Eagles move on Jalen Hurts as Carson Wentz career flounders


Everything the Eagles did Tuesday in naming Brian Johnson offensive coordinator was about one person, and one person only: quarterback Jalen Hurts.

And rightly so. Hurts was the MVP runner-up last season, taking the Eagles to the Super Bowl, where they missed a defensive save to beat the Kansas City Chiefs.

Johnson was therefore the perfect choice to get the promotion from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, replacing Shane Steichen, who became head coach of the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago.

Johnson, 36, has known Hurts since he was 4 years old and Johnson was coached by Hurts’ father, Averion, in high school.

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That’s not to say Hurts is in charge. But it’s clear how important it is for the Eagles to keep Hurts happy.

And at some point, maybe soon, the Eagles will make Hurts very happy with a contract extension averaging $50 million a season.

So yeah, it’s all about Hurts.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said the same to the NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday, when asked what he saw in Hurts to draft him in the second round in 2020.

“You want me to be sentimental about how it was before we paid our quarterback?” laughed Roseman. “It’s the nature of the business. The best thing is when you have a quarterback who is good enough that you want to pay him.”

Roseman wouldn’t go into detail on whether those contract talks are progressing or what it will cost the Eagles, other than to say this:

“You want to find a win-win. You want to find something that he feels really good about, and at the same time we feel good and surround him with good players. He knows that. He’s a smart guy He understands that.

“That doesn’t mean it won’t be a great contract for him, because he deserves it too.”

It’s a good place to pause because just four years ago the Eagles felt the same way about Hurts’ predecessor Carson Wentz.

The Eagles wanted to go all out for Wentz, and they paid him that way. In June 2019, the Eagles signed Wentz to a four-year contract worth $128 million, with a record $108 million guaranteed.

While that was a pocket change from what it will cost to sign Hurts, it showed the Eagles’ commitment to Wentz as a franchise quarterback.

But Wentz couldn’t stand it. He bristled when Hurts was drafted in the spring of 2020. Then he had a terrible season and was replaced by Hurts for the last 4 and a half games.

Since then, Wentz has been traded twice before suffering the final indignity, being unceremoniously released by Washington commanders on Monday.

It was no surprise. The Commanders save $26 million on their salary cap by releasing Wentz. They’re pinning their hopes on Sam Howell, their fifth-round pick last spring.

It was such a fait accompli that it prompted only one question from head coach Ron Rivera at the Combine.

“There are a lot of things we need to look at in terms of our team,” Rivera said. “Everything from the cap to the position itself, and the situational circumstances we went through last year. (Wentz) is a hell of a young man. He’s a solid man, and I want to wish him the best. J really appreciate everything he has done for us, and the opportunity he has had to come here.

“He did his best, and we appreciate that as well.”

So if Wentz plays in 2023, he’ll be with his fourth team in four seasons. Most likely, he’ll have to be either a backup or a “placeholder” starter for a team that drafts a franchise quarterback this spring.

And the difference between Wentz and Hurts’ situation this season will be stark.

Hurts will have an offensive coordinator who will lead a suitable offense for Hurts. Wentz will be on offense aimed at a quarterback that isn’t him.

So it was easy to see why the Eagles promoted Johnson.

“I thought it was the natural progression for us to go down this path,” Eagles coach Sirianni told the Combine. “And his relationship with Jalen. Brian is a lively, lively guy. I lean on him for so many different things.”

But above all, Sirianni will rely on Johnson to continue Hurts’ progress. Hurts only completed 51% of his passes after replacing Wentz in 2020. Then Sirianni, Steichen and Johnson took over, and Hurts, in his first season as a full-time starter, improved to 61%.

Hurts got even better last season, after the Eagles traded wide receiver AJ Brown, adding him to DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert. Hurts completed 66.5 percent of his passes, threw for 3,701 yards and rushed for another 760. He combined for 35 touchdowns, tying a franchise record.

Then in the Super Bowl, Hurts threw for 304 yards and rushed for 70 in the 38-35 loss to the Chiefs.

“You won’t see much change,” Sirianni said of Johnson’s promotion. “There will be little differences and little different ways of calling the game, but the way the attack is handled with everything will be exactly the same.”

It wasn’t offense that lost the Eagles the Super Bowl.

That’s why the Eagles interviewed half a dozen known defensive coordinator candidates before hiring Sean Desai as Jonathan Gannon’s successor after Gannon was given the Cardinals head coaching job.

Desai just needs to get the Eagles to a Super Bowl stoppage, something they couldn’t do against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

That, in a way, speaks to the Eagles’ belief in Hurts. The Eagles thought they had it with Wentz, as did the Colts and Commanders, only to see Wentz self-destruct into NFL oblivion.

“If you don’t have a quarterback, you look for one,” Roseman said. “You can’t win in this league without a great quarterback who plays at a high level. We saw how Jalen played in the Super Bowl on the biggest stage, and that’s exciting for our team, for our fans, for all of us.”

Whoever signs Wentz, meanwhile, will always be looking.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

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