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NFC East Reporter
If he’s not healthy enough to play, the decision is simple — or it should be, at least. Jalen Hurts is way too valuable to the Philadelphia Eagles and their Super Bowl chances to put him in any kind of danger of making his injury worse.
Of course, it’s not that simple. There are degrees to most injuries. There are pain thresholds to consider. They have to think of the importance of the last two games of the regular season since the Eagles still haven’t clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Also, there’s this: Even if the Eagles do clinch the top spot with Gardner Minshew at quarterback, would it really be wise to hold Hurts out until the divisional playoffs, where he’d be taking the field having not played for a month? Shouldn’t he get some work?
Jay Glazer gives an update on Eagles’ Jalen Hurts
Fox’s Jay Glazer gives an update when we could see Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts back on the field.
All of that is what’s bouncing around inside Eagles coach Nick Sirianni’s head right now as he ponders one of the biggest decisions of his young coaching career — whether or not to play his injured franchise quarterback on Sunday against the Saints (1 p.m. ET on FOX). But there’s only one factor that should really matter:
The Eagles (13-2) are not going to make a Super Bowl run if Hurts gets hurt again.
That’s really the bottom line to Sirianni’s big decision: Hurts must be protected at all costs. If he’s not 100 percent, if he’s not to a point where he would’ve even played in a meaningless, midseason game, there’s just no point in playing him on Sunday at home against New Orleans.
“We’ll see,” Sirianni said on Monday. “One day at a time here. We know how much he wanted to play last week and how much he did to get his body ready. Again, with Jalen his body heals different than yours and mine, right? He’s going to do everything he can do to get himself healthy.
“If he’s healthy, he’ll play.”
Expect that to be the line Sirianni gives all week — “If he’s healthy, he’ll play” — so it looks like it’s a medical decision, completely in the doctor’s hands, as it should be. It’s what he said a week ago, too. He even gave the same line about Hurts being a remarkable healer.
Then Hurts never even made it to the practice field all week.
Hurts’ injury is not a serious one, according to multiple sources. It’s a sprained SC (sternoclavicular) joint in his right (throwing) shoulder, that depending on the severity usually takes about two weeks to fully heal. If the doctors believe the joint is stable and Hurts can tolerate the pain, he’ll be cleared to return to action.
But there is danger, even for a magical healer like Hurts, especially if he takes a hit on the shoulder — something that seems likely if he’s used the way he usually is by the Eagles, who have run Hurts an average of 11 times per game this season. The coaches could always minimize the risk, lean more on Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott in the run game.
Risk, though, is always there.
But with someone as valuable as Hurts — literally one of the most valuable players in the league — the risk for this game just isn’t worth it. Minshew is one of the best and most experienced backup quarterbacks in the NFL. He was pretty good against the Dallas Cowboys last week, too, completing 24 of 40 passes for 355 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. “Overall, a really strong performance by him,” Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said.
Dak Prescott’s 3 TD performance leads Cowboys to win over Eagles
Nick Wright, Kevin Wildes and Greg Jennings discuss the Cowboys victory over their NFC East rival Eagles in Week 16.
Yes, the Eagles lost 40-34 because of four turnovers — three that were Minshew’s fault — but that’s because the Cowboys turned them into 20 points. The Cowboys (11-4) have one of the NFL’s best offenses. They are probably the second-best team in the NFC, and one of the Top 7 in the entire NFL. The Saints (6-9) are simply not that good. Neither are the Giants (8-7-1) whom the Eagles face in Week 18. And all the Eagles have to do — if they don’t get the help of one loss each from the Cowboys, Vikings and 49ers — is beat either the Saints or Giants at home in the next two weeks.
Surely, Minshew can do that with this Pro Bowl-laden roster around him. And if that means Hurts spends a month standing on the sidelines, who cares? He’s an MVP candidate running an all-star team. Nobody should be worried about rust.
The only thing to worry about is whether he’ll be available for what the Eagles believe will be a long postseason run. They should be terrified of the thought of being without Hurts, especially now that their long run of good health seems to have ended. They lost right tackle Lane Johnson last week to a torn tendon in his abdomen, and cornerback Avonte Maddox to an injured toe, and neither of them will be back before the start of the playoffs, at least. And they still don’t know for sure when safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson will return from his lacerated kidney.
Adding Hurts to the list would be the one blow the Eagles probably couldn’t survive and still make a run at Super Bowl LVII. OK, sure, they did it back in 2017 when they lost Carson Wentz and backup quarterback Nick Foles pulled off a miracle. But Wentz wasn’t nearly as integral to that team’s success as Hurts is to this one.
Also, who wants to really bet on something like that happening again?
So Sirianni should tread very lightly as he ponders what’s next for his star. Yes, “If he’s healthy, he’ll play,” but that should only be if Hurts is fully healthy, not if they have to alter their game plan to protect his shoulder, not if there’s even the smallest risk of making it worse. They are already in the playoffs. They can surely clinch the No. 1 seed without him.
But if Hurts gets hurt again, it’s only a matter of time before their dream season ends. And it won’t end with another parade.
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Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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