Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, and Jalen Hurts. The Philadelphia Eagles have a long history of starting Black quarterbacks. Add in Rodney Peete and the Eagles have had at least five starting quarterbacks over the last 30 years. That’s more than many franchises in the NFL.
It wasn’t until 2017 that all 32 active NFL teams had started at least one Black quarterback. Hurts understands the history of Black QBs, especially in Philly and he embraces the legacy.
“When I got drafted to Philly, it felt like, I don’t know, destiny,” Hurts said when asked about following in the footsteps of Cunningham, McNabb, and Vick. “I’ve definitely modeled my game in different ways around all of them over the years as I’ve grown and as I kind of hold this torch up of being the next dual-threat African American quarterback in Philly and knowing what that means to them and to this franchise. It’s important to me.”
Between Cunningham, McNabb and Vick’s time in the city of “brotherly love”, the QBs amassed 10 Pro Bowl selections, two All-Pro honors, and made 14 combined playoff appearances. The playoff appearances included four trips to the conference title game and one Super Bowl appearance.
Those guys, in particular McNabb, won. They never won the “big one,” but too much of that gets placed on individual performance. Quarterbacks get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses. But here we are. For Hurts he will have to start helping his team win, and this year is critical.
Young quarterbacks are taking over the league, and while it’s only year three for Hurts, his second as a starter, that pressure to win is going to start to increase. We already know how short of a leash Black quarterbacks are given in this league. If he struggles and the team struggles, he will be the scapegoat.
In Hurt’s draft class (2020) you have Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals) who already made a Super Bowl, and Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers) who was rookie of the year and made a Pro Bowl. Fairly or not, and Hurts was a second-round pick unlike those two, fans and media will start expecting similar type of results.
Then there is the extra pressure those quarterbacks never have to deal with. With any failure by Hurts or any other Black quarterback, it becomes a referendum on all Black players who hope to play the position.
Some of that is changing with the success of Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens), Russell Wilson (Denver Broncos) and Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals). But even that won’t make Hurts immune from the criticism. Some of it will likely be fair, and some of it won’t.
“I am a quarterback. I look at it as that,” Hurts said during an interview. “But I know we live in a world where some things mean a little more. I feel like, for me, a lot of kids who come up, just because he’s athletic, they want to change his position because he’s not the prototype. And those are typically the Black kids.
“I was a kid where I came out and I went to the best college in the country [Alabama]. Coach [Nick] Saban didn’t ask me to change my position, not once. I take pride in that. I take pride in being a quarterback. And I take pride in what it means to be an African-American quarterback because I know it’s not about me. I know how hard it was to get to this point.
“I know the people before me, the Warren Moons, one of the best quarterbacks to play the game, he had to go to a whole other league to prove himself. … There’s a deeper meaning to it all.”
Hurts accurately describes the burden. There is a deeper meaning. He knows his success means an opportunity for another behind him. He also knows his failure could mean another Black quarterback like him might not get an opportunity.
In his first year as a full-time starter, Hurts was middle of the pack. He was 17th in DYAR, and 17th in DVOA ahead of Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons), Jared Goff (Detroit Lions), Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns), and Daniel Jones (New York Giants).
None of those players had good years last year, but in Mayfield and Jones there is something illustrative. Both players have been given numerous opportunities to succeed as starters. Will Hurts be afforded the same luxury?
Time will tell. But even this early in his career, this coming season feels like an important one.