For a team that finished the 2020 NFL season at 4-11-1, the Philadelphia Eagles have managed to grab plenty of headlines in recent weeks. From the benching of Carson Wentz a month ago to the benching of Jalen Hurts on Sunday night, there’s plenty to talk about. Few people are more qualified to talk about this team than Joe Banner, who was the team’s president from 2001-12. We caught up with Banner to get his thoughts:
The Eagles wrapped up the season falling to Washington, finishing 4-11-1 on the season. They will have the sixth pick in April. How do you feel about how the season ended for Philadelphia?
JOE BANNER: I‘m disappointed in the manner they lost the game. I have been in a situation where you almost prefer to lose. It is the last game of the season, you are out of the playoffs and it makes a difference in the draft. You would rather lose, but you are not literally throwing the game. I can’t even imagine not trying to win the game. Half the players that did not play could have played. Some were completely healthy and some had really minor injuries. They made different decisions on fourth down, they ran the ball a lot more than they usually do. They did not attack the weaknesses of Washington, and then they made the quarterback switch. I know what they think of Nate Sudfeld. They did not need to see Sudfeld. I am not usually a rule follower or anything like that, but the fact they “threw” an NFL game, I find really offensive. They thought it was more important to see Sudfeld than the guy who might possibly be their starting quarterback next season? This is a guy who has had three starts before Sunday.
In Howie Roseman’s press conference on Monday, he referenced a “Moneyball” quote, where Brad Pitt mentions he wants to keep his “distance with my relationships with the players.” Roseman responded by saying he probably has a little bit of a different approach. How did you manage that?
BANNER: This was certainly an issue I battled with. I made the decision to be more distant with the players. You still see them all the time, but it’s more casual. Whoever does the contracts on a team, it is likely they are not the most popular guy in the locker room. You make a decision to be friendly and supportive but not get really close to them. It is a good argument which is good or bad. I paid the price both publicly and from players who really did not know me well. You subject yourself to criticism for that, but I believe that as long as you do not take it too far that is the right philosophy. You cannot get to the point where emotion, even subconscious emotion, is influencing your decision. Subconscious emotion means you are not in touch with it. The only way to truly avoid that is to have some distance. You do not need to create animosity or do anything negative but you kind of need to cap the relationship. It is a two-way street. I understand that dilemma.
Is it best to have the coach support the player while the front office is more distant?
We made a clear decision in Philadelphia. Andy (Reid) would be the guy that set the rules and enforced them, but if we had a good guy/bad guy situation with a player in a negotiation or trade, I was the bad guy. That is the more clear-cut right way to do it. It is better for the building if that guy is not someone the players are dealing with every minute of every day. Animosity from a player to a coach is really costly. Animosity from a player to a contract negotiator or president is less consequential.
Moving onto the quarterback room in Philadelphia. What did you think of the Jalen Hurts pick?
BANNER: I said this at the time. Howie got attacked from the philosophical perspective of using a second-round pick on a backup quarterback. I did not think that was fair. I would not have picked Hurts because I was not confident in his upside to be a starting quarterback after watching his tape. I may be right or wrong, but I would not have used a second round pick on a guy I was not confident in being a starter. I did not think this was a philosophically misguided decision. I just did not think this player warranted a pick that high.
I was also adamant at the time, I would not have benched Carson Wentz when they did. Two things: They ran the risk of permanently ruining the relationship. I still do not think you can give up on the guy or should. I am not sure he is coming back, but I would not throw in the towel and would not have done anything to permanently damage the relationship with the player. And, I thought he had a better chance of starting the long process of kind of rebuilding his performance and confidence while playing. If it was up to me, and it would always be up to the coach in this situation, I would have played Wentz through the season.
What would you do if you were running the Eagles? Would you trade Wentz or bring him back with Hurts either as a starter or for a competition?
BANNER: I would bring him back going into camp as the starting quarterback. It does not guarantee anything but it does affect reps and leadership. It does not mean he cannot get beaten out. The Eagles have to realize that by some of their decisions, this is not all in their hands. They can force him to come back, but you do not want a disgruntled quarterback that had been the leader of your team for four years. If he is determined to get out, it will be very hard for them not to comply. They are also taking the risk that he means what he says if he gets to camp. That is a huge risk. That is why I would not have benched him; this would not be an issue. The issue would be figuring out how to get him ready for next year. That is a big challenge in itself.
If they do trade him, they have two options. They could trade him before they have to pay a $10M roster bonus, leaving them with a $33.8M dead cap hit in 2021. They could also wait til June to trade him, which would cause dead cap hits of $11.8M in 2021 and $32.04M in 2022 after prorating his roster bonus. Does paying $10M more appeal to you, if it means only having a dead cap hit of $11.8M in the down year?
BANNER: This is a very hard decision, because I would sure like to save the $10 million. That also assumes I can trade him that early and be satisfied with the outcome. I would probably be willing to wait to have relief in 2021 when things will be as tight as they are. Like I said, I would never have been in this position because I would never have benched him, realizing this was a possibility. To me, this is a bad outcome. They would lose him because he would not want to be there, and they would need to take a big dead cap hit to get rid of him. Under the circumstances, that might be the best option, but that does not mean it is a good option. They should have realized this was possible when they benched him, and they decided they were okay with that. That is a decision they could not turn back from.
The Eagles have the sixth pick. Is there a position of value you like to target that high because over the years, Philadelphia has not picked that high often?
BANNER: If they have the confidence in Hurts, and that is a guess, but it appears that way based on some of their actions, you can take quarterback off the table. In my opinion, you win games at the line of scrimmage so you take the top-tier tackle or pass rusher if he is available. If not, I am in a best player available mindset with a little bit of bias to corner based on how that team is made up and their history. They have really struggled getting the right corners. Even when they won the Super Bowl, they overcame their corners with a dominant defensive line. I could see them taking another receiver, but if you are asking me, I would not take a receiver there.
Would you have considered moving on from Doug Pederson if his relationship with Wentz was truly fractured?
BANNER: I would not have moved on from Doug just based on that relationship breaking down. I am glad I did not have to make that decision. I like Doug, and if you look at his performance over four years, you give him a pretty good grade. This year was questionable; that has to factor in. I would sit down with him and ask, “How do you think we got here, what did you do wrong this season that led to this, and what are you going to do differently moving forward so we are not at risk of going through another season like this?” Depending how he answered that would have impacted my decision on whether to keep him or not.