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Jalen Hurts' Potential Record-Setting Contract Won't Hold Back Eagles' Future

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) drops back to pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on Feb. 12, 2023. Nfl Super Bowl Lvii Kansas City Chiefs Vs Philadelphia Eagles

It seems like only yesterday that Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman caught a hundred different kinds of hell from fans and the media for spending a second-round pick in the 2020 draft on Jalen Hurts.

At the time, few beyond Roseman seemed to understand the logic of taking a quarterback – a running quarterback – with the 53rd overall pick just eight months after giving their incumbent QB, Carson Wentz, a $128 million contract extension, more than half of which was fully guaranteed.

But Wentz, while very talented, also was injury prone. He had played in just one of the Eagles’ six playoff games the previous three years and didn’t make it out of the first quarter in that game.

Carson Wentz injury
Carson Wentz on the sideline after tearing his ACL in December 2017.

Roseman felt it was imperative to develop a reliable, young backup for the short-term and a guy with starting potential for the long term in the event Wentz kept getting hurt.

As it turned out, it wasn’t Wentz’s injury problems that led to his departure from Philadelphia, but rather his insecurity over his own ability.

Three years later, Wentz finds himself on the unemployment line, while Hurts finds himself about to become one of the highest-paid players in the National Football League after leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl and finishing second to Patrick Mahomes in the MVP voting.

“The reasons we drafted Jalen were because he’s an elite competitor and an elite worker with elite talent,’’ Roseman said this week. “I think sometimes we use words like worker and competitive nature, and it gets framed to suggest that the guy isn’t extremely talented. But Jalen is an elite talent.’’

And he is about to get paid elite-talent money. Hurts is one of three quarterbacks from the 2020 draft who are expected to reset the league’s salary bar for quarterbacks this offseason. The other two are the Cincinnati BengalsJoe Burrow and the Los Angeles ChargersJustin Herbert.

Hurts, Burrow and Herbert all are expected to eclipse the current NFL high-water mark of $50.3 million a year by the Green Bay PackersAaron Rodgers.

Rank Player Team Average
1 Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers $50.3 million
2 Russell Wilson Denver Broncos $49 million
3 Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals $46.1 million
4 Deshaun Watson Cleveland Browns $46 million
5 Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs $45 million

Burrow and Herbert both were first-round picks, which means their four-year rookie deals have a fifth-year option that the club can exercise before May 1.

As a second-round pick, Hurts’ deal doesn’t include a fifth-year option, which means, if the Eagles don’t sign him to an extension, he would become a free agent after the season, and the team would have to use the franchise tag on him to prevent him from signing with another team.

But that’s not likely to happen. Both Roseman and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie understands Hurts’ importance and value to the franchise going forward and want to sign him to an extension ASAP.

“I don’t think he has anything to prove,’’ Lurie said a few days before Hurts racked up 374 total yards and four touchdowns in his team’s three-point loss to the Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII. “He’s an MVP-calibre quarterback, an incredible leader on the field and off.

“He’s 24 years old, incredibly mature, and most importantly, driven to be even better. What we’re seeing, I think, is just the beginning for him. This guy will attack every weakness, as he has since high school (and) since college. The future is bright and very exciting for all of us.’’

With Hurts still on his rookie contract last season and that $33.8 million dead-money cap hit they took in 2021 for trading Wentz in their rearview mirror, Roseman was able to make a number of pivotal moves last offseason that helped the Eagles get to the Super Bowl and earn him his second NFL Executive of the Year award in five years. Managing the cap is going to get considerably more challenging for him with a $50 million-a-year quarterback on his payroll. But that’s life in the NFL.

“You want me to get sentimental about how it was before we pay our quarterback?’’ Roseman said. “That’s the nature of the business. I think the better thing is when you have a quarterback who has a chance to be a great player and is good enough that you want to pay him.’’

Nicole Lynn will represent Hurts. She has about 20 NFL clients, including three former first-round draft picks – New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (3rd pick, 2019), Cleveland Browns left tackle Jedrick Wills (10th pick, 2020) and New York Giants right tackle Evan Neal (7th pick, 2022). But Hurts will be her first NFL mega-contract negotiation.

A look at some significant factors surrounding the Eagles’ contract negotiations with Hurts:

$50 Million Per Year? Get Used To It

If Hurts waits for Burrow and Herbert to sign before he does his deal with the Eagles, he almost certainly would get a little more money. But the feeling is that both Hurts and the Eagles want to get this done as soon as possible and aren’t going to wait and see what happens with the other two.

“If Jalen goes out and signs tomorrow, he should get at least $50 million, comparable to the highest-paid guy (Rodgers),’’ said Joe Banner, a former NFL executive and an analyst for The 33rd Team. “If he lets the other guys go first, then he’ll probably get $52 million to $55 million (per year). That’s what history says will happen. It doesn’t mean he’s better than Burrow or Herbert. It means he’s in the same elite group of quarterbacks as them. And because he did his deal a little more recently, he’ll beat the previous high by a little bit."

“But I think Hurts will go first. The big fight probably will be over the length. That’s what’s interesting about this situation. You’ve got a smart team. You’ve got a compelling player who has achieved an awful lot in two years as a starter in terms of how the team has done and how he’s done within it.

“The negotiation priorities are going to be simple. The team is going to want as long a deal as it can get. And they’re going to want the best average they can get. But they’re probably going to be willing to be somewhat flexible on the average (per year) in return for a longer deal. The player should want as short a deal as possible and be willing to give up a little bit of money on the average to get a shorter deal.’’

Most players and agents can be coaxed into longer deals because the amount of guaranteed money is bigger. But with there no end in sight to the NFL’s revenue growth and the league’s cap expected to increase more than $100 million over the next four years, Banner believes players should be angling for shorter deals so that they can get another bite at the apple sooner.

Year Cap Maximum Percentage
2023 $224,800,000 7.97
2022 $208,200,000 14.08
2021 $182,500,000 -7.92
2020 $198,200,000 5.31
2019 $188,200,000 6.21

How the NFL salary cap could grow by more than $100 million by 2027:

Potential Cap Growth
Year Cap Maximum Percentage
2024 $247,280,000 10
2025 $272,008,000 10
2026 $299,208,800 10
2027 $329,129,680 10

“To me, the most important issue by far for both sides is the length of the deal,’’ Banner said. “It’s a reasonable guess that the cap is going to go up $70-75 million in the next three years. That’s not some pie-in-the-sky number.

“It may sound crazy to the public to suggest that somebody making $45-50 million a year is going to be ridiculously underpaid 3-4 years from now. But there’s no deal you can write now that won’t look ridiculously low in four years when the cap goes up $100 million. If you’re thinking in terms of career earnings versus just the value of this one contract, he will make massively more money throughout his career if he does a short-term deal here versus a long-term one. And while the Eagles obviously would prefer he sign a long-term deal, they won’t re-sign him if he won’t go longer than three years. That’s not going to happen.’’

Challenging 2022 Offseason

With or without a new deal for Hurts, this was going to be a challenging offseason for the Eagles. They had the most complete team in the league in 2022.

But they have 19 unrestricted free agents, including seven defensive starters and two of five starters on what was considered the league’s best offensive line, and already are swimming in shallow salary cap waters. Spotrac has them just $1.1 million under the $224.8 million cap. is a little more generous ($5.6 million).

Several of those free agents, including defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, cornerback James Bradberry, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, linebacker T.J. Edwards and right guard Isaac Seumalo figure to be very much in demand when they hit the open market in less than two weeks. Bottom line: the vast majority of them won’t be back.

Roseman can perform his usual restructuring magic on some existing deals to create enough cap space to get Hurts’ extension done and maybe even sign a second- or third-tier free agent or two.

“The Eagles will try to make the case to Jalen and his agent that they can put a better team around him by taking a longer-term deal,’’ Banner said. “Because that’s the argument I would make too if I was sitting in (Roseman’s) seat. But the truth is, that shouldn’t be the player’s concern.

“There’s potentially going to be a degree of (player) loss that is going to weaken them. They have more (free-agent) guys than they can realistically keep. I’m sure they’ve already prioritized who are the couple most important. And Jalen’s deal, regardless of how short or long it is, won’t prevent them from being able to do that.

“They’ve been writing deals a little differently the last few years, where they’ve minimized the short-term charges and tried to keep them flat. As long as they keep doing that, they should still be able to re-sign Jalen and keep the few guys they’ve prioritized. Or find the next version of a Gardner-Johnson or Bradberry.’’

As Banner pointed out, Hurts’ contract extension, regardless of length or yearly average, isn’t going to have a significant impact on the Eagles’ salary cap this year, and probably even next year. By the time it does skyrocket, much of it will be offset by the dramatic increase in the cap.

A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith
Retaining star WRs A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith shouldn't be a problem even after a Hurts extension.

The Future is Bright

But paying your quarterback does not come without some difficult decisions, particularly on a team as talented as the Eagles. They currently have five players on their roster who have $18-plus million cap numbers in 2024: wide receiver A.J. Brown ($27.7 million), left tackle Jordan Mailata ($21.1 million), edge rusher Haason Reddick ($20.9 million), tight end Dallas Goedert ($19.5 million) and edge rusher Josh Sweat ($18.7 million).

When Banner was the Eagles’ president, he wasn’t a big fan of restructuring deals and pushing money into the future. Because eventually, you have to pay the piper.

But with the league finding new revenue streams and the cap continuing to rise, Roseman hasn’t been nearly as reluctant as Banner to push money into the future. The Eagles head into 2023 with $47.2 million in dead money (money allocated to players who no longer are with the team). That’s the most in the league by nearly $20 million.

The Eagles have two players with $20-plus million cap numbers in 2023: cornerback Darius Slay and All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson. Roseman likely will restructure both deals to create cap space, which means pushing more money into the future. He already has restructured 35-year-old All-Pro center Jason Kelce’s contract, and Kelce still hasn’t even decided yet whether he's going to play next season.

Getting back to Hurts’ contract, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who signed a five-year, $230.5 million extension last summer, had a $12.6 million cap number last season and $16.0 million this year before it jumps to $51.8 million in 2024. Murray signed the extension with two years remaining on his rookie contract after the Cardinals picked up his fifth-year option. That allowed the team to spread his $71 million signing bonus over seven seasons. (The difference in cap numbers is because his base salary leaps from $2 million in 2023 to $37 million in 2024.)

Russell Wilson was in a similar situation, signing his five-year, $242.6 million extension with the Denver Broncos with two years left on his previous deal. His 2022 cap number was just $17.0 million due to a $2 million base salary, a $5 million roster bonus, and the prorated portion of his signing bonus. It jumps to $22 million this year, $35.4 million in 2024 before going up to $55.4 million in 2025 when his base salary leaps to $37 million. But the cap likely will be north of $300 million by 2025.

The first-year cap number on Deshaun Watson’s fully-guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal with Cleveland was just $9.9 million due to his base salary being slightly more than $1 million.

“I think if they did Hurts and then lost everybody else, and they didn’t find some way to make some additions, then they certainly wouldn’t be as good a team next year as they were this year,’’ Banner said.

“But the most likely scenario is they’re able to do Hurts, keep one or two of their top free agents, find the next version of a couple of those other guys and stay in contention. You’ve got to count on a little luck and staying healthy and things like that. But the NFC probably still is going to be as weak as it was this year. So, I would expect them to remain a Super Bowl contender, even with the challenges all of that creates.’’

Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.