PHILADELPHIA — Brandon Graham laughed as he recalled all the doubters who rushed him during the offseason and blurted out the same question - the main concern, really - about the state of the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.
“What’s Jalen going to do?” said Graham, the strip-sacking defensive end.
Yes, it’s hard to remember now, but Jalen Hurts was a bit of a mystery headed into his second full season as the starting QB. His solid 2021 season was marred by a poor playoff performance against Tampa Bay (that included two crushing interception) and reports of a rough go at organized team activities.
So the question raised around Philly really was, what’s Jalen going to do?
“I don’t know how many times I got that from fans, even some media people,” Graham said. “’I don’t know, the X-factor factor is Jalen. We don’t know what Jalen is going to do.’”
How about take the Eagles to the brink of their second Super Bowl championship?
Hurts launched the Eagles from preseason 30-1 odds to win the Super Bowl to staking them as 1 1/2-point favorites against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
As the seconds ticked down in the NFC championship victory over San Francisco, Graham and Fletcher Cox embraced Hurts on the sideline. Just a couple of defensive stalwarts who wanted to thank the quarterback that made it all happen.
“I was just telling him, I appreciate him because of all the things that he had to overcome this year,” Graham said. “You didn’t see him get rattled not one time. Man, I’m going to fight for a guy like that every time.”
The only true setback this season was a sprained right shoulder that cost Hurts two games. He still is playing through it; Hurts was a modest 15-of-25 passing for 121 yards and ran for 39 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers. The 24-year-old Hurts has downplayed the severity of the injury from the beginning. He simply said Thursday, “I’m getting there.”
The AFC champion Chiefs are prepared for Hurts at full speed.
“This is the Jalen Hurts Show at the end of the day,” defensive end Frank Clark said. “If you can stop what he’s doing, you can possibly slow them down. But he’s playing some great football.”
Hurts is appreciative of the magnitude of the moment. Mahomes and Hurts are both Texas natives. They are both NFL MVP finalists. And they will be the first Black QBs to face off in a Super Bowl.
Hurts said he tried to live up to the trail blazed in Philadelphia by fellow Black quarterbacks such as Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham. While they are the most notable names, Rodney Peete and Vince Young were also Black starting QBs in Philly.
Hurts was honored to match up with Mahomes.
“I think it’s history. I think it’s something that’s worthy of being noted,” Hurts said.
The Chiefs beat the Eagles in October 2021 when Hurts threw for 387 yards and two touchdowns. Mahomes? Well, he threw for five. But the game was one of the earliest signs that Hurts would grow into the man in Philly.
“He had a great game this day,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said, “but he continues to get better.”
The Eagles stunned their fans when they drafted Hurts out of Oklahoma in the second round in 2020. They seemingly had Carson Wentz entrenched at QB and had more pressing needs. Hurt was expected to serve as insurance for Wentz. Instead, he supplanted him. Now the Eagles are on the road to Glendale, Arizona.
“When we drafted him, it was the upside we were banking on,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “We thought he had a huge upside. It takes a couple years. And somebody so dedicated as Jalen and such a great teammate, inevitably he is going to maximize everything he has and that’s what he’s done.”
The only mystery surrounding Hurts these days is just how much he can maximize his next contract. Hurts is due for a raise and he’s going to get paid. Mahomes agreed in July 2020 to a 10-year extension worth up to $503 million. The deal is worth $477 million in guarantee mechanisms and included a no-trade clause and opt-out clauses if guarantee mechanisms aren’t met. What’s Hurts worth? Try in the neighborhood of $50 million a season when it’s time to negotiate his second contract.
The only hiccup might be the length. The NFL’s salary cap will be $224.8 million in 2023, an increase of $16.6 million. At that rate, Hurts could be in his late 20s when the cap creeps toward $300 million and there’s more room to spend.
The Eagles are addressing those thorny topics after the Super Bowl.
“He is a great young leader. He is a terrific young quarterback,” Lurie said.
In just over a week, he could be a Super Bowl winner.
NOTES: The Eagles activated the 21-day practice window for punter Arryn Siposs to return from injured reserve. Siposs had been sidelined since mid-December with an ankle injury. The Eagles have since used veteran Brett Kern. Siposs could be activated for the Super Bowl ahead of Kern.
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