For as much of a meritocracy as football claims to be, we’re often stripped of the tidy, narrative arcs befitting of the players who deserve them.
Jalen Hurts, who, up until Sunday (and perhaps still so) is better known as a player who was callously removed at halftime of the college football national championship game and took it graciously while his replacement—current Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa—led the team to a dramatic victory. He was, until transferring to Oklahoma and lighting up the Big 12 en route to a silver medal in the Heisman race, a better example of how the game typically discards people once they are done fulfilling a specific duty for the program.
And while we should not hastily overstate what the Eagles’ 24–21 win over the Saints on Sunday meant, we can admit that it felt good. Hurts was lauded as a spark. He played and practiced well enough to make Carson Wentz look expendable and took advantage of the very kind of situation he was placed in at Alabama. It’s not a perfect comparison. It wasn’t the title game or the Super Bowl. But minus the kind of glossy, scripted deal that might better sum up his life’s journey to this point, sometimes the little moments are all we have.
It can be both an exciting and terrifying time to love the Eagles. Wentz’s contract is going to bind him to the team like a rusty anchor and will complicate their financial flexibility in the near term. And while there may be a belief that he can be repaired both mechanically and emotionally after a strange ride, this offseason and the months that follow will be ugly. No coach wants to enter camp with the spectacle of a quarterback competition. How often does that ultimately end well?
On the other hand, Hurts has upside and is incredibly affordable. If he’s able to manage games like he did on Sunday, he is the kind of talent that a team could execute a quick and aggressive rebuild around, assuming Philadelphia can skirt some of their long-term financial obligations to Wentz (and assuming Hurts is still effective in his role). Looking around the NFL, he is the perfect example of where the game is headed anyway. Perhaps he can help the Eagles align themselves with an offensive identity after how completely scattershot they looked throughout this injury-plagued season.
That is ultimately what Eagles head coach Doug Pederson signed up to parse through once he made the decision to start Hurts in the first place. Given all the rocky terrain ahead, there’s a good chance he, too, has decided to live in the moment and appreciate Hurts’s night for what it was. He wanted a spark and he got one in a surprising upset against the previously 10–2 Saints.
If Hollywood somehow gets its claws into this season, then the Eagles’ final three games—against a reeling Cardinals team, a bad Cowboys team and a middling, first-place Washington team—might mean something in terms of the actual playoff picture. Hurts might get a chance to continue the journey beyond just a few meaningless games at the end of a lost season. Washington has Seattle and Carolina to beat before its matchup with Philadelphia in Week 17. The Giants have the Browns, Ravens and Cowboys. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that their season-ending matchup could mean something.
Even if it doesn’t, though, even if Hurts is ultimately backing up Wentz again next season due to the harsh financial reality of the situation, at least he had Sunday. He had a moment that the game doesn’t always give back to those who have been good to it.