PHILADELPHIA - A pair of Eagles’ leaders were front and center Wednesday to put out one fire.
According to both Jason Kelce and Brandon Graham, the players were well aware that coach Doug Pederson planned to remove rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts at some point in the 20-14 Week 17 loss to the Washington Football Team, something that was viewed as “tanking” by much of the league and certainly the New York Giants.
Second-year Philadelphia running back Miles Sanders, who missed the game due to a knee injury, only exacerbated things while speaking on 94WIP Sports Radio Tuesday.
“Man, if I’m being honest, nobody liked the decision, nobody,” said Sanders. “That’s all I can say, really. I don’t know who was the main person behind that decision, all I know is that a lot of people on the team was confused.”
Hurts himself wasn’t confused and admitted to SI.com’s EagleMaven after the game that Sudfeld entering at some point was the plan although noted as a competitor he would have liked to stay in the game. Graham also said he was aware Sudfeld would be playing at some point at virtual cleanout day on Monday and reiterated that on Wednesday with WIP.
A Philadelphia Inquirer report indicated that certain defensive players were not happy with the decision and said that Kelce confronted Pederson about the change.
The fact that Kelce didn’t speak on Monday fueled further speculation that the All-Pro quelled on Wednesday via Instagram with a detailed explanation of the situation.
“Thought I would clear the air just to clarify and more accurately depict what happened during the game on Sunday,” Kelce started. “At the end of the third quarter I was told on the bench that Sudfeld was going into the game. I went up to Doug and asked him if he was taking Hurts out, he said “yes, I think Nate’s earned the right to play,” I said 'everyone else is staying in?' he said “absolutely."
“I then went to find Suddy. Started taking snaps on the sideline with him, called the other linemen over and had them listen to his snap count to make sure everyone was on the rhythm of his cadence, and then went out for the next drive.”
Kelce further explained none of this was confrontational between him and Pederson.
“At no point was anything from me or anyone else confrontational,” he wrote. “We all knew leading into the game that Sudfeld was told to be ready to play, and that Doug wanted to see what he could do in a game situation.”
Sudfeld, a five-year veteran, has been portrayed poorly by others outside the organization and Kelce also made sure to endorse the long-time backup.
“All of us during the week leading up were excited for Nate, a guy that has been with us for 4 years to get an opportunity in a real game to show the world what he can do,” noted Kelce. “We all have complete confidence in Nate as a player, there’s a reason he’s been here this long, and a reason the team brought him back. And that’s because we feel like Nate is a guy we can win with.”
Graham offered a similar sentiment Monday.
“I’m always happy when a guy gets an opportunity to go out there. I knew Nate was going to be playing in this game,” said the Pro Bowl defensive end. “I couldn’t wait to see him because I know it’s been a minute. Normally we get to see him in preseason games but didn’t have the luxury of doing it. I was happy to see Nate in there.”
Kelce did acknowledge the optics of the whole situation weren’t the best and he thought Pederson may have revisited the decision was it was clear the Eagles remained in the football game.
“I understand the optics of how it looked, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little surprised given the circumstances that the move happened when it did, but every one of us did our best, and all of us believe we can win with Nate Sudfeld,” said Kelce. “It was difficult situation to be put into, especially when you have a 10-year veteran center who doesn’t snap the ball to you accurately on your second drive of the game.
“I know we can win games with Nate, because I know Suddy can play, it didn’t work out on Sunday, but as always, that’s not just on him.”
Graham also sent a closed-circuit, tough-love message to Joe Judge and the 6-10 Giants - “don’t put yourself in that situation.”
“I understand what some people felt because they want to win," Graham admitted to WIP. "Yeah, we want to win. We out there trying to win. But at the same time people disrespecting Nate Sudfeld like he's just terrible. Nate deserved the opportunity and I knew he was supposed to get out there, I don't know why people didn't think that because he was excited all before the game.
“I don't know, man. I don't think coach (Pederson) has ever made me feel like he wanted to lose because he hates losing and when we lose, we feel that when we're in a team meeting that Wednesday of the next week talking about the game. Some people just didn't like the decision because they want to see Hurts in there, but at the end of the day this game didn't mean anything for us. We were still going home, so why not see who else you got out there? And if people have a problem with it, don't put yourself in that position—the Giants. Don't put yourself in that position.”
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Get the latest Eagles news by joining the community. Click "Follow" at the top right of the EagleMaven page. Mobile users click the notification bell. And please follow @kracze on Twitter.