Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, they discuss Cowboys QB Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury and its effect on the NFC East race and on Prescott’s future; the saga of Le’Veon Bell, who this week was cut by the Jets and signed by the Chiefs; whether the Eagles should be trade-deadline buyers or sellers; and what, if anything, it says about the Eagles that former draft picks like Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Nelson Agholor are thriving elsewhere:
Domo: How big of an impact is Dak Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury going to have on the Cowboys' chances of winning the NFC East? His replacement, Andy Dalton, might not be Dak. But he does have 133 career starts.
JB: It’s sad for Dak and demoralizing for an organization that went into the season with a lot of hope. Hopefully, he heals fully and it’s a short-term problem for both him and the team.
Losing him caps how many games they can win this year and how far they can go. Although, if the NFC East really is going to be won with six or seven wins -- which isn’t a crazy thought and probably is a likely scenario right now -- I definitely think the Cowboys have a chance to get to six or seven wins with Dalton. Any more than that, though, probably is a stretch.
Domo: The Cowboys put the franchise tag on Dak this season. He’s being paid $31 million. What if any impact on future negotiations do you think his injury will have?
JB: From what we’re told, he will make a complete recovery from this injury. He’s got a lot of time to recover. If he makes a full recovery in six or even eight months, I don’t think the leverage will have changed at all. I always felt he had good leverage because the only leverage players have is how important they are and how good they are, and he’s good and the Cowboys really need him.
Secondly, what’s the cost of replacement? Andy Dalton is a solid guy. Probably a very good backup. But he’s not a guy who’s going to step in and be a difference-maker as a starter there. All the things that gave Dak the leverage and the courage to kind of bet on himself are still in place. The Cowboys need him every bit as much as they did before he got hurt. The market is what it is.
The ability to replace him is the same problem it was. So I don’t think the leverage has shifted at all. It’s made it a little more complicated because the Cowboys have a choice of doing a new long-term deal that satisfies him or letting him walk, or franchising him again and giving him a $38 million contract for one year (in 2021), which would be almost 24% of the projected cap for next year. That would be a massive challenge to give one person that big a percentage of your cap and still be able to compete in the NFC.
So they have a real dilemma. It gets solved if he’s healthy. They’re going to pay him what they were going to pay him and nothing less. And maybe even a better structure. If you had asked me before the injury, I would’ve told you Dak is probably [worth] somewhere between $34 million and $39 million a year. In my mind, probably closer to $37-38 million. If I was betting right now, I’d bet he gets a contract in that same range.
We’ve seen this happen before. Earl Thomas got hurt. Flipped the bird to everybody in the [Seattle] organization and everybody wrote how horrible it was that it happened in his free-agent year and it was going to ruin his value. And he actually ended up with a contract bigger than most people originally projected. It happened with [cornerback Desmond] Trufant down in Atlanta. There’s been a whole bunch of examples over the last four or five years. And he’ll be the next one. It’s sad for a whole bunch of reasons. But in the long run, if he heals properly, and everything seems to indicate that’s highly, highly likely, he’s still going to get a massive, fair, good contract.
Domo: The trade deadline is less than two weeks away. If you’re Howie Roseman, are you a buyer? A seller? Neither?
JB: If there’s an opportunity, in my opinion, at corner or linebacker or offensive line, to pick up people without using significant assets – and by assets I mean draft picks and cap room – I would be in the market for some players.
I would not be trading anything significant. I would not be using up more future cap dollars. But if I found somebody that was maybe somebody else’s fourth or fifth linebacker and I felt they could be our second or third linebacker, or a Le’Veon Bell-type of person who’s on a team that looks like they’re going to have an unsuccessful season and they’re willing to pick up a late-round pick for a player that’s better than that, I’d do it.
Because I still think that as bad as the Eagles have looked and as hard as it is to project them making much of a run, they’re still the favorites right now to win the division because of the injury to Dak. So if there are opportunities to make some moves that don’t affect the future in a meaningful way, I would make them.
As far as unloading people, I would not do that. I still think they’re likely to make the playoffs, and I think in a sport where people are literally risking their well-being and their health every day at practice and in every game, if you give up on a season, it sends a bad message. It would really take an extraordinary situation in my mind to justify that. And I don’t think they’re in that situation right now.
Domo: Several former Eagles draft picks are thriving elsewhere – Nelson Agholor in Las Vegas, Sidney Jones in Jacksonville, Rasul Douglas in Carolina. Howie took a lot of criticism for drafting these guys. Is the fact that they’re succeeding elsewhere an indictment of Doug Pederson and his coaching staff?
JB: There’s a lot of explanations. Sometimes you draft a player who’s a good player and he doesn’t fit what you do well. Sometimes you draft a player and don’t give him enough time. Every team in the league has players that they cut and who have gone someplace else and played well. It happens. I don’t think you can look at someone like Agholor, who was on the team for five years and had one or two good years, and the rest not so good, and think that they should’ve kept him. He wasn’t going to cost $30 million, but he wasn’t going to cost 30 cents, either. Personally, it didn’t look like it was a coaching issue with him. We just didn’t see consistent top-tier performance from him. Sometimes people just need a change of scenery.
I will say this: The fact that you’ve got two players like Jones and Douglas who play the same position, both of whom at least appear to be doing well in other places, I’ve said this before, every evaluator has some positions they’re better at and some positions they’re not as good at. The length of time the Eagles have struggled to be good at corner leaves me at least thinking it may be a position that they’re just not looking at in the right way and focusing on the right attributes that fit their scheme.
It’s hard to miss because it’s so conspicuous. They’re struggling [at cornerback] and some players they let go are showing visible strides elsewhere. But it’s very hard to know the cause-and-effect when those things happen. So, by itself, it’s not an indictment of anybody.
Domo: The Jets released Le’Veon Bell earlier this week less than two years after they gave him a four-year, $52.5 million contract. The guy once was one of the best running backs in the league. Then he sits out a season  and goes to the Jets and stinks up the place. Who’s to blame? Is it all on him? How much is on Jets coach Adam Gase? How much is on the organization?
JB: The real answer is all of the above. First and foremost, I hope the players learned a lesson from what they watched here with him. He was offered a very good contract by the Steelers. Despite reports to the contrary, he had very good guarantees. They weren’t perfect. They weren’t the best they could be. But they were very good. He was in a situation where he was thriving. He never should have left Pittsburgh. The notion of holding out a season and walking away from the money involved in a [franchise[ tag, that’s all on him.
Then he found himself in a situation where, frankly, he only had one serious bidder. By serious, I’m defining it as willing to pay him a lot of money. That was the Jets. I doubt when he sat out the year and was thinking about his future and fantasizing about the teams he wanted to play for, that the Jets were anywhere on that list.
At the same time, it’s undeniable that Gase is not doing a good job there. He’s lost control of the team. It was shocking that he even got the job to begin with. The [Bell] contract itself, which was actually done by the previous general manager [Mike Maccagnan], guaranteed money into the third year, which doesn’t even happen in a lot of the best contracts in the league. Going all-in with him even though they had a coach that clearly didn’t believe in using running backs the way Bell was used in Pittsburgh just made no sense. So while this is mostly on Bell, everybody deserves a piece of what went wrong.
Domo: The Jets are a mess. They’re 0-5. They’ve been outscored by 86 points in those five games. The quarterback they took with the third pick in the draft three years ago is struggling. Gase is as good as gone. Former Eagles personnel exec Joe Douglas has had little impact in turning this organization around since he got there in June of 2019. Did they make a mistake in hiring him? Is Joe one of those guys who makes a lot better lieutenant than a general?
JB: It’s too early to answer that, but it certainly is looking that way at the moment. I expected him to do a lot more with the signings they had this year. He was right to focus on an offensive line with a young quarterback. But he didn’t sign the right people. He didn’t draft the right people. So he’s sitting here with an area he made a meaningful investment in [the offensive line], a crucial area of your team, and it’s still really weak.
That’s concerning when you see a guy say, I’ll get to position X later but I have to fix this right now. And then the thing he’s trying to fix right now doesn’t get fixed. That’s not a good projection for the future. The single most important thing an owner does is decide who gets to work for his organization. And frankly, if they get it wrong, it’s very hard for a team to succeed. And if they get it right, teams often can succeed in spite of or because of owners. The history up there of who they’re looking for and who are the right people to hire hasn’t been good for some time now.
I think Joe’s got some short-term security. This is only his second year. Hopefully, he in combination with [ownership] will make better decisions going forward, like who’s the [next] head coach and what’s the best way to structure the personnel department and what are their priorities, and how do they build out the rest of the personnel area.
Because while it’s crucial to have a really good person at the top of the personnel chain, you also need a really good supporting cast to maximize the ability of the Joe Douglases of the world and the other guys sitting in those seats.
Domo: The Saints are negotiating with LSU to play their games in Baton Rouge because the mayor of New Orleans won’t allow fans in the Superdome because of COVID. This just seems a bad message for the NFL to be sending to people right now. Your thoughts?
JB: We’re entering a period where all accounts of the disease show that it’s accelerating, not decelerating. If you’ve got a mayor who’s choosing to be practical, or even if you think she’s being very conservative, I would still stay in New Orleans and be disappointed it’s all happening but take solace that you’re doing the right thing in the moment. And that’s not exposing you and your organization and your players and even the fans that want to come to your games to any increased risk of having health problems.