Jalen Hurts' 2021 Performance Even More Vital After Carson Wentz Injury

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2021

Philadelphia Eagles' Jalen Hurts, left, and Carson Wentz watch a drill during practice at the NFL football team's training facility, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, Pool)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

When the Philadelphia Eagles traded quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts earlier this offseason, it was viewed a win-win for both teams.

While Wentz played poorly with the Eagles last season, throwing a league-high 15 interceptions in only 12 games, he proved in 2017 that he is capable of playing at a near-MVP level. For Indy, he became a reclamation project with tremendous upside. The Eagles, meanwhile, got to move on from a player who became a bit of a distraction last season.

Moving Wentz also netted the Eagles a conditional second-round pick in 2022, plus a 2021 third-rounder. The second-rounder can become a first-round pick if Wentz plays at least 75 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps or plays 70 percent while Indianapolis makes the postseason.

With Philip Rivers retired and Jacoby Brissett departing in free agency, that threshold seemed reasonable—until Monday. Head coach Frank Reich announced that Wentz, who aggravated a lingering foot injury during training camp, will undergo surgery and miss anywhere from five to 12 weeks.

That reduces the odds of the Colts conveying their first-round pick to the Eagles, which will place more pressure on second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts.


Timeline and Potential Fallout

If Wentz takes the full 12 weeks to recover, there's no way he'll play 70 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps. If he recovers within six weeks of the surgery, Wentz could be back under center by Week 2.

Should Wentz miss only a few weeks of the regular season, he could still play more than 80 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps. However, Indianapolis has a brutal early schedule—Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, at Tennessee Titans, at Miami Dolphins, at Baltimore Ravens—and the Colts may not want to rush Wentz into the teeth of that stretch.

The Colts could also decide to sit Wentz late in the season if they fall out of playoff contention, and a rocky start would make reaching the postseason difficult. They won't actively choose to forfeit a first-round pick if they're only playing for draft positioning in December.

The odds are now stacked against the Eagles receiving the Colts' first-round pick. That may thwart their attempts to parlay their draft capital into a different quarterback if they aren't sold on Hurts.

Trading up in the 2022 draft could be an option. So could trading for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, per NBC Sports' Peter King, if Watson is able to play moving forward amid the 22 lawsuits he's facing from women accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct.

"The Eagles are likely to be in play when Houston trades him, assuming Houston does sometime before draft day 2022," King wrote.

The Eagles currently have two first-round picks in 2022, plus two second-rounders. That could help make for an attractive draft package, but having three first-round selections would be better.

Two No. 1s may not be enough to nab a player like Watson or Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It also may not be enough to climb to the top of what is perceived as a relatively shallow 2022 rookie quarterback pool—one that doesn't appear to have a sure thing.

The San Francisco 49ers spent two first-round picks and a third-rounder to move from No. 12 to No. 3 in the 2021 draft. That means it might be Hurts-or-bust for the Eagles beyond the 2021 season.


The Pressure

Tim Tai/Associated Press

The pressure is now on Hurts to establish himself as the Eagles' new franchise quarterback. Joe Flacco isn't their long-term answer, and Nick Mullens isn't, either.

"There's a lot of chatter that goes on," Hurts said about trade speculation, per Martin Frank of the Delaware News Journal. "I'm above it all. Control what I can. I'm here. That's what I'm doing, going out there to be the quarterback of this team."

The pressure is on the Eagles, new head coach Nick Sirianni and executive vice president Howie Roseman for betting so heavily on a largely unproven quarterback. Wentz was named to a Pro Bowl and helped the Eagles reach a Super Bowl. Though he showed flashes last season, Hurts has started only four NFL games.

And while Hurts may be able to block out the external noise, the pressure in Philadelphia will trickle down to him one way or another. Jobs could be tied both to how Hurts performs and where the Eagles land in the draft.

From the front office's standpoint, there may not be a middle ground. The Eagles may either hope he succeeds or fails enough to maximize their draft positioning. Seeing as how the Eagles were verbally non-committal on Hurts before the draft, stockpiling picks and eventually making a different move may have been the original Plan A ahead of Wentz.

Tim McManus @Tim_McManus

Nick Sirianni and Howie Roseman decline to name Jalen Hurts the starter. Sirianni stresses the importance of competition.

Losing that third first-round pick potentially changes how Eagles go about maximizing their draft capital, and Hurts may be entering a situation where he has to be great right away to get any sort of a fair opportunity in 2021.


Can Hurts Be the Answer?

The good news is that Wentz's injury won't matter as much if Hurts develops into a franchise quarterback. He showed a lot in his limited 2020 opportunity, throwing for 847 yards and rushing for 238 in his three complete starts.

If Hurts can build on what he did well as a rookie, he can become a quality starter. He should be in a far better situation this year, too.

The Eagles gave up a league-high 65 sacks last season, but they're expected to have offensive tackles Lane Johnson and Andre Dillard back in the fold. They also traded up for Hurts' former Alabama teammate, wideout DeVonta Smith, although he's currently sidelined with an MCL sprain.

Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter

Update on Eagles’ first-round pick DeVonta Smith: He is expected to miss two to three weeks with a sprained MCL, per sources. Smith underwent an MRI on Sunday that revealed the injury.

The Eagles still have tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and Hurts should have at least an average wide receiver trio in Smith, 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham. The Eagles also have a quality backfield tandem in Miles Sanders and Boston Scott.

Regardless of the supporting cast, Hurts has the confidence to believe in his development.

"When you talk about growing as a player, I know I haven't touched the ceiling yet, I haven't scratched it," Hurts said, per Dave Spadaro of the team's official website.

If Hurts can reach his ceiling, he won't care whether the Eagles have an extra first-round pick or an extra second-rounder in 2022. Either way, they'll use that pick to continue improving his team.