What will Jalen Hurts' journey to the Super Bowl mean for his Eagles' future?

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Inside a smoke-filled Philadelphia Eagles locker room two weeks ago, offensive coordinator Shane Steichen was recapping his team's fresh NFC Championship Game win when his quarterback, cigar in left hand, sauntered past in dress slacks of a shade that might have impressed the "Miami Vice" cast.

"Purple ... too much," Steichen joked.

Jalen Hurts glanced back at his offensive coordinator, nodded with a 100-watt smile and persisted through the haze with the same conviction witnessed in his read-option runs.

Hurts walks -- and plays -- like a franchise quarterback, one who propelled Philadelphia to a 15-2 record on the way to a narrow Super Bowl LVII loss. He's also a compelling case study not because of the wins, but because of how and how quickly he went from second-round backup to an MVP candidate quarterbacking sensation, and what it means for his earning potential in the NFL quarterback pantheon. Hurts has one season left on his rookie contract, meaning the negotiation clock with the Eagles has started.

What is one brilliant season worth?

Before Hurts' impressive Super Bowl performance, some league execs said they saw Hurts as good but not elite, a byproduct of an Eagles system catalyzed by the league's most dominant offensive line and a bevy of playmakers. Super Bowl run or not, that group did not see Hurts as someone who would live up to a top-five NFL contract.

Others viewed Hurts more favorably, as a modern NFL quarterback with all the tools, someone who belongs in the club of quarterbacks making $40 million a year. That group believes Hurts is someone who can lead the Eagles for the next decade. Sunday's performance on the game's biggest stage only reinforced that perspective. But that type of evaluation could be a tension point for an organization with eight starting defenders set to hit free agency and a front office with a roster construction chore ahead.

Would the Eagles really risk the prospect of letting a 24-year-old quarterback who played at an MVP level and led them to their fourth Super Bowl appearance in 57 seasons slip away?

"You can't afford to let him get to next year," an NFC exec said.

THE THROUGH LINE in Hurts' career has been his highly publicized challenges on the field. Benched at Alabama, drafted on Day 2 in 2020, falling flat with a two-interception playoff performance last year vs. Tampa Bay.

But it's a résumé balanced by critical counterpoints: two College Football Playoff appearances at Alabama and another after transferring to Oklahoma. He got his starting job in the NFL as a rookie despite the presence of Carson Wentz, then the face of the Eagles franchise and two years into a $128 million contract. The Super Bowl run that has been Hurts' undeniable, crowning achievement.

Hurts says he accomplished all this by adhering to basic principles of any workplace: Work well with others, be inclusive, put others before yourself. Not every quarterback figures this out.

"Being thrust in so many different situations, the No. 1 thing is you have to invest in your teammates," Hurts said. "You have to invest time in your coaches as well. If you have a relationship with someone, you know them on a personal level, I feel they are going to play harder for you on the field. That's a huge credit to where we are now. We've come so far because we've been truly connected all year."

Three NFL quarterbacks have won a Super Bowl at a younger age than Hurts was when he took the field at State Farm Stadium on Sunday. Those three quarterbacks -- Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes -- will stand shoulder to shoulder in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. Mahomes, at age 27, made his third appearance in the game Sunday and won his second title.

While Hurts is not yet in that historic tier, his improvement has been rapid. He ranked fourth in QBR at 66.3, up nearly 12 points from the previous year, and that's not counting his 23 rushing touchdowns since 2021, tops in the league among quarterbacks.

Doug Williams, a former Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Washington, watched Hurts this season and said he believed he'd been proven right. Back in 2019, while serving as Washington's senior vice president of player personnel, Williams says he liked Hurts as a late first or early second-round talent (Hurts went late second round, 53rd overall).

"I saw exactly what Philadelphia drafted," Williams said. "He's matured a lot. It's not all about him as a runner. He's learned how to sit back there and get the ball out of his hands. He's done that. He's patient. A leader, can throw and run -- he's a coordinator's nightmare."

Hurts' biggest improvement in two years as a starter is "his ability to know what the defense is going to do before they get there," tight end Dallas Goedert said.

Goedert noticed the trend in Week 2, and that meant "game on" for the season. Early in the week, Hurts and Goedert had discussed the same scenario Minnesota's defense would show them on the field -- safety rolling to Goedert, the corner cheating up, leaving Quez Watkins deep. Hurts saw the Vikings' tendency in-game and hit Watkins for the 53-yard score over the top.

"I feel like [before] he would wait to see what the defense is going to do and then make his decision," Goedert said. "Now he's eliminating reads because of the coverages knowing what will be taken away based on how the defense plays, going through reads faster."

He followed the Vikings win by putting together winning drives in Week 5 against Arizona and Week 10 against Indianapolis. Hurts had the highest fourth-quarter QBR (84.3) of any passer this season. His 52 completions of 20-plus yards ranked seventh in the NFL, and his 11 passes of 40-plus yards ranked fifth.

Hurts was at peak efficiency Sunday night, when the Eagles converted 11 of their first 18 third downs, most of which came from Hurts' arm or legs. And when the offense needed a two-point conversion to tie the game at 35, Hurts -- who had just rushed for his third touchdown -- powered through Chiefs traffic for a stretched-out score late in the fourth quarter. It came at the end of a patient, composed 75-yard drive when all the momentum favored the Chiefs. The fact that Kansas City subsequently chose to leave little time for Hurts to work continued magic was telling.

"With all the [labels], all the branding, what people have been saying about him in the media -- guy threw for [304] yards, three [rushing] touchdowns," said left tackle Jordan Mailata from a solemn Eagles locker room postgame. "Not bad for a system QB, right?"

Hurts' season also showed the path to a Super Bowl is often about who can limp there -- increasingly so at quarterback, which saw a record 64 different starters leaguewide. Injuries plagued both Super Bowl quarterbacks, with Mahomes suffering a high ankle sprain in the divisional round and Hurts spraining his shoulder in Week 15. The injury cost Hurts two games, and possibly an MVP. There were moments during the playoffs when Hurts would slide or get out of bounds, eschewing a physical style that can be reminiscent of a running back. This signified the injury might have been worse than the team let on. Hurts himself said for weeks that he wasn't 100%.

The Eagles' offensive light show carried on regardless, gliding to wins over the inferior Giants and the depleted 49ers by a combined 55 points. Hurts threw for a total of 275 yards in those games. He didn't have to play hero. The Eagles were considered the league's deepest team in 2022, an amalgam of elite line play, veterans making the best of second acts and an infusion of high-end skill players. Their offensive line, running backs and playmakers did the heavy lifting in the postseason. Philadelphia's versatility allowed it to become the first team since the 1998 49ers with five 300-yard passing games and five 200-yard rushing games in a season, including playoffs.

So Hurts had plenty of help ... and was also the engine, up until the very end. Teammates and coaches lauded his expertise in the run-pass option attack, and the Chiefs spent significant time in their Super Bowl preparation trying to account for it. Those efforts were far from a resounding success, with Hurts rushing 15 times for 70 yards and three touchdowns on a night when he also topped 300 passing yards.

"He's been doing it going back to his college career," Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said beforehand. "[The Eagles] know what he can do well and tailor it toward that, and you can see the results. ... I've seen him from the pocket make big plays. But when he does get outside, he can improvise and make plays and make you look bad."

But Spagnuolo's words hint at something evaluators around the league are quick to point out. A common refrain, both among people on radio row at Super Bowl LVII this week and others inside the NFL, is Hurts is an elite runner who is most dangerous outside the pocket. Keep him in the pocket, they say, and that's the defense's best chance.

That's not exactly a compliment. You won't hear that argument for the top passers, such as Mahomes, Joe Burrow or Josh Allen, who, yes, are good on the move but are considered true pocket passers.

Measuring Hurts' performance against that backdrop is complex. Before Sunday night, he has not often put Philadelphia on his back but was the common denominator, a player who continually impressed his coaches and players with an ability -- or insistence -- in setting a tone.

Running back Miles Sanders suggested Hurts' biggest impact was as someone who was felt or heard at every turn, from inspired messages breaking down the team to a calming presence in the huddle.

Hurts is a player "who controls the whole team with his energy," Sanders said.

Center Jason Kelce takes it a step further: Hurts makes the offensive line look better than it is because of his versatility and how defensive coordinators must account for his every step as a dual threat.

Hurts would never say that, which brings Kelce to a broader point about Hurts' demeanor.

"It's a lot to have to prove yourself over and over again, getting labeled a system quarterback, get labeled with a lot of people telling you what you are and pointing out your faults and your shortcomings," Kelce said." And to have the courage to continue to prove your worth and show people how good you are and improve while not telling people to go f--- themselves. It's a hard thing to do."

HURTS MIGHT BE the most important draft pick in general manager Howie Roseman's tenure, which began in 2010. Roseman raised eyebrows throughout Philadelphia and within league circles by drafting Hurts high on Day 2, while he had a big-money, 20-something starter in Wentz. Roseman's logic was that the most important position in sports can never have enough good players. It's logic that has proven sound as recently as the 2017 season, when the Eagles' former starter and one of the league's best backups, journeyman Nick Foles, led the team to its first Super Bowl title in place of an injured Wentz.

That sentiment might say a lot about Philly's offensive future, and Hurts' place in it. Because the Hurts gamble paid off in a big way, the Eagles might reward that. But the very plan that led them to Hurts suggests they could try to replicate it -- and they have two first-round picks to try.

Complicating matters is an Eagles free agent class featuring at least eight key defensive players, including big-ticket linemen Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Javon Hargrave. C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps have formed a potent safety duo. James Bradberry has been a revelation at corner. And Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards combined for 269 tackles and 14 pass deflections. That's serious firepower that could be on the way out, and trying to keep the core intact could affect Hurts' bottom line.

With that in mind, what is hardest to know -- especially when it comes to the notoriously tight-lipped Roseman -- is how the organization might quantify Hurts' leadership when it considers his next contract. It's an intangible teams try to identify in draft rooms and free agency meetings but often can't.

Stories of the quarterback's work ethic, influence and poise are well-worn themes inside the Eagles' team facility. He organizes offseason workouts with teammates in South Florida. He stays after practices to throw extra passes. He pores over details with coaches.

"It's one of those things [with Hurts] where you kind of know something good is going to happen," running backs coach Jemal Singleton said. "He's going to will it to happen with how he works and how he trains in the offseason and how much time he spends in the building."

Steichen encapsulates it as "mental DNA," which places Hurts in a rare club.

"I'm not going to say who they are, but you can probably pick them on a short list," Steichen said. "Those guys who are obsessed with their craft, and you respect it."

No one with the Eagles has seemed especially worried about contracts over the past month. Inside State Farm Stadium, they savored the moment, standing tall against a Chiefs team capable of a dynasty and ultimately falling short in what was an all-time classic.

But with the Super Bowl run now a piece of history, the conversations about Hurts' future are about to increase in intensity. If his career arc is any indication, Hurts will remain the same guy through it all, and will persevere no matter the Eagles' direction.

"I had a purpose before anybody had an opinion," Hurts said.