The Philadelphia Eagles made the move no one in the Delaware Valley saw coming at the beginning of 2020: Carson Wentz was benched and Jalen Hurts was named the starting quarterback. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson announced the new starting quarterback Tuesday, giving Hurts the keys to the franchise in his rookie season -- looking to boost one of the NFL's worst offenses and give the Eagles their best shot at actually winning a football game.
"We're not where we want to be as an offense," Pederson told Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro Tuesday. "I looked at the whole thing and decided that for this week to look for that spark again to try to get the team over the hump, to try to get everybody playing better."
There are plenty of factors why the Eagles chose Hurts and benched Wentz, who is owed $132 million over the next four seasons, to start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints -- and may go with the rookie on a permanent basis. Here's why the Eagles made the decision now.
Wentz has been one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks
There's no defending Wentz for how poorly he's played this season. He's been one of the worst quarterbacks in football and his numbers showcase that. Of the 32 qualified quarterbacks in passing statistics, Wentz ranks second-to-last in completion percentage (57.4%), fourth-to-last in interception percentage (3.4%), third-to-last in yards per attempt (6.0), and third-to-last in quarterback rating (72.8). He's been sacked a league-high 50 times this season, or a league-high 10.3% on drop-back attempts.
Wentz is also second in the league in bad throw percentage (percentage of poor throws per pass attempt) at 22.2%, and only 70.4% of his passes are on-target (passes that would have hit the intended receiver), which ranks fifth-worst in the league. Only Drew Lock has been worse than Wentz amongst the qualified quarterbacks this year, which justifies the Eagles' decision to bench him.
No matter the talent -- or lack thereof -- surrounding Wentz, the Eagles quarterback didn't do himself any favors with his numerous giveaways and bad decisions over the first 12 games of 2002. Benching Wentz is the last resort to get through to the franchise quarterback.
Pederson is trying to save his job
The Eagles head coach is fighting to be retained in 2021, just three seasons after leading the franchise to its only Super Bowl championship. The regression of Wentz is only part of Pederson's problems in Philadelphia. He has compiled a record of just 21-22-1 since that Super Bowl championship. Poor decision-making and never-ending coaching changes on the offensive side of the ball have hindered that unit, which is the sixth-worst in the league in points scored and fourth-worst in yards per game. The Eagles have the fourth-worst pass offense in the game but are second in the league in yards per carry -- yet they throw the ball 64.33% of the time, which is the third-highest in the league.
The result is a 3-8-1 record, second-worst record in the NFC, with a franchise quarterback who is fragile physically and seemingly mentally as well. Pederson and the numerous offensive coaches' failures with Wentz have played a major role in why the team is turning to Hurts.
Howie Roseman is trying to justify drafting Hurts
Not even a full calendar year after making Wentz the highest-paid player in NFL history, Roseman, the Eagles' GM, used a valuable second-round pick on a quarterback. It's a pick the Eagles wouldn't part with to move up in the first round to draft a wide receiver. Hurts was selected with the 53rd overall pick as a player the Eagles were to develop behind Wentz, but teams don't just use a high draft pick on a quarterback for that reason.
The Eagles front office saw enough in Hurts to select him on Day 2 of the draft to eventually replace Wentz as the starting quarterback. Philadelphia can actually get out of Wentz's contract in the 2022 offseason, saving $6.7 million in cap space if they are able to find a trade partner for him. Per Over The Cap, the Eagles can actually save $852,928 in cap space if they trade Wentz before the third day of the new league year.
Of course the Eagles were hoping for significantly different circumstances, hoping Wentz would play on par with his 2017-to-2019 form -- so the front office can either keep him around or trade him and receive maximum value in return while having a quarterback (Hurts) on his rookie contract. Instead, they'll accelerate the process of playing Hurts because Wentz is in the midst of the worst season of his career.
If Hurts plays well over these final four games, Roseman can actually make a case to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie why he should keep his job -- since his recent track record of draft picks and free agent signings won't help. A cap wizard, Roseman can find a way to get out of Wentz's contract and rebuild the Eagles roster around Hurts, finding the pieces the offense needs to succeed around him.
If Hurts fails, Roseman loses his job and the Eagles find a new general manager to rebuild this organization.
The Eagles want to revamp their offense
Philadelphia clearly was caught up in imitating the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers zone-run scheme that took over the NFL last season, which is why they made an aggressive pursuit of Mike LaFleur (49ers passing game coordinator) and James Urban (Ravens quarterbacks coach) to be their offensive coordinator this past offseason. Both coaches have extensive knowledge of the zone-run scheme, which the Eagles can efficiently run with Hurts at quarterback.
Not only is Hurts an option to run often like Lamar Jackson, but the Eagles have an excellent duo at running back in Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. Sanders has struggled catching passes this year, but Scott has been one of the better receiving backs in the league. Doug Pederson has always preached time of possession and controlling the football, which the Eagles can accomplish in an effective zone-run scheme -- led by Hurts. Don't be surprised if the Eagles adjust their personnel and Philadelphia actually has a higher run-play percentage under Hurts, making his life easier as he adjusts to being a NFL starting quarterback.
The zone-run scheme may be here to stay in Philadelphia -- and could save Pederson's job in the process.