The curious case of Christian Hackenberg took another unusual turn on Sunday, when the former New York Jets’ second-round bust will get his next chance at stating his case an NFL quarterback with a decidedly unexpected team: The defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
But it remains to be seen how long Hackenberg will actually remain in Philadelphia.
The Eagles already have three quarterbacks on the roster, including No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz, Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles and third-stringer Nick Sudfeld. So this will likely be nothing more than a chance for Hackenberg to get in some practice throws in training camp before the Eagles send him packing before the start of the regular season.
But at least Hackenberg signed somewhere other than waiting at home for a call from an NFL team. After failing to get into a single game during his two seasons with the Jets in 2016 and 2017, Hackenberg was traded to the Raiders in May for a conditional seventh-round pick.
Why the Raiders? Well, coach Jon Gruden, who was an ESPN analyst when Hackenberg was drafted out of Penn State in 2016, had considered him a first-round talent the year he came into the NFL. So he gave up a conditional seventh-round pick to the Jets to get Hackenberg. But even Gruden realized early on that he couldn’t do anything to jump start the quarterback’s career. Three weeks after the trade and more than a month before the start of training camp, Gruden released Hackenberg and the Raiders got back their seventh-round pick.
Training camp arm: There’s little chance he sticks with the defending champs and will likely serve as a training camp arm to give Wentz and Foles some relief from the practice grind. But if Hackenberg needed a good landing spot, then this was it. Head coach Doug Pederson has already shown himself as one of the league’s best quarterback coaches, and his work with Wentz and Foles has been splendid.
The Eagles don’t win a Super Bowl unless they got excellent play from both quarterbacks last season, and that was exactly the case. With Wentz enjoying a breakout season in his second year, he guided the Eagles to an 11-2 record before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Foles, who had previously considered retiring from football, did a magnificent job in relief as he led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship. He capped off a remarkable playoff run by outdueling Tom Brady in a 41-33 thriller in Minneapolis.
The Eagles have declared Wentz the starter going into this season, but Pederson is being careful with getting him back into contact drills. And Foles recently complained of spasms in the right side of his neck. Thus, the Hackenberg signing is almost certainly out of an abundance of caution.
Failing with Jets: Hackenberg’s failure to develop with the Jets is one of the factors that ultimately led them to where they are today: brimming with optimism about their current cast of quarterbacks. Veteran Josh McCown took advantage of poor play from Hackenberg and fellow backup Bryce Petty to claim the starting job last season, and he did a credible enough job to be asked back as the starter in 2018.
But general manager Mike Maccagnan pulled off a major coup by trading up from No. 6 overall to No. 3, and after the Browns took Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first pick and the Giants went running back with Saquon Barkley at No. 2, Maccagnan got prized USC quarterback Sam Darnold with the third pick. Not only that, but Maccagnan signed former Vikings first-round quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Both Darnold and Bridgewater looked terrific in Friday night’s preseason opener against the Falcons, and Jets coach Todd Bowles acknowledged afterward that it’s a very good problem to have in deciding which quarterback will go into the season as the starter. McCown won the job by default last year, but now the Jets might go with Darnold the same way the Eagles anointed Wentz the Day 1 starter in his rookie season in 2016.
It’s a staggering turn of events from the time the Jets had viewed Hackenberg as their quarterback of the future. But rather than turn into a big-time passer, Hackenberg did nothing to convince his coaches he deserved to be on the field.
Two years was long enough.