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Spadaro: Unlocking a key to Eagles' sustained success

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

There have been some hiccups along the way, but if you want to point to a singular reason – and the truth is, there are many reasons, but let's just single out one of them – for the success the Eagles have had since Jeffrey Lurie purchased the team, look no further than the quarterback position.

Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, the Eagles lacked consistency at the position. There was Randall Cunningham and Rodney Peete and Ty Detmer and, for a minute, Bobby Hoying and even a little bit of Koy Detmer and then Doug Pederson as a placeholder before Donovan McNabb took over as the starter and brought stability, high-level play, and, not so coincidentally, a lot of victories.

In those early years after Lurie took over, the Eagles were a playoff-caliber team for a few of the seasons, but they were never really a threat. When McNabb, the second player taken in the 1999 NFL Draft, entered the lineup, the Eagles became a championship-caliber team.

The lesson: Good quarterback play matters.

And for many of these last dozen-plus seasons since McNabb was traded to Washington on April 4, 2010, the Eagles have gotten good play from the position. Michael Vick resurrected his career and became a Pro Bowl selection and Comeback Player of the Year winner in 2010. Nick Foles was a revelation in 2013. Carson Wentz was the best quarterback in the league in 2017 until he was injured, and then Foles stepped in and helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII.

The ups and downs from 2018 through 2021 mirrored the play at quarterback and then Jalen Hurts happened and here we are, treasuring a young player entering the prime of his career coming off a 2022 season in which he was a finalist for the Most Valuable Player Award, an All-Pro, and a Pro Bowl honoree.

We talk a lot about how the Eagles value the lines of scrimmage and that is very, very true. A football team, Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman has said time and again, is built from the trenches out. The Eagles invest a lot of assets into their offensive and defensive lines, and for good reason. The rewards on those investments are handsome and clear.

Quarterback is the most important position in the sport, and the Eagles have been, for the most part, remarkably effective at transitioning from one generation of starter to the next, and making sure that the entire quarterback room, and not just the starter, is in good shape.

Foles was a starter and then a backup and then a legend. Hurts was a backup and then a developing player and now a star. There is a line of progression here, and there is also an element of understanding your place in the pecking order.

It's very clear here: Hurts starts, newly signed Marcus Mariota backs up, and Ian Book continues to develop.

"He's a great, young quarterback and I'm looking forward to working with Jalen and helping any way I can to win games, to make him better," Mariota said in our one-on-one interview on Wednesday. "This is a very talented team, one that was one win away from winning the Super Bowl last season. Very impressive team and Jalen obviously was tremendous.

"I know my role. I've always valued the team-first mentality and to be with this kind of team and to think that I can make an impact, I just couldn't pass up this opportunity. That's the mindset you have to have to be successful and I think we can build something special together."

The Eagles have a lot of work to do with the roster ahead – the remainder of NFL free agency, the NFL Draft, everything that happens after the Draft – but they've taken care of the game's most vital position by adding Mariota to the mix. He's an eight-year veteran who started 13 games and threw 15 touchdowns against nine interceptions and added 438 yards and four touchdowns on the ground with Atlanta last season.

His skill set fits in nicely with what the Eagles do offensively and with what the offense asks the quarterback to do. Mariota is a veteran who has been in the league long enough to see it all, so his experience and wisdom and leadership will be welcomed in the quarterback room, where chemistry is vitally important.

"That's something I really learned when I was with the Raiders and with Derek (Carr)," Mariota said, talking about the 2020 and 2021 seasons he spent in Las Vegas. "When you have a strong quarterback room, it kind of trickles down to everybody else. The quarterback room, you have to be able to be a sounding board, you have to be able to be a guy that tells the truth because, at the end of the day, if the guy who is playing is playing better, it's just going to make the room look good. I believe in that 100 percent.

"My opportunity to be there for Jalen – it's kind of crazy to think I'm an older guy (Mariota is 29) – to just share the experiences that I've been through – and if it's one little nugget that he gets that makes a difference on a third down, that's important to me, and I'm going to do whatever I can do to do that."

Maybe it's taken for granted a bit because the Eagles have pretty much always had an answer at quarterback – admittedly, there have been a few hiccups – but it should be noted. Look around the league as teams scramble to get to the top of this NFL Draft to pick a quarterback. Take note of how teams have taken gambles on acquiring quarterbacks via trade or in free agency. Make sure to remember just how few of those moves pan out.

There are plenty of reasons the Eagles have been a premier franchise for so long, but getting it right at the quarterback position is right there at the top of the list. It isn't easy, as the rest of the NFL can attest, but the Eagles have done it consistently now for nearly 25 seasons, and the position the Eagles have put in place for 2023 is as strong as any in the league and a prime example of why the present and the future are so bright for this football team.

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