He’s been even more sporadic than Jalen Hurts, and almost everyone knows his famous 2019 season, in which he threw for 33 touchdowns, but also 30 interceptions. He had a much better start to the season in 2021, but a devastating ACL/MCL injury in Week 8 caused him to miss the rest of the year, and he has no clear timeframe to return. Marcus Mariota, Tyrod Taylor, and Teddy Bridgewater are all 28 or older and career backups with occasional starting stints on their resumes. None have had staying power and all are a steep drop-off from Hurts. It’s scrubs across the rest of the market at quarterback, and no one would provide sufficient competition for the starting job. Old, subpar players that would only hold back a young, rebuilding team? Hard pass.

DRAFTING A REPLACEMENT

This one is more probable than a free agent signing simply because of youth, but the odds are also against Philadelphia selecting a quarterback in the draft. The reasons are similar to the previous option. There are few standout choices at the position. Kenny Pickett from Pittsburgh is the consensus number 1 at the position, and players like Matt Corral out of Ole Miss and Malik Willis are also being pegged as potential first-rounders. Due to copious amounts of trades, Philadelphia does have 10 picks, including three in the first round, and there is a rather high likelihood that at least one of the top prospects will still be available. However, given the shallow talent pool and the other glaring needs across the rest of the roster, it doesn’t make much sense for them to draft a young quarterback who will most likely be a downgrade from Hurts, anyway. There is much more talent available at edge rusher, offensive line, and even wide receiver, and to ignore those positions in favor of a less talented quarterback would be a costly mistake. Philadelphia ranked in the back half of the league in most defensive categories, and the team is notorious for holding onto struggling wide receivers. There are clearly more glaring needs at deeper positions in the 2022 draft. Taking a quarterback would mean punting on Jalen Hurts and setting the team back at least a couple of years. No, thanks. 

MAKING A TRADE

While the free agency and the draft may not have the deepest talent pool this year, there are plenty of big-name veteran stars at the quarterback position that will likely be looking for a change of scenery and a fresh start. The biggest three are undoubtedly Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson. Rodgers and Wilson are both Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks with Hall of Fame resumes who have experienced unique struggles over the past few years. For Rodgers, it’s been his inability to break past the NFC Championship and get to another Super Bowl. He hasn’t been to one since 2011. Wilson reportedly has a fractured relationship with the Seattle Seahawks organization, and he’s coming off a 7-10 finish and a season marred by a finger injury and passing struggles. Texans’ quarterback DeShaun Watson is facing a litany of civil lawsuits and sexual assault allegations, but if he’s cleared to return, he’ll be one of the most coveted assets across the league. Even middling gunslingers like Derek Carr from Las Vegas and Jimmy Garoppolo from San Francisco might be moving on from their respective teams, and both had successful seasons that culminated in a playoff berth.

In a vacuum, making a trade for a high-level quarterback might seem like a smart move. Most of these guys would be a significant upgrade from Hurts and some could even get the team past the Wild Card round of the playoffs. But in the long run, a major move like trading for Aaron Rodgers could cause irreparable damage. Philadelphia has over $13 million in cap space and lots of roster holes to patch up, but they wouldn’t be able to do so after signing a big-name quarterback. Russell Wilson, for example, signed a 4-year, $140 million contract with Seattle in 2019, and if Philadelphia were to try and pull him in a trade, they would be sacrificing almost all of their cap space (plus several of their 10 draft picks) for a veteran with a window of success that is quickly closing. They’d be going all in – Super Bowl or bust – with much less money and much fewer draft picks to build a competitive team. Even if they trade for DeShaun Watson, he wouldn’t even be guaranteed to start, what with his myriad of legal issues. Trading for a quarterback does offer relatively high upside, but the Eagles would be taking a major risk and giving up most of their assets for a longshot at the title. 

STICKING WITH HURTS

The final option is clearly the best. It’s going to hurt (pardon the pun), but growing pains are signs of a healthy team. Sticking with the Oklahoma kid offers them the best opportunity to succeed now while simultaneously laying the groundwork for the future. Hurts is young, and he knows the system. He’s about to head into his second full year as a starting quarterback, and since he barely played in 2020, it’s almost as if he just finished his rookie year. Starting a playoff game is something that only 27 rookie quarterbacks in the history of the NFL have ever done, so merely by guiding the team to the postseason, Hurts should have cemented his future with the team. He’ll continue to grow as the years go on, and Philadelphia is in the perfect position to make his evolution easier. Shore up secondary, draft some young wideouts, and give Hurts the help he needs to fix his playoff problems. It will cost very little for them to do so. Hurts still has two years left on his rookie deal, which is only worth $6 million, so even if he turns out to not be their guy, they can build up a young core and move on in 2024 when the draft and free-agent pool is deeper. It makes no sense to break the bank for another quarterback and overhaul the position right now. Instead, they should take advantage of their draft capital and cap space. A 9-8 team in 2021 can easily catapult to 12-5 under smart management. Use your picks wisely, help Jalen grow, and another Lombardi trophy might still be in the cards for the City of Brotherly Love. After all, Jalen clearly has his eyes on returning and improving.

“I know for me, I look at myself in the mirror and I tell myself, first year quarterback stuff, first year starter, it’s over with,” he said in his postgame press conference following Philadelphia’s Wild Card loss. “I’m hungry for what’s to come, and I’m hungry to do the things that need to be done. For us, we need to continue to do the things that got us to this point. We need to continue to climb, continue to stay together, continue to put the work in, and continue to have each other’s backs. I think the sky’s the limit for us.”

CONCLUSION

The Philadelphia Eagles have a lot of questions to answer this offseason. 2021 certainly had its positive moments, but does the team as it is currently constructed have the capability to achieve the postseason success that the city hungers for? Most importantly, does Jalen Hurts have the ability to lead them there? With the explosion of young talent across the league, can Hurts keep pace and reach that next level? The questions may be many, but they all find their roots in Hurts. If the team wants to create a detailed, successful game plan for 2022, they have to figure out the quarterback position first. For the sake of Philadelphia, let’s hope they make the right decision.