Everything the Eagles did Tuesday in naming Brian Johnson the offensive coordinator was about one person, and one person only: Quarterback Jalen Hurts.
And deservedly so. Hurts was the MVP runner-up this past season, taking the Eagles to the Super Bowl, where they came one defensive stop short of beating the Kansas City Chiefs.
So Johnson was the slam-dunk choice to get the promotion from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, replacing Shane Steichen, who became the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach two weeks ago.
Johnson, 36, has known Hurts since Hurts was 4 years old and Johnson was being coached by Hurts’ father, Averion, in high school.
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That’s not to say that Hurts is calling the shots. But it’s clear how important it is for the Eagles to keep Hurts happy.
And at some point, perhaps soon, the Eagles will make Hurts very happy with a contract extension averaging in the $50 million per season range.
So yes, it’s all about Hurts.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said as much at the NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday, when asked what he saw in Hurts to draft him in the second round in 2020.
“You want me to get sentimental about how it was before we pay our quarterback?” Roseman said with a laugh. “It’s the nature of the business. The better thing is when you have a quarterback that’s good enough that you want to pay him.”
Roseman wouldn’t go into details about whether those contract talks are progressing, or what it’s going to cost the Eagles, other than to say this:
“You want to find a win-win solution. You want to find something that he feels really good about, and at the same time, we feel good about, and surround him with good players. He knows that. He’s a smart guy. He understands that.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a tremendous contract for him because he deserves that, too.”
This is a good place to pause because it was only four years ago when the Eagles felt the same way about Hurts’ predecessor, Carson Wentz.
The Eagles wanted to make everything about Wentz, and they paid him that way. In June 2019, the Eagles signed Wentz to a four-year deal worth as much as $128 million, with a record guarantee of $108 million.
While that’s pocket change compared to what it’ll cost to sign Hurts, it showed the Eagles’ commitment to Wentz as the franchise quarterback.
But Wentz couldn’t handle it. He bristled when Hurts was drafted in the spring of 2020. Then he had a dreadful season and was replaced by Hurts for the final 4 1/2 games.
Since then, Wentz has been traded twice before suffering the latest indignity, getting unceremoniously released by the Washington Commanders on Monday.
This wasn’t a surprise. The Commanders are saving $26 million on their salary cap by releasing Wentz. They’re pinning their hopes on Sam Howell, their fifth-round pick last spring.
It was such a fait-accompli that it only garnered one question to head coach Ron Rivera at the Combine.
“There are a lot of things that we have to look at as far as our team is concerned,” Rivera said. “Everything from the cap to the position itself, and the situational circumstances we went through last year. (Wentz) is a heck of a young man. He’s a solid man, and I want to wish him the best. I really do appreciate everything he did for us, and the opportunity that he had coming here.
“He did the best he could, and we really appreciate that as well.”
So if Wentz plays in 2023, he’ll be with his fourth team in four seasons. Most likely, it will have to be either as a backup, or as a “placeholder” starter for a team that is drafting a franchise quarterback this spring.
And the difference between Wentz’s and Hurts’ situation this season will be striking.
Hurts will have an offensive coordinator running an offense geared for Hurts. Wentz will be in an offense geared to a quarterback that is not him.
So it was easy to see why the Eagles promoted Johnson.
“I thought that was the natural progression for us to go that route,” Eagles coach Sirianni said at the Combine. “And his relationship with Jalen. Brian’s a sharp, sharp dude. I lean on him for so many different things.”
But mostly, Sirianni will lean on Johnson to continue Hurts’ progression. Hurts completed just 51% of his passes after replacing Wentz in 2020. Then Sirianni, Steichen and Johnson took over, and Hurts, in his first season as the full-time starter, improved to 61%.
Hurts got even better this past season, after the Eagles traded for wide receiver A.J. Brown, adding him to DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert. Hurts completed 66.5% of his passes, threw for 3,701 yards and ran for 760 more. He combined for 35 touchdowns, tying a franchise record.
Then in the Super Bowl, Hurts threw for 304 yards and ran for 70 in the 38-35 loss to the Chiefs.
“You’re not going to see a lot of change,” Sirianni said about promoting Johnson. “There will be little differences and little different ways that the game is called, but the way the offense is run with everything is going to be exactly the same.”
It wasn’t the offense that lost the Eagles the Super Bowl.
That’s why the Eagles interviewed a half-dozen known defensive coordinator candidates before hiring Sean Desai as Jonathan Gannon’s successor after Gannon got the Cardinals’ head coaching job.
Desai only has to get the Eagles to make one stop in the Super Bowl, something they couldn’t do against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
That, in a way, is a testament to the Eagles’ belief in Hurts. The Eagles thought they had that with Wentz, just like the Colts and the Commanders, only to see Wentz self-destruct his way into NFL oblivion.
“If you don’t have a quarterback, you’re searching for one,” Roseman said. “You can’t win in this league without a great quarterback who plays at a high level. We saw how Jalen played in the Super Bowl on the biggest stage, and that’s exciting for our team, for our fans, for all of us.”
Whoever signs Wentz, meanwhile, will still be searching.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.