This is called a no-harm, no-foul move. The Eagles’ decision to sign quarterback Christian Hackenberg represents the kind of thinking that made them Super Bowl Champions and has put them in a strong position to be a contender for years to come. With a quarterback situation that is already flush with talent and depth, the Eagles have a chance to look at a young man whose career veered way off track since his starring days in college at Penn State.
I’m not here to tell you that the Eagles are going to turn Hackenberg into a starting-caliber quarterback. Clearly, Hackenberg has yet to come close to putting it all together in the NFL. A second-round draft pick of the New York Jets in 2016, Hackenberg has yet to play in a regular-season game. In a bleak situation in New York, Hackenberg didn’t even warrant a sniff for game duty. He didn’t earn playing time for a lousy team. How is he supposed to help a Super Bowl team?
See, that’s where the thinking goes off course. This is all about, initially, helping Hackenberg. And the Eagles are in a position where they don’t need Hackenberg to play. They don’t need him as a savior. They just need him to believe in himself again. They need him to know that the Eagles have him in Philadelphia for a reason.
When the Eagles opened Training Camp and welcomed the full team at the NovaCare Complex, Howie Roseman stood in front of the players and told them that “you are all here for a reason. You are here because we want you to be here. We see something in every one of you that we like. We’re here to help you become the best football players you can be.”
The Eagles brought Hackenberg for a workout and he impressed them with his arm strength, his ability to push the football down the field. Hackenberg is a big and athletic man at 6-4 and 228 pounds. He’s a high-character player. Obviously, they know that Hackenberg didn’t play well in extended preseason playing time in 2016 and 2017. There’s a reason New York traded Hackenberg to Oakland this spring, and it’s alarming that Oakland released Hackenberg less than a month after making that trade.
But this is called a "why not?" kind of move. For however long the Eagles want, they can give Hackenberg a look and see if he shows progress. Does Hackenberg even play in a preseason game? It certainly would be tough for him to have success in that he hasn’t yet been introduced to the offense or the players around him. The angle here could be more that the Eagles look at Hackenberg’s mechanics and build him from the ground up under the tutelage of quarterbacks coach Press Taylor. And in many ways, signing Hackenberg is a large vote of confidence in the team's player-development portion of football operations.
Some intensive coaching in a stable, championship environment might do wonders for Hackenberg. And maybe the Eagles find something in Hackenberg, a five-star recruit coming out of high school who was just terrific in Penn State’s pro-style offense. Perhaps giving Hackenberg a chance in a quarterback room that will lead the way with professional preparation and terrific camaraderie is just what he needs.
Heck, the Eagles added Nate Sudfeld to the practice squad last September and nobody noticed. The Eagles invested in Sudfeld’s development, coached him up vigorously, and now Sudfeld is on the rise. Sometimes, you just never know. Sudfeld was a sixth-round draft pick from Indiana who didn’t give the Redskins enough reason to keep on the 53-man roster. The Eagles saw something – “We see something in every one of you that we like," as Roseman said – in Sudfeld and then worked him hard and saw Sudfeld develop quickly.
The goal for Roseman and Co. here is to build the very best 90-man roster the Eagles can have. Taylor is going to work with Hackenberg from the ground up and see what he’s got. Who knows where Hackenberg will be in the next few weeks? He’s still got practice squad eligibility, so if the Eagles really see something, maybe they can carry him for a bit longer there. Who knows? All options are on the table for Eagles and Hackenberg.
We know that Carson Wentz is The Franchise, and that Nick Foles is a starting quarterback dressed in a backup role for at least another season. The Eagles don’t even know who starts at quarterback for the September 6 opener against Atlanta, so having two MVP-level quarterbacks is grand. Sudfeld continues his development as the Eagles learn his ceiling – they love Sudfeld, by the way – but know that Sudfeld will be a restricted free agent after the 2018 season. Joe Callahan remains here knowing that he’s got to be more productive than he was in the preseason opener.
And now Hackenberg enters the picture. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but the Eagles did something smart here. They worked Hackenberg out and they saw something they liked, and they signed him. Simple. End of story.
Except in this case, the story is just beginning with Hackenberg and the Eagles. Where it goes is a story to watch for the rest of the preseason.