Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, the two discuss Banner’s expectations for the upcoming season, how Zach Ertz making amends with the organization could impact a potential Dallas Goedert extension, and Howie Roseman’s comments on Deshaun Watson.
EJ: What are your impressions of the active roster?
JB: I think people are maybe underestimating them a bit. I don’t think they’re about to be great, but I saw an article that predicted the Eagles would come in last place in the division. I just think that’s not reflective of what’s most likely to happen. Now, you have a huge question right now at quarterback, so it’s much harder to predict in that circumstance than most, but I think there’s reason to be optimistic. The defense will be good, maybe even very good. Assuming they stay healthy, the defensive line is about as strong as they’ve had, other than maybe Super Bowl year, and that tends to dictate how the defense does.
The offense is very hard to predict because some of it’s just going to depend on [Jalen] Hurts. They do have better weapons, if healthy, than they’ve had in a while, but guys that will be a lot better in a couple of years than they are now. The line is very good if everybody’s healthy, but it’s an old line and has players on it that are coming off injuries. I think they’re going to be a solid, competitive team, and getting good will be less of a long ride than some people are thinking. I’m not predicting some great season or some deep run in the playoffs, but I’m picturing kind of a middle-of-the-pack, very competitive team on a week-to-week basis. It could go better if Hurts is better, or it could go worse if he’s really not the guy, although between [Joe] Flacco and [Gardner] Minshew, they could make a change to someone who could at least keep them competitive. Not many teams can do that.
EJ: How do you think this roster compares to those of the last few years?
JB: The defense is better. As you know, I’m a big fan of [defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon], but he has to prove himself. Just because I think he’s good doesn’t make him good. Assuming he’s as good as I’m expecting, with the improved talent I think the defense could be very, very good.
The offense is just a lot of challenges, and you’re counting on them all kind of coming through. From young receivers, an unknown at quarterback, older offensive linemen, a left tackle that looks like he’s developing but isn’t to where you need him to be, these are big question marks to have at this point.
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EJ: It certainly seems like Zach Ertz is going to be here for a while now, based on his comments this week. How will him staying, and the team presumably using more 12-personnel as a result, impact Hurts?
JB: I’m pleasantly surprised that he’s there; as you know, I expected them to move him. He’s a great guy and he’s a very good player, and if they’ve made peace and he’s happy to be here, that’s a really big plus. So I’m glad to see that.
Most teams, running a lot of two-tight-end sets is not an option, they don’t have two tight ends good enough to do that. It’s a very effective setup. The [Eagles] can do that or any of the other more traditional sets. They’ve got three legitimate receivers they can line up and feel good about. They’re young, so they’ll get better, they’ll make some mistakes, but they’re good players now that should be good.
I think there’s a very good chance for Hurts to thrive between the likelihood that we see somewhat more two-tight-end sets, and the fact that we have the young quarterback who tends to find tight ends as a more desirable, if not easy, place to get the ball to. I think the tight ends will be more effective than they’ve been because they have the ability to finally stretch the field the way they want.
EJ: How unusual is it to see a player publicly address a situation the way Ertz did this week?
JB: Publicly, it’s very rare obviously. You hardly ever see a player gets to the point where he’s expressing those kinds of things publicly and then you can resolve it. Truthfully, though, it happens a little more often than people would realize behind the scenes. What was unusual here is it became public, and then was repaired.
You have plenty of times where a player can get upset about something for the moment, or for a week, or on an interim basis. They can get frustrated, that’s not unusual, and sometimes at a moment of frustration, they make extreme statements like, “I want outta here, this is [bull],” or something like that. In neither case is it very often, but it does actually happen a lot more often than people just watching from the outside would realize; where you end up in a situation with a player where you really have to sit down, have a heart-to-heart, and try to make amends for whatever either or both sides is feeling upset about.
EJ: What does it say about Ertz that he didn’t choose to make things untenable for the team, something you mentioned he could do if he chose to.
JB: It says exactly what he is, and everybody’s known this since they drafted him: He’s a high-character guy. He’s a very driven, determined, hard-working guy and maybe most importantly, he’s really talented. So to have him back with his head in the right place and all the rest that goes with this, that was one of the reasons that I’m probably more optimistic about where the team will go than most are at this moment.
EJ: Do you think Ertz staying could affect a potential extension for Dallas Goedert?
JB: It could. I think we’re going to have to see. Listen, Ertz isn’t 35 [he’s 30]. The possibility of Ertz playing a few more years is real, and then there’s a real question about whether you want to invest a lot of money in two tight ends. If you ask me my best guess, we’ll still see them re-sign Goedert at some point, but I think the chances that that changes now are real. They have alternatives to have a quality, at least one, starting tight end going forward.
EJ: How much do guys like Tyree Jackson and Jack Stoll being promising young guys play into this, too?
JB: They will run on basically a two-year plan around the cap and roster. You look out further than that but you know it’s pretty unpredictable, so you’re really only focused on a couple years. If they feel like they have somebody that is developable to be somebody that can be effective in a two-tight-end formation and is a quality person and inexpensive for the immediate future, it takes off the table any discussion about signing both of them [Ertz and Goedert] if they feel like they have someone quality ready to step in. They’ll have to decide, based on skill set, age, and everything else, which one of those guys they should bet on for the next three or four years.
EJ: We heard from Howie Roseman this week and he had a change in messaging when asked about Deshaun Watson, saying the team is rolling with who they have. Do you take it that the Eagles are out on a Watson trade now?
JB: You’ve got to be very, very careful, when people are negotiating, I don’t care if they’re negotiating to buy an NFL franchise, negotiating a single player contract, or potentially negotiating a trade. In general, people should take what they say with a much larger grain of salt than they do. They’re inclined to, they’re motivated, and frankly probably smart sometimes to take advantage or use the visibility that the team has to help them play the negotiation the way they want to.
If the Eagles were interested in Watson — which I’ve always believed is a safe yes; degree matters, but the general question is a safe yes — and they were making offers that weren’t good enough, what you want to do is create the perception that you have walked or that you are willing to walk. The purpose of that is to really flush out just how firm the team you’re negotiating with is on their position. What Howie’s hoping to do is to put that story out — this is assuming they want Watson, which is my belief but not fact — you put something like that out and hope in the next two to three days the general manager calls you and says, “Listen, I saw your comments but I just wanted to make sure.” He’s given away now to you that he’s actually willing to trade him, he’s potentially willing to trade him to you, and he has at least some room to move from the last offer he gave you.
By putting the story out like that and then seeing how the team you’re talking to reacts, you can learn a lot of stuff. So, I would take what Howie says with a grain of salt. That doesn’t mean I’m just dismissing it and I think he’s lying. I think he’s doing what people do when they negotiate and they have the opportunity to put out messages that the person you’re negotiating with are going to see.
But I do think the chances of someone trading for him until more questions have been answered is really small. You’re taking a huge PR hit and you don’t even know if there’s any real benefit that’s ever going to come of it. You have to get over your own moral questions about whether you want somebody on the team that, we don’t know for sure, but may have done some things that are unacceptable.
Watson staying in Houston for a year is not a bad outcome for the Eagles at all. It leaves him as an option for them in the future, at least potentially. It leaves them with a chance to make a decision with a lot more information than they have now, and if you need a quarterback, the more that are potentially in the market, whether it’s in the draft or in the league, it’s better for you. I view everything that’s happening with Watson right now as a positive for the Eagles, even if it doesn’t happen in the short term.
EJ: There was a report out that Watson wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause for the Eagles. How does a team navigate finding that out?
JB: There’s zero chance, despite the fact that it’s illegal, that the teams that he won’t play for don’t know. That may be unknown to you and me, but the teams that he won’t play for know it. They may try to change his mind, they may just accept that reality, but unlike you and me, they’re not in the dark about the answer to that question. Their actions will reflect it.
It’s a big deal. He can block it, and you don’t want to waste a lot of time or energy or have it affect any other decisions that you could possibly make if that’s ruled out. It may be the reason Howie said what he said, is they found out for sure that he doesn’t want to come and they don’t want to look like they were the ones that were rejected. I’m not saying that’s what happened. I’m just saying when somebody is in a negotiation and speaking publicly like that, you should have healthy skepticism about what their motivation is and how accurate what they’re saying is.