Why Kenny Pickett joining the Eagles made sense

ByTim McManus ESPN logo
Saturday, March 23, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- There's a popular meme among Eagles fans of general manager Howie Roseman looking from a stadium suite down to the field through a pair of large binoculars. It's usually dusted off around free agency and the draft when the longtime architect of the team kicks his roster-shaping efforts into overdrive -- a time known in the area as "Howie SZN."

That photo was taken in November 2021 when Roseman broke normal routine and attended a game between Pitt and UNC featuring a pair of top quarterback draft prospects in Sam Howell and the newest member of the Eagles, Kenny Pickett.

"Talking with Howie, I think he said it was the first college game he was at in three years or something," Pickett said. "A great memory I had at Pitt. Really cool that he was in attendance for that game and made it a point to be there after not previously going to a lot of games. I knew there was definitely interest from back at my Pitt days."

It took a few years, but in the opening week of free agency, Roseman followed through on that interest, acquiring Pickett from the Pittsburgh Steelers along with a 2024 fourth-round pick (No. 120) in exchange for a 2024 third-round pick (No. 98) and two 2025 seventh-rounders.

The circumstances have changed over the past couple years. Jalen Hurts has cemented himself as the Eagles' QB1 and is making an average of $51 million per season.

Pickett, taken 20th overall in the 2022 draft (when the Eagles declined to go the quarterback route and instead moved up to take Georgia DT Jordan Davis at No. 13), had a less-than-spectacular two seasons in Pittsburgh, going 14-10 as a starter while completing 62.6% of his attempts for 4,474 yards with 13 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

With the Steelers planning to start Russell Wilson in 2024, Pickett was moved to Philadelphia, where he hopes to get a fresh start. He is projected to be the No. 2 quarterback in a room that also features second-year player Tanner McKee, whom the Eagles remain high on.

Pickett was not the only quarterback Philadelphia showed interest in this offseason. The Eagles looked into Justin Fields, as well, a source familiar with the discussions said. But the Chicago Bears were inclined to trade Fields somewhere with a decent pathway to an eventual starting gig and ultimately dealt him to Pittsburgh.

In Pickett, the Eagles see an accurate passer with desirable traits who still has room to develop. It's widely acknowledged across the league that the offensive conditions in Pittsburgh weren't ideal over the past couple seasons, which leaves room for the possibility that Pickett's ceiling is higher than he has shown to this point.

And it was readily apparent at his introductory news conference that the 25-year-old Pickett, who grew up in New Jersey and was raised as an Eagles fan, is embracing the change of scenery.

"I wanted to get a chance to go somewhere else and continue to grow my career," he said. "The fact that it is in Philly, the [area] that I grew up and found a love for the game here, with a great coaching staff, great players -- I'm looking forward to meeting all these guys in a couple weeks when everybody gets back into town, but I think it's an awesome opportunity to join this team."

While Pickett and Hurts are in some ways different stylistically, Pickett believes there's a transferable skill set and pointed out ways in which he's a system fit, including familiarity with run-pass option concepts and being comfortable operating on the move.

Pickett still has two years remaining on his rookie contract and carries a cap hit of under $2 million in 2024. The Eagles get an experienced quarterback at a manageable salary to back up Hurts, who has dealt with various injuries over each of the past three seasons. Philadelphia has long been big on prioritizing the No. 2 quarterback spot -- look no further than Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles -- so the move is in line with organizational philosophy.

The Eagles get some security at the game's most valuable position, and Pickett gets a chance to reboot his career for a franchise that has had its binoculars on him for some time.

"I just want to be a great addition to the room," he said, "and help the team out any way I can."

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