Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss whether Doug Pederson was against the decision to draft Jalen Hurts, what the team should do about the starting quarterback situation next year if Wentz continues to struggle, what Jeffrey Lurie is looking at to help him decide on Doug Pederson’s future, and other good stuff:
Domo: Jalen Hurts played just two snaps Monday night against Seattle, and one the week before against Cleveland, prompting speculation that Doug Pederson never really was on board with drafting Hurts. You buy that?
JB: There are always debates about players. That’s just part of the process. But the suggestions that one group wanted Hurts and one didn’t, and that one group wanted (Jalen) Reagor and one wanted (Justin) Jefferson, they’re not picking these players unless there is a consensus that they liked them. There may have been a difference of opinion about who do you have first and who do you have second? But they’re not running out and picking a quarterback that the coaching staff has told them they don’t like. They may say, we prefer you did X than Y. But they’re not saying, “I don’t want to do this. It’s a mistake.” If that was the case, they wouldn’t have drafted Hurts.
Same thing with Reagor. He may or may not have been everybody’s first choice. But they certainly weren’t sitting there and one group was saying, “I think it’s a mistake,” and another group was saying, “I think it’s a great idea.” Both groups at least had to like him or this doesn’t happen. And listen, here’s the reality. All of us have a bit of self-interest when we make decisions, even if we try not to. Doug is not foolish. He understands that the season is going terribly and that his own situation and his staff’s situation is up in the air.
I find it hard to believe that if he was watching practice and felt that Hurts could come in and make a consequentially positive difference right now, he wouldn’t use him more, both with respect to practice time and games.
So I think everything that’s happening is related to a couple of things. One is they still are hopeful that they can get Wentz back on track. It doesn’t mean they’re not worried about it. It doesn’t mean he’s not playing terribly. But they’re still at least holding on to some hope about that. And two, they don’t think Hurts is quite ready for a bigger role. Whether that means they’re worried about him long-term, or whether he just needs some more time, time will answer that question.
Domo: If Carson continues his downward spiral this season, what approach do you take with Carson going forward? Do you stick solidly with him and try to convince yourself his dreadful 2020 performance was an aberration? Or do you give Hurts a legitimate opportunity to win the starting quarterback job next summer?
JB: You’re asking a virtually impossible, but crucial, question. You’ve got a guy – Wentz – who has proved he can be good but clearly isn’t right now. You want to try to rebuild his confidence and show him trust and faith. If I throw him into a competition with a second-round pick that’s never played, I’m not really doing that.
On the other hand, they can’t risk that he’s going to go out and play next year like he did this year. And they will have kind of walked into it without developing somebody else who’s at least a viable option.
My second-deck view here is, I would really try to leave Carson in a clear frontrunner position until we get to July and see how I felt he was developing and what resources we could bring in to help him. And really see if I felt there was really some meaningful change in him that makes me a lot more optimistic that the guy I thought I had is who I have.
If I got to training camp and was confident of that, I’d leave him in a clear No. 1 position and at the same time, try and develop Hurts more than I did this year, but not like it’s a true competition. If I didn’t feel like I saw what I wanted to in Wentz in the offseason, then I would go in and say, “Hey, listen, may the best man win and we’re going to give each of you guys a fair shot and get you both coached up and give you a similar number of reps and may the best man win.”
Domo: The possibility of firing Doug Pederson almost certainly is on the table if the Eagles continue to lose. Beyond wins and losses, what are some things Jeffrey Lurie is looking for to help him make a decision?
JB: There are the obvious things that most fans would be able to guess. If Jeff saw that the team was quitting on the coach, he’d be worried. Because right now, he’s worried about next year. He wants to see how this year plays out, and still hopes they can somehow win the division. But he’s wondering about next year. He wants to find out whether the players no longer believe in the head coach and aren’t willing to give him the effort he needs. Are there young players that he feels should be developing and progressing, and aren’t? Does he feel that some of these players that have been out and are coming back won’t be enough to fix things? Those are the kinds of things that would cause him to predict a future that would not be as good with Doug as the past has been.
And that’s the other thing that’s weighing on him: It’s very hard to find a head coach that’s even capable of winning the Super Bowl. It’s hard to find a head coach that can take you to the playoffs three straight years. So, what is the pool of people out there that he’s considering replacing him with that gives him confidence -- not just hope but confidence -- that he can find somebody who can do what he already knows the guy that he has can do, even if it doesn’t look like it in the moment? So he’s weighing the positive of the track record that Doug’s established against the unknown of the pool of potential candidates out there.
Domo: You seem to be reasonably confident that Jeff won’t fire Howie Roseman. But there have been a lot of misses and questionable decisions in their last few drafts, as well as a number of other bad personnel moves. Assuming Howie is retained, do they need to make some changes in the personnel department?
JB: It’s really hard to evaluate personnel people from the outside. Because you really don’t know who’s driving the decisions and who fought for what that didn’t happen. If I’m a head-coach candidate trying to evaluate this personnel department and the decisions they’ve made, I guess I’d be kind of confused. I see a track record over a period of time that includes a Super Bowl. And I have a recent path that’s a lot more concerning to me. So I would come in, if I were a candidate, with some very tough questions. Such as, how were these decisions made? What things are you prioritizing? Is it speed, is it competitiveness, is it intangibles, is it intelligence? Has something changed over the last few years, because things don’t seem to be going as well now as they were?
If I were a candidate, I would want to come in and pose those questions to both Jeff and Howie. I would want to have an honest, objective conversation about personnel and say, I’m not looking at a record that is bad, but it’s mixed. And I want to understand how we got from where we were to where we are. Because as we go forward, I can’t do much more than make the most out of what you give me.
He’ll no doubt have a lot of questions about what role he’ll play. He’ll know he won’t have final decision. But he’ll want to know their philosophy about how much they use a head coach and his staff in the (personnel) process. He’ll want to be confident that his voice is going to be heard. That doesn’t mean he’s going to want final say. Doesn’t mean he’s making any demands. But some general managers are very autonomous and some are very collaborative. At this moment, I’m sure that’s something that any head-coaching candidate would want clarity on.
Domo: Jacksonville became the latest team to fire its general manager last week, following Detroit, Atlanta, and Houston. More are likely to follow. Your thoughts?
JB: First of all, I’m not applauding people losing their jobs. But I am applauding that we’ve reached a point where general managers are held accountable in the same way that coaches are. Because they are equally responsible for outcomes. For a long, long time we saw coaches get fired and GMs not get held accountable. And we still have instances where that’s true as we speak. But at least there’s some movement toward recognizing that they’re both responsible for success or failure.
As I looked at each situation, I didn’t see any firing that I didn’t think was reasonable or where the guy wasn’t given enough time to prove he was the right guy. So I consider this a positive trend.
The problem is, as we mentioned earlier, it’s really hard to judge personnel guys from the outside. You have to put together a pool (of candidates). Which means you have to have some really good contacts of names to interview. And you have a situation where the interview is massively more important than it is with a head coach.
The interview with a coach is important, but you have a number of (other) ways to gather information you can really rely on. With respect to personnel people, it’s really hard. I mean, most of the teams in the league are not even grading their own personnel people on a two- or three-year look-back. So they only have an impression of their own people as opposed to, this guy here is hitting on 68% of his recommendations and this guy over here is hitting on 46%. And who’s really learned the cap, and who understands the strategy, and who can help me in a coaching search if I was looking for a new coach? So this is a much, much harder position to fill and find capable candidates.
Domo: Wait. You’re telling me that there are NFL teams that don’t bother to evaluate their own personnel people?
JB: Yeah. I mean there is a loose evaluation. There’s an impression. You sit and talk to people and hear their opinions. But a true evaluation, like as if you’re a teacher and you have to grade every paper in your class; a real, true process with real, true, consistent, objective criteria and evaluating who’s getting it right and who’s getting it wrong, no. There are a whole bunch of teams that don’t have a broad-based, sophisticated, annual, 360 review process in which they actually know which scouts in their building have the highest batting average of success, no. Crazy, but true.
Domo: The league has received criticism for its handling of the COVID situation in Denver with the quarterbacks and refusing to reschedule the Broncos’ game last week and making them play without a quarterback, while rescheduling the Ravens-Steelers game three different times because of a COVID outbreak in Baltimore. They’ve been accused of sacrificing competitive integrity for the sake of getting the games in. Your thoughts?
JB: I’m impatient with the criticism. We can always look from the outside and find some fault with something. On a macro level, I think the league has done an incredible job in making it to this point without missing any games, and frankly, with a fairly small number of consequential adjustments.
I don’t think the league is sitting there saying, we’re not going to postpone this game even though the Broncos don’t have a quarterback, but we’re going to postpone the Ravens-Steelers game. There was no risk of exposure by playing the Broncos’ games. But there clearly was a risk of further spread if the Ravens and Steelers played when they were supposed to.
You ignore that and you run the risk of kind of decimating a team going forward. It appears to me that’s the criteria here. If there’s a wide enough outbreak and numbers are a problem and further explosive spread within an organization becomes a real possibility, then you’ve got to do everything you can to avoid that. If it means two or three delays of a game, so be it. On the other hand, if you happen to be missing a couple of players, and I’m sorry for you if they’re at a crucial position or they’re your best players, but fundamentally from a health perspective there’s no reason to postpone the game, you play. End of story.
They’re trying to preserve this Week 18, which I applaud them for because they still could find themselves in a position where they’ve got to cancel a week or a bunch of games in a week. If they’ve already pushed one game to Week 18 and there are certain teams that can’t play in Week 18, then it creates a whole ‘nother set of problems. So I think they’re wise to look at pushing something into Week 18 as an absolute last resort for as long as they possibly can.
Domo: Playing games at 3 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon and on Tuesdays, does that diminish the NFL product?
JB: It does a little bit. But remember, at the beginning of the year, the owners got to weigh in on what they thought was acceptable. And every single player had the right to opt out, knowing there were going to be some inequalities and maybe some games they’d have to play with fewer days off or less recovery time. Most players overwhelmingly decided to play.
I think these are just predictable occurrences that are in fact at times going to be less helpful to some teams and more damaging to others. Hopefully, you minimize that gap so that things don’t get too far out of balance. But I think the extraordinary situation forces that we’re going to have at least some of that. That’s life in a pandemic.