It was certainly familiar: last year, Nick Foles became a spectator watching Carson Wentz try to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl victory in his place.
It was also a surprise: now his successor, Jalen Hurts, is making a name for himself in the league.
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The West Alabama QB was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round last year, after being drafted in the fourth round by the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2016. Many had believed he would find his place behind Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant, who are in the final year of their contracts, but instead he has emerged as the competition for backup Matt Cassel, starting for two games last season.
Over the past two weeks, the 23-year-old has been the most popular rookie in the NFL, as teams have begun to use him as a running threat to run interference in the red zone.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hurts has accounted for five of his team’s 18 carries for touchdowns – the most of any rookie in the NFL – and scored on one of his carries in overtime in a win over the New York Giants.
He may be drawing some comparisons to Foles, but there are also more striking similarities with the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who was used frequently as a runner during his rookie season in 2012. They also share similar pass-catching skills, with Hurts’ teammate Ezekiel Elliott having raked in 654 receiving yards for the Cowboys last season.
Hurts needs to prove he can succeed on the field – and he needs to avoid the trap that Foles fell into last year. Though Foles spent the season as Wentz’s successor in Philadelphia, he still had trouble winning games after his rookie season: he began the 2018 campaign losing to the Dallas Cowboys before going on to lose a playoff game to the Atlanta Falcons.
Confusion over the future of some major player salaries has the entire NFL taking a peek at the budget
The Seahawks have long regarded Wilson as their franchise quarterback, but through his past eight years, he has failed to reach the playoffs or even win a playoff game, and his fan base has become frustrated.
When Seattle began negotiations with several free agents, Wilson began playing out the final year of his contract, bringing with him the best record among all NFL starting quarterbacks the last few seasons (albeit despite performing poorly in the last five).
His owner, Paul Allen, remained committed to his quarterback, rewarding him with a five-year extension that ensures the Seahawks will at least have their starter for several more years.
The success of Wilson has opened the door for other major player salaries.
A national uproar over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ landing of new running back Le’Veon Bell in a three-year deal starting at $14.5m per season has the entire NFL taking a peek at the budget. Bell’s performance the past few seasons has been suspect, and while he has paid the price with failure of his teams to get into the playoffs the past three years, it only added to the frustration of the Steelers fanbase.
It also seems like a tacit admission that the “pay me now or pay me later” approach that was so successful for Foles has finally run its course. Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, of course, continues to go from team to team under one contract, but there are those who feel that this approach has gotten old, and they are looking for an alternative to keeping young players active.
Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles finally decided that their backup quarterback wouldn’t be spending another second of his professional life on the bench. They handed his job to Wentz, who was promptly rushed into action against the New England Patriots after Carson Wentz’s devastating knee injury. The Eagles went on to defeat the Patriots but lost Wentz for the rest of the year.
Now, with concerns that it might be the last season for Foles and with Bradford potentially returning to the Eagles, it may be that the NFL has seen the end of its practice of bringing in backup quarterbacks and then eventually cutting them.