“I believe in everyone here,” Hurts said. “We plan on fixing everything that we’ve done and growing together — Coach Sirianni, Brian, everyone.”
A week later, the Eagles confirmed the return of head coach Nick Sirianni for a fourth year, as Sirianni and general manager Howie Roseman met with reporters Wednesday. But the franchise has released offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, whom Hurts has known since childhood, after one year of coordinating and two more as Hurts’ quarterbacks coach.
The decision was complicated. On one hand, releasing Johnson positions Hurts to work with his whopping ninth play-caller in the past 10 seasons, dating to his high school years. Perhaps not coincidentally, Hurts’ strongest, MVP-caliber campaign in that stretch was the season he did not have to adapt to a new coordinator. In Hurts’ Year 2 with Shane Steichen, the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.
Eagles GM Howie Roseman: "We accept responsibility. Whatever the product is at the end of the day, that’s on me. That’s on coach. So we don’t ask the players to make these decisions…"
Howie says they gather info from players & colleagues but decision comes down to them 2. https://t.co/tx2yJltjeE
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) January 24, 2024
On the other hand, the Eagles were clearly headed toward organizational change. They lost as many games in the last six weeks of the 2023 regular season (five) as they lost in the 24 months prior. Hurts also regressed from 2022 to 2023, his passer rating falling from 101.5 to 89.1 as he threw interceptions on 2.8% of passes (15 total), up from 1.3% (six).
After their playoff loss at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Hurts questioned the Eagles’ lack of offensive identity. Like the defense, his unit needed new direction. And so, one year after losing both their offensive and defensive coordinators to head-coaching roles, the Eagles are again in the market for both positions.
As they hunt for their third offensive coordinator in three years, it's worth asking: What will the role of the position be under the offensive-minded Sirianni? And most importantly: How will that new coordinator help Hurts?
Eagles looking for new OC 'to take away the staleness'
Sirianni envisions a three-part challenge for his new hire.
“A guy who has a vision, a guy who’s going to call the plays, a guy who’s going to be able to coach the quarterback in the same sense there,” Sirianni said. “I’m hiring him to do a job and to be in charge of the offense.”
Until that hire is made, it’s too soon to quantify exactly how much influence Sirianni and the coordinator will each bring to Philadelphia’s 2024 scheme. Sirianni wants to build off the ideas that worked in the passing, running and protection schemes during the Eagles’ successful run of 25 regular-season wins the past two seasons. No team surpassed that mark; the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers matched it.
But the piling losses at the end of this regular season suggest that some change is needed.
“Obviously, with the 1-6 finish, there were things that got stale,” Sirianni said. “This new person coming is meant to take away the staleness.”
Sirianni envisions a coach who either does not come from the same coaching tree he does or has worked for coaching influences Sirianni hasn’t encountered. Don’t expect this hire to have worked in Philadelphia the past three years.
Sirianni also said he’s not limiting his search to candidates from one type of offensive system. His concern is instead whether they can adapt the system they bring to the skill sets of the Eagles’ current roster. With Hurts, receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, tight end Dallas Goedert and talented offensive linemen, the Eagles still front one of the most talented offenses in the NFL.
“We have a lot of those pieces in place,” Roseman said. “This cupboard isn’t even close to bare.”
But the recipe needs better design and direction. The Eagles want an offensive coordinator who can guide Hurts to more consistency as a passer, revert the turnover trend that spiked this season and reestablish the Eagles’ confidence and effectiveness in the RPO game, as Yahoo Sports’ Nate Tice detailed.
Sirianni said Hurts still played at a high level during portions of the Eagles’ stretch of six losses in their final seven games. Philadelphia’s defense was leaky then, confused by a midseason coordinator change that color analyst Troy Aikman referred to as an “overreaction” to consecutive losses. So while Hurts is among the Eagles who need to improve in 2024, Roseman and Sirianni expressed confidence that he will.
“I think there was a lot of questions after that first year about some things. ‘Could he be the passer?’ or whatever the questions were, and he came out and put together an MVP-type season the following year,” Sirianni said. “For 11 weeks this year, he was on top of the MVP talk. You guys asked about that, [and then] we all had a bad stretch through the last portion of it.
“I know the things that Jalen needs to work on and the things that we'll sit down together and talk about. No doubt in my mind that he's going to bust his ass to do that because that's who he is.”
Out to 're-prove ourselves,' Eagles must determine new vision
The Eagles first must decide what type of coach they want to pair with Hurts. How tough a leader do Roseman and Sirianni think he needs to reach his potential? Is someone with whom Hurts has no prior relationship — and thus, fewer conflicts when critique is needed — a benefit?
Schematically, the Eagles also need to determine how much they want to emphasize the run and how much the pass. How do they want to marry the concepts? How much were Hurts’ struggles this season reflective of knee and finger injuries, and how much stemmed from his field vision and subsequent decision-making?
Expect Sirianni to work with his new coordinator to determine a healthy schematic blend — and for the coaching staff to study principles none of them has worked with before, at the NFL and collegiate levels.
“We'll go to a college. We’ll bring somebody in here to make sure we're studying things that we want to learn more about,” Sirianni said. “Whether that's something we want to just learn more about, whether that's something we were deficient in last year, those will be all the different topics of what our professional development is.”
When Jalen Hurts is asked about Eagles’ six losses in last seven, he names “identity” as one of the key problems pic.twitter.com/MaxSQXsBkL
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) January 16, 2024
“Then you also have the things from our offense that we've done well in the past. This will be our offense. This will be the Philadelphia Eagles' offense, not whoever offense or my name on it ... This will be our offense.”
Hurts’ execution will ultimately shape it. But he suggested from his locker last week that he prefers not to design it.
“Owners own, coaches coach, and players play,” Hurts said. “I just want to play at a high level. I have a ton of confidence in coach [Sirianni], I have a ton of confidence in Howie, I have a ton of confidence in [team owner Jeffrey] Lurie.
“I have to do my job and control the things that I can.”
Sirianni will do the same, though his control will extend further. He said he did not need to “sell” the Eagles on bringing him back after the late-season spiral, with Philadelphia’s success over the past three years weighing more heavily than its fracturing over the past two months. Still, all eyes will be on Sirianni to engineer a quick start to 2024 and fade the end-of-2023 memories from his locker room.
“We’ve got to re-prove ourselves,” Sirianni said. “We’ve got to go prove it again. That’s how I feel right now. That’s how I’m attacking this offseason. That’s how I’m attacking this upcoming season as we get ready for it. Just hungry to be able to prove myself again.
“We’re going to prove them right again.”