PHILADELPHIA — They don’t keep track of such things, but it seems a safe bet that Jalen Hurts leads the NFL in pithy expressions. Consider just the Eagles’ last two games. After the team’s victory over the 49ers in the NFC championship game, Hurts was asked about being benched in college. He said: “As the times change, the character doesn’t.” After the Eagles’ loss in Super Bowl LVII, he asserted: “You either win or you learn.” Even then, deep into the postseason, he was adding to his total, separating himself from the pack. The man is unstoppable.
His aphoristic relentlessness continued Monday morning at the NovaCare Complex, during his first group media availability since the announcement that he and the Eagles had agreed to a five-year contract extension worth as much as $255 million. Someone asked Hurts why he was content to sign a deal that was half a decade long and that wasn’t fully guaranteed. Couldn’t he and his agent, Nicole Lynn, have negotiated a shorter extension that got Hurts to free agency quicker and assured him more cash? Sure, that kind of extension probably would have chewed up more of the Eagles’ salary-cap space and limited their spending power, but at least Hurts would have gotten every dollar he could have.
“Money is nice,” Hurts said. “Championships are better.”
With that, half a million Eagles fans fainted from pure ecstasy.
We do love our press conferences in Philadelphia, and Hurts delivers the goods in that regard as well as any sports figure here in recent history. These public interactions are always part truth and part performance art for the athletes, coaches, and executives who are obliged to engage in them, and Hurts, to a degree, is no different. Those who ask him questions threaten to taint him with “rat poison.” He gives cagey, mysterious answers to fend off prodding reporters. He does his best not to let anyone on the outside inside.
Through all of that parrying and riposting, though, Hurts so far has managed to win over people here, and he has done so in a way that two of his predecessors, Donovan McNabb and Carson Wentz, really never did. He has the added advantage, of course, of being as close to a real-life Rocky story as a franchise quarterback can be, but it’s more than that.
McNabb could be flat-out goofy at times. He tried to make jokes and often the punchlines didn’t land. He strummed that air guitar before the Eagles got destroyed in a playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. There was a looseness in his game that developed as the years went on, as he put on extra pounds and injuries piled up. As for Wentz, at his worst it was as if he would rather make a spectacular unsuccessful play than a safe and smart successful one, and he always struggled to accept his measure of the blame for a loss or a poor performance. Repeating the phrase That one was on me a few times would have gone a long way for him.
Hurts has been more disciplined and controlled than either of them, in his play on the field and in the manner he carries himself off it. Give the Eagles credit for this: As badly as they misread Wentz’s character when they drafted him in 2016, Hurts has validated the core reason that they were willing to take a chance on him in the second round in 2020. They didn’t know how good he would be. What they believed, and banked on, was that he would do everything he could to ensure he was as good as he could possibly be.
“When you have the talent, what [are] the odds of that person really maximizing every ounce of their talent today and in the future?” Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie said. “That was really an evaluation of Jalen that superseded probably a lot of general consensus at the time.”
To have watched his development over the subsequent three years and to see him Monday, on that dais, was to understand why the Eagles felt confident in that evaluation. Hurts has a gravity and a sincerity to him that appeal to the hardest of the hard-core football followers here. In Philadelphia, an athlete has to show — really show — that winning means more to him or her than the spoils of stardom and celebrity. In Philadelphia, an athlete has to make it clear that he or she cares as much as the fans do. In Philadelphia, if you try, people will love you forever.
Jalen Hurts, from every available indication, tries. And he insisted Monday that his new wealth will change nothing about his approach. That the endorsement opportunities that will be available to him now and the ratcheted-up pressure to return to and win a Super Bowl will not prevent him from “keeping the main thing the main thing.” That he will continue to try.
It’s the highest of standards that he has set for himself, and people here will hold him to it at the same time that they adore him for it.
“I play this game because I love the game — not for any other reason,” he said. “I truly love the game, and I hate to lose. In a team sport, you get a certain type of thrill and gratification from doing that with someone else, from putting that work in with someone else, from everybody committing to one common goal and trying to achieve that goal in the end. That’s what made us so special, and that’s what’s evolved in my three years here, and that’s the precedent we want to set for the future.”
Quick. Someone get some smelling salts. Another half a million just hit the deck.