In nearly two years, Jalen Hurts has gone from backup quarterback inserted to replace the franchise starter to the Eagles’ bona fide QB1. While he said he doesn’t reflect upon that 2020 moment against the Packers as anything more than what it was, Sunday night’s meeting against that same opponent does offer the opportunity to consider how far he has come.
“I know it was my first time ever playing — really playing in the NFL — was against Green Bay,” Hurts said when asked about the juxtaposition between then and now. “That’s the reality of it.”
At the time, few projected that Hurts would never relinquish the job. Some doubts remained about his long-term viability over the next year and a half, even though he showed progress over that span. But few questions about his ability to start in the NFL exist after the first 10 games of this season.
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The more apt question is how high is Hurts’ ceiling? It’s likely something the Eagles, specifically owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman, ask themselves whenever the topic of the 24-year-old’s possible contract extension this offseason is broached.
And yes, that conversation is being had, as is a more detailed one about the contract’s structure and how a deal worth somewhere in the $50 million-a-year neighborhood might affect the rest of the roster and the team’s ability to stay competitive as Hurts ‘salary cap number climbs.
The Eagles, of course, have to be careful about overextending themselves. The last time they extended a quarterback after his first three seasons — when eligible to do so — they paid dearly. It could have been worse. Carson Wentz forcing a trade proved fortuitous as the cap hit — the largest in league history — was limited to one year.
The greater benefit, however, was allowing Hurts to assume the starting spot when the Eagles had no other viable option. They may have explored acquiring Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson last offseason, but sometimes the best moves are the ones you can’t make, because neither quarterback was interested in coming to Philadelphia.
And now Hurts is a candidate as the NFL’s most valuable player, a prime-time marquee attraction vs. the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, the two-time reigning MVP. It’s easy to become provincial about his accomplishments or to view his prospects through a vacuum, but a recent sampling of personnel sources suggests others around the league would make the multiyear investment in the former second-round draft pick.
“Everyone can nitpick on him, but he’s changed how I look at young quarterbacks now,” an NFC senior scout said. “He throws it well and makes every easy throw. He’s got wheels to get out of trouble and he’s seemingly never flustered.
“Sign me up.”
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Hurts doesn’t necessarily have to go along, especially if the Eagles’ offer is on the lower scale. Like Lamar Jackson, who turned down a proposal from the Ravens that would have made him among the highest-paid, he could bet on himself next season.
But Jackson is an anomaly in that he’s the only franchise-caliber quarterback without an agent. While that reason alone doesn’t automatically mean that a traditional player representative would have negotiated an extension, the security of a contract with over $100 million guaranteed would be hard to turn down.
Hurts’ agent is Nicole Lynn. In 2019, she became the first Black woman to represent a draft pick with New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Hurts followed the next year, and, in 2021, NBA power agent Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports hired her as president of football operations.
The 33-year-old Lynn has a growing list of clients, but she has yet to negotiate a second contract of significance, let alone one for a quarterback.
With several prominent quarterbacks eligible for second deals, the Eagles would likely prefer to be the first team out of the gate. They haven’t extended any players in-season and are unlikely to do so until they have all the available on-field information on Hurts.
Off the field, there is seemingly little risk for the team. Hurts is all football — as evidenced by the strides he made last offseason knowing he would be playing in the same offense for the first time since high school. His steady temperament makes him an insurable risk, but it also suggests that he would be able to play on a contract year.
“There’s no method to the madness,” Hurts said this week when asked about his consistency. “I just try to never get too high, never get too low, and that’s in every area of my game. You talk about the temperature of the room — I set the temperature.
“I control the things that I can. I can control how I respond to something.”
Could the next seven games and the playoffs alter Hurts’ trajectory? Certainly. But he and the Eagles appear on a course that would align them for the near future. Here’s a Q&A on a possible contract extension for the quarterback.
Beyond the obvious — that he’s a commodity — locking him up early would allow the team control over the player before he would conceivably reach his top value. But timing could factor into how aggressive the Eagles may be.
“They should want to do a deal before the other quarterbacks who are coming up,” said an NFL source who has negotiated quarterback contracts. “[Lynn] should want to go last.”
The Bengals’ Joe Burrow and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert likely would set the bar among the class of 2020 quarterbacks, with both former first-rounders having accomplished more — at least at this stage. The Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa, drafted among them, has significantly increased his worth this season.
Hurts, selected a round later, doesn’t have as much leverage as the other three. The Eagles’ initial evaluation was as a backup to the oft-injured Wentz and a quarterback they could develop in case of emergency or to trade.
Based on their flirtation with the idea of dealing for Wilson or Watson, they didn’t yet rank Hurts in that league. But there is little dispute he has performed better than the former and has been among the league’s top performers at the position this season.
Only the Eagles know how much emphasis they’ll place on coach Nick Sirianni’s scheme, and the surrounding cast — especially the upgrade of AJ Brown over Jalen Reagor at wide receiver — when assessing Hurts’ monetary worth.
But the question shouldn’t be as much about whether they should extend him as it should be about what it would take to get both sides to come to an agreement?
Beyond the obvious — that he would stand to make more money than he probably ever imagined — Hurts would have security beyond 2023 and sway within the organization few players are afforded.
It is probable he would want to structure his deal to help the Eagles have cap flexibility. The team doesn’t want to fleece Lynn, or at least in a way that makes a contract look heavily tilted in their direction.
But there will be a lot of fine print in the details to negotiate. Lynn would stand to benefit from waiting to have other deals as templates, but Hurts’ will look different from the first-rounders’.
“Everyone is going to be watching this one closely,” a prominent NFL agent said.
Kyler Murray is the most recent franchise quarterback to sign a second contract, inking a five-year extension worth $230.5 million. His $46.1 million per year average is below only Rodgers ($50.2 million) and Wilson ($49 million), and his total guarantee is behind only Watson ($230 million) and Wilson ($165 million).
Watson’s five-year deal is fully guaranteed. Jackson seems to want the same. More quarterbacks could follow a trend first set by Kirk Cousins.
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With the NFL salary cap expected to increase somewhere in the $15 million range for 2023 — to $225 million — and possibly to $255 million in 2024, Murray’s contract could be the floor for Hurts.
Sportac estimates Hurts’ current market value at $44.7 million per year, and, at six years, $268 million overall. But the basic numbers won’t tell the full story of how the deal is structured.
“They will try to get him on a good average,” the league source said, “but likely with a team-friendly structure that would leave him exposed after the second year.”
The up-front bonus would allow the Eagles to spread a significant amount of the contract into future seasons so the first year or two aren’t back-breaking. But it will limit their ability to offer others long-term deals, especially when Hurts’ cap figure climbs.
The Eagles have 17 players with expiring contracts this offseason, with safety CJ Gardner-Johnson the most likely to be extended. Fixtures like center Jason Kelce, who could retire, and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who likely would have to take a major cut to return, could depart.
The Eagles have tough decisions to make on running back Miles Sanders, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, cornerback James Bradberry, guard Isaac Seumalo, and linebacker TJ Edwards.
Linebacker Kyzir White, tackle Andre Dillard, backup quarterback Gardner Minshew, and midseason rentals — defensive linemen Linval Joseph, Ndamukong Suh, and Robert Quinn — probably will leave. Receiver Zach Pascal and running back Boston Scott could be candidates to come back at the right price.
Defensive ends Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett have a year left on their contracts, but the Eagles could walk away from both without relative harm. Roseman could restructure and extend cornerback Darius Slay to lower his cap number for next season, but he doesn’t want to push the can too far down the road.
The reality of having a franchise quarterback is that you simply can’t keep everyone, even your best players, which is why a team like the Chiefs, who have Patrick Mahomes, felt it necessary to trade receiver Tyreek Hill last offseason.
Hurts’ performance over the rest of the season could slow the momentum on a new contract. The Eagles have beaten several quality opponents. Their strength of schedule is 13th in the league. But the tests should only get harder down the stretch.
If a Hurts regression was enough for the Eagles to hold off on an offer, he would play next season on a “proven performance escalator” salary that would increase his salary to roughly between $2.6 million and $4.3 million, depending on whether he gets voted to the Pro Bowl.
The Eagles could buy time, and if they wanted to secure his rights for a fifth season without an extension, then go the franchise tag route.
They also have two first-rounders in the draft next April, including the Saints’ pick, which could land them in the top five. They would conceivably have the ammunition to select a quarterback of their choice.
But drafting a replacement seems more unlikely than an extension. Hurts has already cleared several hurdles. He has yet to even have what could be described as a bad outing this season. And, most importantly, he has improved in almost every facet of his game.
It took only two years for Hurts to come this far. Will the Eagles see enough to want to see the future?
Inquirer Eagles beat reporters EJ Smith and Josh Tolentino preview the team’s Week 12 game against the Green Bay Packers. Watch at Inquirer.com/EaglesGameday