By Pete Baxter
Things are looking up in Philadelphia. The team seems to have a renewed level of direction and cohesion under head coach Nick Sirianni, and it shows.
This week has seen the Eagles close two lingering, unanswered questions left open throughout the preseason. The biggest being who would start week 1 at quarterback. The second being whether or not the team would honor Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz’ request to be traded.
Let’s take a closer look:
Jalen Hurts Named Week 1 Starter
After dragging out the faux mystery as long as he could, Sirianni finally announced on Tuesday that Jalen Hurts would be the Eagles week 1 starter at quarterback. This was expected, as the Eagles had shown their dedication to Hurts as this year’s starter when they moved on from Carson Wentz. The only surprise was that it took this long for the announcement to be made.
When Sirianni took the job, he preached competition at every position. He is a man of his word. However, he has now ended what little speculation remained that Joe Flacco and newcomer Gardner Minshew could push for the starting job.
Sirianni discussed Hurts’ impressive summer in terms of the level of leadership and responsibility he had shown. He explained that Hurts had done “exactly what we wanted him to do.”
Hurts played extremely limited reps during the preseason, throwing just three of seven for 54 yards. However, he had an impressive training camp that saw him complete 72% of his passes with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions against the first-team defense. Most importantly, it was clear that he had won over a once-fractured locker room.
What it Means
This is Hurts’ team. The role of starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles is Hurts’ to lose. Barring an unfortunate injury or shockingly poor play on his part, I would expect the Eagles to give Hurts a long leash this year. He will most likely get this full season to show the Eagles coaching staff and front office what he can do.
As expected, Gardner Minshew was not brought in to challenge for first-team reps or the starting job. Minshew is perhaps the best backup quarterback in the league, however, and a fantastic insurance plan for the Eagles. Minshew is a solid game manager who does not turn the ball over. He had an impressive 37 to 11 touchdown/interception ratio through his first two seasons in Jacksonville. He is only 25 years old and is due to make just $850,000 this season. He has two years left on his rookie deal. The man behind the moustache adds outstanding depth at the quarterback position.
36-year-old Joe Flacco should quickly be demoted to third string. While he performed well in the preseason, primarily against second unit defenses, he hasn’t been a viable starter in three years. He could be made available for teams desperate to improve their own quarterback depth. Flacco is set to make $3.5 million this season on a one-year deal.
Most importantly, the Eagles have a gameplan and direction at the game’s most important position. Last season was a complete debacle in Philadelphia. It resulted in the team moving on from Super Bowl winning head coach Doug Pederson and a former MVP candidate quarterback. They rivaled the Houston Texans in dysfunction. Fortunately, under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni, things seem to be back on track.
Zach Ertz: Eagle for Life
One of the biggest signs that the team is buying what Sirianni is selling has been the change in attitude shown by veteran tight end Zach Ertz.
“I’m moving on from everything that happened this offseason. There have been apologies, there have been things that we’ve mended and, ultimately, I’m here, I’m excited to be here and I’m excited to be a member of this football team.” Ertz made these remarks Wednesday in his first public statement since he essentially bid farewell to Philadelphia in January. He had reportedly requested a trade not long after, and the Eagles had given him permission to seek a trade earlier in the summer.
Ertz is an Eagles legend. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and is second all-time in receptions in franchise history. He has shown chemistry with Jalen Hurts all summer. Paired with 26-year-old Dallas Goedert he gives Hurts one of the best tight end duos in the league.
The change in Ertz tune is a huge testament to changes within the Eagles’ franchise since last season. Nick Sirianni is developing a new, improved culture. Jalen Hurts is inspiring his teammates with his leadership and skill. The front office is doing a better job staying out of the way.
The tide is turning in Philadelphia. After the drama and chaos of last season, there was seemingly no where to go but up. Fortunately, the changes made by the team during the offseason, most importantly at quarterback and head coach, seem to be giving this franchise a fresh start.
Fly Eagles, Fly!