The real reason Eagles' Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow are leading QB revolution
PHILADELPHIA − It's easy to draw the conclusion that there's a changing of the guard in the NFL with the caliber of young quarterbacks playing in the two conference championship games on Sunday.
The Eagles are certainly in that category with Jalen Hurts, an MVP finalist, who's 24 years old. He's going against the 49ers Brock Purdy, who's 23, in the NFC championship game for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
In the AFC, the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, 27, is going against the Bengals' Joe Burrow, 26, for the second straight season. Mahomes and Burrow are also MVP finalists.
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It's the first time since 1996 that all four QBs in the conference championship games were all under the age of 28. Hurts, in fact, could become the fourth youngest to win a Super Bowl. He'll be 24 years, 189 days on Feb. 12. Only Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger (23, 340), Mahomes (24, 138) and Tom Brady (24, 184) were younger when they won.
"I think that's great for this league," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. "It feels like the more guys that play quarterback at a high level in this league, the more exciting this league is. ... It's exciting to have some of these young guys go against each other. (In the AFC,) they look like they’ve got a really cool rivalry going on there with Burrow and Mahomes, and then we have two young guys in the NFC."
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Sure, the young QBs are stars and should be for many years to come.
But there's another dynamic at play, which explains why these young quarterbacks are all on the NFL's biggest stage. And that has as much to do with the NFL's salary structure as it does their prolific talents.
Three of the four QBs are on their rookie contracts. And in the salary-cap era, that has allowed their teams to spend liberally to build a deep and talented team around them.
Hurts, for example, counted just $1.6 million against the Eagles' salary cap this season. That enabled the Eagles to trade for and sign wide receiver A.J. Brown, who set a franchise receiving record with 1,496 yards, to a four-year deal worth as much as $100 million. They also signed pass rusher Haason Reddick, who finished second in the NFL with 16 sacks, to a three-year deal worth as much as $45 million, and cornerback James Bradberry to a one-year deal worth as much as $10 million.
It also enabled the Eagles to keep veteran stalwarts in center Jason Kelce, right tackle Lane Johnson, defensive linemen Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Javon Hargrave and cornerback Darius Slay. In addition, the Eagles had salary cap room for the mid-season signings of veteran defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh.
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It's the same for the 49ers, who were originally going with rookie Trey Lance at quarterback until he broke his ankle in Week 2 and had season-ending surgery. Lance was picked No. 3 overall, or 259 spots ahead of Purdy, the 262nd and last pick of the draft last spring.
Compare that with the old guard of quarterbacks who average at least $45 million per season in Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, the Buccaneers' Brady, Denver's Russell Wilson, Cleveland's Deshaun Watson and Arizona's Kyler Murray.
Brady was the only one of the five to reach the playoffs, and his stay was brief and humbling.
Mahomes is another QB who got paid, averaging $45 million per year. But he had already won a Super Bowl, gotten to another and reached the AFC championship two other times before his extension kicked in.
The Chiefs used Mahomes' rookie deal to build around him. They had to make some tough decisions after paying Mahomes, such as trading star receiver Tyreek Hill, but they have survived that so far.
The Eagles are still one more season away from having to place Hurts in that salary stratosphere.
"The young quarterbacks that can really play at this level, at a high level, you can build around him," Slay said. "And then when it’s time to make him right (with a big contract), you make him right. ... You gotta take advantage of the young quarterback.
"So if you definitely got one that’s playing at a high level, why not (add around him)? You got Joe Burrow over there chilling. That’s a win-win. That’s how some franchises get started, being with a young quarterback.
"At one time, Peyton Manning was a young quarterback, and (the Colts) built all around him. Mahomes, then they brought all the guys to get around him. That’s how the game operates."
Of course, you have to have the star young quarterback in the first place.
And the Eagles have that with Hurts as a passer as he threw for 3,701 yards in 15 games, ran for 760 more, and improved his completion percentage to 66.5% and passer rating to 101.6, fourth best in the NFL. Then he and the Eagles demolished the Giants 38-7 in the NFC Divisional Round.
But they also have that in Hurts as a leader, as running back Miles Sanders explained.
"Ever since he got here, he took control of the whole building, starting with the locker room, just being himself," Sanders said. "It’s not like he was trying to. That’s just him, being himself. It started on the field with his play, then we go as he goes.
"He’s even-steven out there. Nothing bothers him. He doesn’t get shook up or riled up. He just wants to win and he tries to put us in the best position to win, and all I can do is respect that. That’s all anybody can do is respect that."
This is why Hurts and the other young QBs are still playing. They're great, and they're cheap − for now.
A Super day?
By now, you're well versed on how the Eagles and 49ers have the top two defenses in the NFL. But is there a weakness that either team can exploit that'll make the difference?
For the Eagles, they can take advantage of the 49ers' pass defense that ranks 20th in the NFL. San Francisco gives up 223 yards passing per game. That means Eagles receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith can have a big game. But that's only if the Eagles' offensive line can give Hurts enough time to throw, especially with Nick Bosa, who led the NFL with 18½ sacks, coming at Hurts.
Hurts, of course, can buy himself time with his running ability, so even though the 49ers give up only 78 yards per game on the ground, the Eagles will have to run, too, both with Hurts and Sanders.
As for the 49ers, they are built around four top receivers/running backs in Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Christian McCaffrey and tight end George Kittle, especially going over the middle.
If the 49ers had Hurts at quarterback, they'd be unstoppable. But the 49ers have Purdy, and he has never faced a test as he'll face with Reddick, Josh Sweat and the waves of defensive linemen coming after him. And in a hostile and frenzied environment like Lincoln Financial Field, that's going to be too much.
Score: Eagles 27, 49ers 19.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Why Eagles Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes lead QB revolution