Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. Today's installment covers:
But first, a look at one title contender's enviable approach to team-building in an absolutely crucial area ...
If I am a QB-needy team prepping for the 2023 NFL Draft, I'm asking the Philadelphia Eagles to share the franchise's recipe for the game's most important position, having just watched Jalen Hurts finish second in MVP voting as a third-year pro. The 2020 second-round pick's ascension to the ranks of the quarterbacking elite is the latest example of Philadelphia's identification-and-development model producing another blue-chip player for the franchise.
Going back to the 1999 draft -- in which Philadelphia nailed the No. 2 overall pick by taking Donovan McNabb -- the Eagles have received positive play from the position for a quarter century. With Philly's offensive reins held by signal-callers like McNabb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Carson Wentz and now Hurts, the Eagles have been consistent playoff/title contenders due to the organization's ability to cultivate quarterbacks into difference-making starters or valuable trade commodities.
"For better or worse, we are quarterback developers," general manager Howie Roseman said shortly after drafting Hurts in April of 2020. "We want to be a quarterback factory. We have the right people in place to do that. No team in the National Football League has benefitted more from developing quarterbacks than the Philadelphia Eagles."
While critics back then admonished Philadelphia for spending the No. 53 overall pick on a developmental prospect less than a year after locking up Wentz on a four-year, $128 million extension, Roseman's foresight is one of the reasons why the Eagles are fresh off a narrow Super Bowl loss and poised to compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future.
"No team has gotten more value from the quarterback positions than the Philadelphia Eagles," Roseman said three years ago, following the Hurts selection, per NBC Sports Philadelphia. "We talked about it, and obviously that's a factor. Our history is a factor, and that's the most important position in sports. ... We look at this pick as somebody who is really a tremendous player and person, and that's what the draft is about. The draft isn't about just doing whatever is best for a team in the short term. The draft is about making smart, long-term decisions for your organization based on the priorities that you believe are key to winning football games. We've won a lot of football games around here the last three years, and I feel very confident that the decisions we make are going to serve us well for the short term and the long term."
Fast-forward to 2023, and the Eagles GM deserves high praise for betting on the second-round pick with impeccable football character and intriguing physical tools. Although Hurts' game was far from polished when he left Oklahoma as the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Joe Burrow, the 6-foot-1, 223-pounder has become precisely what the Eagles envisioned as a quarterback and leader.
"We felt like this was a proven winner, a guy who is an incredible teammate. He's going to strengthen that quarterback room," Roseman said back in 2020. "We're looking at it as this gives us another weapon. This gives us another weapon in that room. This gives us another incredible teammate. This gives us somebody that is going to be incredibly supportive to our quarterback, and quite frankly, this is exciting. This is exciting. This is exciting for our quarterback. This is exciting for our football team, and this is the kind of decision that we're going to make. And we're proud of it."
With Hurts developing into a top-five quarterback possessing elite traits as a playmaker and leader, Philadelphia has cracked the code in QB evaluation and development. The Eagles accurately identified Hurts' intangibles (intelligence, leadership skills, toughness and work ethic); they were willing to bet on his football character despite the questions that persisted about his game. This roll of the dice has paid off in a major way for Philly, as Hurts has become one of football's most dangerous offensive weapons. The second-team All-Pro just became the first quarterback in NFL history with 10-plus rushing touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, joining Cam Newton as the only QB to accomplish the scoring feat in multiple years.
Having guided the Eagles to their second straight playoff appearance under his direction, Hurts finished the 2022 campaign with 43 total touchdowns (postseason included). Among qualified QBs, he ranked third in yards per attempt (8.0) and fourth in passer rating (101.6). Those two figures are part of a broader trend that has seen the young field general steadily -- and significantly -- improve as a passer over his three NFL seasons:
Given Hurts' consistent growth and increasingly spectacular play, particularly in Super Bowl LVII, the Eagles are poised to sign their star quarterback to a blockbuster extension that could reset the quarterback market. Hurts checks off all of the boxes as a franchise quarterback, and owner Jeffrey Lurie recognizes his value as a high-end QB1.
"I think the future is so great for him," Lurie said this week at the Annual League Meeting in Phoenix. "Jalen is the most mature 24-year-old I've ever come across. Each franchise quarterback is different. But I've always said to you guys, quarterback, GM, coach, facilities, stadium, scouting, those kinds of things, those are the keys. Once you can find it, that's when you're really excited. We'll be working with Jalen, I'm sure, for a long time."
With the owner committed to signing Hurts to a long-term deal, the onus is on Roseman to maintain a championship-caliber roster around a big-money quarterback.
"I think you have to navigate the offseason understanding we're not going to lose our franchise quarterback with one year left on his deal," Roseman said Monday in Phoenix, per ESPN. "So whatever that means, it's going to mean 2024 is going to look different -- we're not going to have a quarterback under a rookie deal. Not that we're talking about tags or anything like that, that's not our goal there, but we're going into it with our eyes open and understanding that we've got to kind of flip it (to have some younger, less-expensive players on the roster)."
Philadelphia has been to the playoffs in five of the past six seasons, making a pair of Super Bowls and winning one. Although it will be challenging for the Eagles to maintain a top-tier all-around roster with a $40 million quarterback, the Kansas City Chiefs have remained perennial contenders despite Patrick Mahomes' 10-year, $503 million extension. In fact, they just hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. After watching Hurts go toe-to-toe with the two-time MVP on the game's biggest stage, the Eagles should not have any reservations about fully compensating the QB1 with a megadeal that keeps him in Philly for the long term.
As an ascending player with everything you want in a franchise quarterback, Hurts is a dual-threat weapon and an extension of the head coach between the lines. His ability to galvanize teammates is a true talent, something that separates Hurts from many others at the position. Whether he's leading the charge as a high-level performer, providing inspirational talks in the huddle or locker room, or setting the tone with the right message at the postgame press conference, the fourth-year pro is the five-star general that every team covets in a QB1.
Given the Eagles' outstanding ROI on Hurts, among others at the position, teams should try to replicate their formula for quarterbacking success.
Seattle's three-headed monster at safety
It might have flown under the radar amid the NFL's free agent frenzy, but Seattle's decision to add safety Julian Love to a lineup that already features Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs could help the Seahawks get back to playing championship-caliber defense.
While that statement might come as a surprise to the critics who were expecting Love to replace the oft-injured Adams, the acquisition could actually help the former All-Pro safety regain his elite form after a couple of disappointing seasons that have led to questions about Seattle's return on investment following the blockbuster trade and subsequent $70 million extension.
After notching 9.5 sacks during his first year in Seattle, Adams has missed 21 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. The lack of availability and diminished production (zero sacks in the past two campaigns) have prompted speculation that the Seahawks could replace the veteran safety with the ultra-versatile Love in the back end. Although that is certainly possible in 2024, the upcoming season could result in a bounce-back year for Adams as he settles into his role as a pseudo-linebacker in a proposed three-safety package that puts the unit's most instinctive playmakers on the field at the same time.
With Love and Diggs playing as a split-safety tandem in a scheme that mixes in some quarters coverage and two-deep looks, the Seahawks have a pair of high-IQ defenders calling the shots from the back end. The duo's combined range and ball skills should discourage opponents from taking downfield shots against Seattle's umbrella coverage.
Last year, Diggs notched his sixth straight season with at least three interceptions, the longest active streak in the NFL today. He picked off four passes while ranking first among qualified safeties in receptions allowed (10) and completion percentage allowed (47.6 percent), per Pro Football Focus, while also finishing second in passer rating allowed (60.7). As an established ballhawk with 23 career picks, including 14 over the past three seasons with the 'Hawks, Diggs should continue to thrive as the designated center fielder in the middle of Seattle's defense.
Love comes over from New York with a game that makes him an ideal candidate to be the Swiss Army Knife of Seattle's defensive backfield. As a former green dot defender (defensive play caller) with the Giants, the 25-year-old possesses the instincts, awareness and IQ to make plays from multiple spots. Whether he's lining up as a traditional safety or as a slot corner, Love's versatility will enable the Seahawks to move defenders around to create the best matchups in coverage while also producing some mismatches in pass rush and run defense. Considering he just finished his first season as a full-time starter with 124 tackles, two interceptions, five passes defensed and six tackles for loss as a Giants team captain, Love is upgrading Seattle's secondary with his versatility, intelligence and playmaking ability.
Moreover, Love's overall skills and positional flexibility will make it easier for the Seahawks to enable one of their top playmakers to reprise the role that helped him set the single-season sack record for defensive backs. Given the impact of pressure on turnovers, allowing Adams to consistently pin his ears back on blitzes should prove quite fruitful for Seattle.
Pete Carroll's defense hasn't finished in the top 10 in points or yards allowed since 2016. The Seahawks ranked 25th in scoring defense last season and 26th in total D. But with a three-headed monster at safety capable of wreaking havoc on foes from all over the field, Seattle's defense could return to dominance in 2023.