Eagles move on Jalen Hurts as Carson Wentz’s 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 deservedly so. Hurts was the MVP runner-up this past season, taking the Eagles to the Super Bowl, where they came one defensive stop short of beating the Kansas City Chiefs.

So Johnson was the slam-dunk pick to be promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, replacing Shane Steichen, who became the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach two weeks ago.

It makes sense. Johnson, 36, has known Hurts since Hurts 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 hitting the shots because Johnson’s promotion benefits the entire offense. But it’s clear how important it is to 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 per season.

So yeah, it’s all about Hurts.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said as much at 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 get sentimental about what it was like before we paid our quarterback?” Roseman said with a laugh. “That’s the nature of the business. The best thing is when you have a quarterback who’s good enough that you want to pay him.”

Roseman wouldn’t go into specifics about whether those contract talks are progressing, or what it’s going to cost the Eagles, other than to say this:

“You want to find a win-win solution. 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’s not going to be a huge contract for him because he deserves it too.”

This is a good place to pause because it was only four years ago that the Eagles felt the same way about Hurts’ predecessor, Carson Wentz.

The Eagles wanted to make it all about Wentz, and they paid him that way. In June 2019, the Eagles signed Wentz to a four-year deal worth as much as $128 million, with a record $108 million guaranteed.

While that’s pocket change compared to what it will cost to sign Hurts, it showed the Eagles’ commitment to Wentz as their franchise quarterback.

But Wentz couldn’t do 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 1/2 games.

Since then, Wentz has been traded twice before suffering the latest indignation, and was unceremoniously released by the Washington Commanders on Monday.

This was no surprise. The Commanders save $26 million on the salary cap by releasing Wentz.

But it shows how far Wentz has fallen that Washington felt it was better to pin its hopes on Sam Howell, last spring’s fifth-round pick, who started one game last season.

The move was so complete that it left only one question for head coach Ron Rivera at the Combine.

“There’s a lot of things we have to look at as far as our team,” Rivera said. “Everything from the cap to the position itself, and the situational circumstances that we went through last year. (Wentz) is a heck of a young man. He’s a solid man and I want to wish him the best. I really appreciate everything he did for us, and the opportunity he had to come here.

“He did the best he could, and we really appreciate that too.”

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

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

Hurts will have an offensive coordinator running an offense geared toward Hurts. Wentz will be in an offense targeting 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 that way,” Eagles coach Sirianni said at the Combine. “And his relationship with Jalen. Brian is a sharp, sharp guy. I trust him for so many different things.”

But for the most part, Sirianni will lean on Johnson to continue Hurts’ progression. And he made it clear, saying “you’re not going to see much change” with Johnson.

Hurts completed just 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 this past season, after the Eagles traded for wide receiver AJ Brown, adding him to DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert. Hurts completed 66.5% of his passes, threw for 3,701 yards and ran for 760 more. He combined for 35 touchdowns, tying a franchise record.

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

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

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

Desai just needs to get the Eagles to make one stop in the Super Bowl, something they couldn’t do against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

It’s kind of a testament to the Eagles’ faith in Hurts. The Eagles thought they had it with Wentz, just like the Colts and Commanders, only to watch Wentz self-destruct into NFL oblivion.

“If you don’t have a quarterback, you’re looking for one,” Roseman said. “You can’t win in this league without a great quarterback playing 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 still be looking.

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

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