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Joe Banner: Eagles should start Jalen Hurts, though he’s unlikely to be their long-term QB answer

While Gardner Minshew might the best chance for the Eagles to win now, there is more information to be gathered on Hurts.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts smiles walking off the field after the Eagles beat the New York Jets on Sunday, December 5, 2021 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts smiles walking off the field after the Eagles beat the New York Jets on Sunday, December 5, 2021 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, the two discuss Gardner Minshew’s performance against the Jets, what it means for Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni, and the difficult time Jalen Reagor is having.

EJ: Nick Sirianni said he’s sticking with Jalen Hurts once he’s healthy. Do you think Hurts or Gardner Minshew gives the team the best chance to win this season, and how do you weigh that with the long-term benefit of seeing Hurts for at least four more games?

JB: You have to decide what you’re trying to achieve with this season. Is it to sneak in the playoffs like Washington did last year? Maybe you do win a game, maybe you don’t. Maybe you get blown out because you slipped in, or maybe you make a run. Or is the goal to win Super Bowls and make decisions right now that give you the best chance to compete and to do that in two to three years?

All I can tell you is that when I was running the Eagles, the latter would have been my focus in a situation like this. I’m coming in to work each morning because I want to win a Super Bowl. I’ve done everything else. We won divisions, we won playoff games, we built stadiums, we had great success with our charitable work, so on and so forth. I’m here right now, if I’m Jeff Lurie or Howie Roseman, because I want to relive the thrill of winning a Super Bowl. And for me, this season is about making the decisions as you need to to be in a position to do that in two to three years.

So I’m playing Hurts. Even though I have all these doubts about him, because more information is better. I know what Minshew is, and I have him back next year no matter what. So if you said to me, “Who do I think gives them a better chance to win the next game?” I think it’s Minshew. But if I say the goal of my season here is to get all the information I need and accumulate all the assets I have to be in a position to compete for a Super Bowl in two-to-three years, then it’s Hurts.

Even though I probably feel like I have enough to make a decision on Hurts, there’s no way you’re not benefitting by getting more information to make it absolutely certain, whichever side you’re on with that decision. So if I was sitting in a position of making that decision and we had agreement on what we were trying to leave our season with, if I’m sitting in the room and debating this with five other people, I’m taking the position that I think we should play Hurts the rest of the season.

EJ: How was Minshew’s performance in the Eagles’ offense instructive in the evaluation of Hurts?

JB: If you want to have a run-based offense, then you can have a serious conversation about whether you think Hurts is the right guy or the wrong guy. He’s given you some good evidence on both sides of the argument, whichever way you want to go with it.

I personally believe we’re living in a time where a quarterback needs to throw from the pocket effectively, accurately, and process information that’s necessary so fast that he’s considered to be elite at processing this information. Under that, he still needs to be accurate, a good leader, and all those things. I don’t think I’m seeing that from Hurts.

If you believe that the game has changed and a quarterback that’s primarily a running quarterback can win a Super Bowl, then go with Hurts. If you’re of the belief that they need to do both — I mean look at Lamar Jackson, suddenly they started blitzing him three weeks ago and he has five turnovers in the last two games and 11 sacks, seven of them in one game. Everybody who watches football and everyone who works in football knows that you can’t be one-dimensional and win big. If you have a quarterback that makes you overwhelmingly one-dimensional, and these are my opinions, other people see it differently, that’s a big problem now. It’s not a big problem in winning some games, but it’s a big problem in beating good teams in the playoffs, which is what you have to do to have any chance at winning a Super Bowl.

I’d love to see more information to make sure I’m absolutely certain of that opinion, but if you asked me today, that’s my opinion. It’s not rooted in bashing Hurts. It’s rooted in believing that the diversity of skills that you need to succeed at the very highest level, he’s not demonstrating that he has. What we saw [Sunday] was different because Minshew demonstrated that he does have that.

EJ: What did seeing Minshew in the offense teach you about Nick Sirianni’s offense?

JB: I think what we’ve seen lately from Nick, from the running-the-offense perspective, is encouraging. Even though it’s not what I would do, I think it’s encouraging that he realized, with the talent he has, that the best chance he had to win in the short-term included switching to this quarterback-run-based offense.

I still wish he was throwing the ball more with Hurts because that’s what we need to learn more about, but he had the objectivity to see that opportunity and make the change. Give him credit for that. Now he has a new quarterback coming in who has a greater ability to throw the ball and he shows us that he can, on very short notice, that he can also run a more traditional offense with more traditional blocking and passing routes successfully. I think that’s encouraging. It’s not conclusive, but it’s encouraging.

EJ: You mentioned the short-notice change to Minshew. What did you make of how long they dragged the decision on Hurts’ availability out? Gamesmanship? How did that influence your view of Minshew playing against a defense that didn’t necessarily prepare for him?

JB: It’s unusual and we’ll never know whether they knew Hurts wouldn’t play all along or if they were just saying that because they thought it would screw up the Jets’ preparation. I suspect the latter is the case. Most teams, especially at the quarterback position, are interested in keeping secret as long as they can regarding who is going to play and this is why: The Jets were clearly not prepared for Minshew. That was part of the basis for his early success. You can’t make many halftime adjustments from the defense you were going to play against Hurts versus what you would play against Minshew.

By Friday, it seemed really obvious to me that Hurts wasn’t going to play. That should have been enough time for the [Jets] defensive coordinator to recognize it and make some changes and put some things in that would have been more effective than what he did. I don’t know if they ever made adjustments. That game was a huge indictment on the whole coaching staff and especially the defensive coordinator. They’ve got a new head coach, you’ve heard me say this over and over, the single most important job a new coach has is to hire and manage his staff effectively. If I watched that game [running the Jets], I would be scared to death about whether Robert Saleh is going to be a successful head coach in the league. That would really scare me.

I would also be scared — listen, I thought he got the bad end of some big calls in that game — but to just lose control of your emotions like that, when you’re demanding your players stay under control? I mean, as a player, you could get punched in the face and you’re supposed to just back off and let the referee throw the flag and the team gets 15 yards. You can’t demonstrate what he did to his team and then demand that of them.

EJ: I want to revisit the trade for a minute. How much did Minshew’s play validate the decision to bring him in for a late-round pick?

JB: Well, you saw what I said when they acquired Gardner and what I wrote, tweeted, and expanded on in radio interviews. They traded Flacco, so it cost them nothing. He’s going to average $900,000 over the next two years, so they save millions of dollars in cap and cash. How many trades can you say that about?

He’s probably, in my opinion, either the best or the top couple of best backups in the league, and he gives you a real chance to win if your starter gets hurt and he has to play some games. For two years, I would say they have one of the best backups in the league basically for free. His money is almost for free and the cost of the acquisition was for free. There’s 31 other teams out there, I could name 15 that probably should have acquired Gardner Minshew if he was going to cost like a fifth- or sixth-round draft pick. Only one did.

EJ: What did you think was fair value for Minshew relative to the sixth-round pick the Eagles got him for?

JB: The Eagles used a second-round pick on Jalen Hurts and told all of us that the reason they drafted him when they just signed Carson Wentz for all this money and before he played as badly as he did last year, was because Wentz got hurt so often that it was worth investing this much in a backup quarterback.

They needed someone who was really good enough to potentially step in and win. They gave up a second-round pick for that. I’m just taking their words. That’s their words. I believe that was the truth, by the way. I think they thought there was a possibility Hurts could be the starter if Wentz kept getting hurt or didn’t play well, but they truly drafted him because they wanted to make sure, whether Wentz was healthy or not, they had a quality starter at quarterback. Now they got one for nothing.

Would they have given up a second? Of course not. But if I’m the Jacksonville Jaguars, what is enough value? They had the option to keep him. So what is the value at which point I’m getting a draft pick that’s valuable enough that I’m going to move a guy that I have for two years for free who is maybe the best backup in football? That’s certainly not a pick that one would guess would be in the middle of the sixth round. That’s insane.

EJ: We’ve talked about this in the past, but the Eagles are once again in a situation where they underachieved for part of the season, but are still in the playoff hunt mostly because of a lackluster NFC East. How do you view this playoff push’s impact on the long-term rebuilding effort the team is undergoing?

JB: It gives them a chance to rebuild and at least be somewhat competitive at the same time, which is certainly good. The risk is, you can’t get fooled into mis-evaluating your own team. That’s terrible. We see the consequences of that all the time. Look at where the Bears are at right now because they mis-evaluated their own team. Every year, there’s a whole group of teams you could list and say, “Those guys made moves in the offseason as if they were right at the end of being really good,” and guess what, they’re not. And they’re digging out of a much deeper hole.

They can’t allow the fact that they’re competitive and they have a shot to make the playoffs and they’re not even really eliminated from winning the division, although it seems unlikely, make them believe they’re further ahead in the redevelopment of the team than it looks like they are.

I worked with Howie and Jeff. I think the chances of them doing that are pretty small. They’re not zero, but they both tend to be pretty objective and I think constructive in looking at their own franchise, which is hard to be objective about. So, this is a risk, it’s a possibility, but in my experience having been so close with those guys for so long, it’s less of a risk with them than it is with most teams.

EJ: What did you make of Jalen Reagor leading Eagles receivers in snaps played against the Jets after his poor performance against the Giants the weekend before?

JB: I kind of have an ironic position on this. I think he was overly blamed for what happened the week before. The last pass of the game was not a good pass. Look at the picture. His knees are at the numbers of the defender’s jersey. He’s at least 3 ½ feet in the air. Could it have been caught? Yes. But it was a tough catch.

He deserved criticism, but it just turned into something so much bigger than what it deserved to be, because the quality of the throw wasn’t even in the conversation. It was a bad pass. That said, we do have a couple of years, essentially, of Reagor playing, and he plays poorly. He doesn’t rise to the occasion enough for you to really trust him. Now you’re in a key game, at least at the beginning it was high-scoring, and you put him in a position where if he makes a mistake it’s really consequential.

I don’t think the recent criticism of him is undeserved, it just got very exaggerated. Then you put him back in a high-pressure situation which he generally hasn’t responded to well, and it’s only seven days from the mess that he partially created and was created around him. There’s no reason to think he’s going to rise to the occasion and the pressure isn’t going to have some consequence on him.

If I was in the conversation, I would say, “Listen, let’s kind of back off of him for a week. He’s human, he’s 22 years old, he’s just been through a week where he was bashed as bad as almost any player we’ve had here, let’s lay low for a week and try to build back his confidence.” To throw him out there, seven days after what he went through and put him in a high-pressure situation and not think there’s at least a higher risk than you really want to take that he’s going to make a mistake, to me, that’s a mistake.

Former Eagles great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins joins sports columnist Mike Sielski on Inquirer LIVE on Thursday, December 9th at 4:15 p.m. They’ll discuss Dawkins’ new book, Blessed by the Best: My Journey to Canton and Beyond, his career with the Eagles, and the causes and treatments for the mental health issues that he and other elite athletes have experienced.