Former Eagles GM Joe Banner: Jalen Hurts has exceeded expectations, but his season grade will be ‘incomplete’
The two also discuss the Eagles’ 16-game sample size, what we’ve learned about Nick Sirianni in the last nine games, the team’s looming decision on whether to rest its starters against the Cowboys.
Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, the two discuss the Eagles’ 16-game sample size, what we’ve learned about Nick Sirianni in the last nine games, the team’s looming decision on whether to rest its starters against the Cowboys, and Jalen Hurts’ case to be the team’s franchise quarterback long-term.
EJ: We now have all the meaningful regular-season information about the Eagles that we’re going to get. Looking back, how did the season play out relative to your expectations?
JB: I think I was more positive than most about the team, and most of what I thought would happen has happened, although in a totally different way than I think anyone could have predicted. I’m in the school, as we’ve discussed, that two things can be true at once. One of which is they deserve credit for achieving what they did and it was a fun regular season to watch. There was certainly individual progress. On the other hand, if we’re looking forward and really evaluating where the team is relative to its competition, in my mind there’s still a pretty big ways to go to get it all right.
This season is fun as long as that doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as they build the team going forward. It was a pretty crazy season for everybody, just different degrees. The Eagles deserve credit for the things that got them to where they are, I just caution against reading too much into the season as opposed to trying to have a negative take on the season, which I don’t think is fair or deserved.
EJ: What areas do you think the team has the most ground to make up?
JB: I still worry a lot about the defense both from a coaching and talent perspective. We saw progress on offense, but there’s still things that Jalen Hurts needs to be able to do that he hasn’t even had to do yet. It’s not a negative or a positive evaluation, it’s just incomplete. You don’t want to overvalue any games, so he could go into a playoff game and do really well or really poorly. Whatever happens, for me, the season is kind of done in terms of being able to evaluate that and learn what you can.
EJ: I remember early in the season you talked about how much we’d learn about Nick Sirianni as a coach once he was forced to handle adversity. What does the team’s turnaround say about him?
JB: You quote me correctly. A head coach matters the most when you’re going through tough times. It’s the same reason most teams put leadership at the top of their coaching list search, because that’s one that shows up. I don’t think you could ask him to do any better than he did.
They can’t beat anybody they don’t play, so you can’t hold it against him who they beat. You can factor it into what you think they are and what the future will be, but he got everybody together, he made changes, he was open-minded, he was objective, he kept the team playing hard, and appearing to believe in what he was trying to do. They took advantage of the opportunity that was presented to them. That’s a big part of the definition of being a good coach.
Time will tell. Is he a C-plus? Is he an A-minus? We’ll see over time. Certainly, though, we have to say he’s off to a good start, he had a good first year, and he’s shown the things we’d be hoping to see that will be significant in the long run.
EJ: You’ve mentioned that the Eagles don’t have the constantly churning discussion about Jalen Hurts that the public has had. Do you think this is a point in the season where they would be having a larger discussion about him, though?
JB: It is a conversation that is ongoing and then reaches a point where it becomes a focal point. Whether they’re doing that now or trying to enjoy the moment and best prepare themselves for a chance, if there is one, to advance in the playoffs, your guess is as good as mine. We are in that window — it kind of opens now and probably runs until soon after they’re eliminated — where basic future decisions are made.
Remember, there are options that they don’t have to make that decision. Let’s just say that they don’t think there’s a quarterback that they’re prepared to use a high pick on in the draft, maybe somebody in the middle they’ll take a shot on, but bring Hurts back next year assuming they’re going to give him another year to prove he’s the guy.
So people shouldn’t assume because they’re thinking about this that there’s going to be some moment where the light bulb goes off. It’s kind of an accumulation of observations and experiences. I’m sure they’re saying some of the same things we’re saying. They see that the good things are exciting. They see how the team has turned around and responded. They also know he hasn’t really had to play against a top press defense. He hasn’t completed a lot of tight throws — I’m not saying he hasn’t completed any. He hasn’t played against enough variety of defenses that could be challenging depending on what you think his strengths and weaknesses are.
Personally, I would find it really hard to put a final grade on him right now. I’d also find it hard to invest a lot of resources to get somebody to replace him when I think there’s a reasonable chance I have the guy. As you know, I’m nervous more than the public seems to be about whether he is the guy. This is where some of the things about who they played, who they beat, how they scored, come in. Those will be discussed internally in this window.
EJ: How much of a weighted grade does playoff performance get, if any, with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman? If Hurts plays well in the wild-card round, I’m sure people will view it as him solidifying his position as the long-term answer.
JB: It’s recency bias. The thing that most recently happens kind of sticks in your mind and guides what you’re thinking. This is what the good football teams will avoid because you are on that roller coaster, and the smart, winning teams aren’t on roller coasters. They’re accumulating information and they get closer and closer to having an educated, informed piece of information from which they can make a decision.
But if people within the organization are kind of going up and down the way the public may be based on how somebody played a week ago, which some teams actually do, it’s a concern. This requires discipline, it requires a voice in the room that cautions against judgments that are made on too little information. We’re talking about something that’s a real-live thing that really matters in the league and determines who succeeds and who doesn’t.
I’ve experienced both Howie and Jeff extensively and they don’t think that way. They’re accumulators of information. They make important decisions in calm moments instead of the heat of the moment. That doesn’t guarantee you get it right, it just maximizes your chance of getting it right because it’s unemotional and it maximizes the information and the number of touch points you’re factoring into your decisions.
So, it should matter, but it shouldn’t be decisive by any means how Hurts would play in a playoff game.
EJ: You’ve been in situations where you have to decide whether to rest starters for the final week of the regular season or keep them in a rhythm by playing them. Where do you typically fall in those conversations?
JB: I think it’s an easy call. Rest all the key players you can. You’ve got a limited number of roster spots, so it’s not like you can rest 22 players or anything. Maybe you pick six to 10 key players that are either a little bit older or have had some injuries and are very important to your success.
When we did this, and we were in this situation a number of times, at one point we did an extensive study on team’s performances after — it could have been a bye, it could have been the last week of the season where people sat out — you effectively had a week off before you played. People throw out this “Well, they were rusty” excuse. What our study came back and said is that there’s actually no difference. Some teams took a week off and then played great the next week, some teams took a week off and played terrible the next week.
It’s very hard to make the case that the cause and effect was the rest. Because there were too many teams that came back after the rest and played great, and obviously there are some examples of the team coming back so-so. We decided we didn’t believe that the rest was what determined how you played when they came back. It was all the other things that determined those games.
I think it’s a little bit analogous to players talking about whether college players should sit out of bowl games. There really is nothing to play for. It makes sense for all parties here to make sure they get into the playoffs as healthy as they possibly can. If you decide, for example, not to play Hurts, you can use the week to start to at least lay a little foundation with who the most likely opponents are. So for me, it’s easy.
EJ: Obviously a player catching COVID-19 is never ideal, but if the majority of the Eagles players on the COVID-19 list right now are asymptomatic, do you think the timing is actually advantageous?
JB: It isn’t that you want anybody to get sick, you’d rather everyone stay healthy forever, but the reality is this is out there and people are going to get sick. If that happens to be the case, the team is better off that it happened sooner than later. Frankly, this is the most ideal moment in the whole season that, if the Eagles are going to have a series of players test positive, that it would happen.
It does not mean I’m rooting for anybody to get sick. It doesn’t mean I’m some horrible, heartless person. It just means that, if you’re going to have sickness run through your team, at least this is the best time for it to happen. Hopefully it doesn’t happen and hopefully you don’t need it to happen, but if it does, it’s better now than later.
EJ: I wanted to pivot the Joe Judge situation with the Giants. What are your thoughts on the way things have played out there in the last few weeks?
JB: It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. Since [Giants president and co-owner] John Mara has been the primary decision maker, he’s been challenged with some of the hires — I’m saying something I think he would readily acknowledge. The key to their future is having the right head coach and general manager, whether it’s somebody who’s there or somebody new. Naturally, you’re worried about whether he can get it right. You’ve got the same situation in Jacksonville: You have an ownership group that has not demonstrated that they can make these most important decisions for the success of the team well.
If it were up to me, I would not be bringing Joe Judge back. I don’t see the qualities that we see in top coaches or even coaches that turn it around. Remember, Andy Reid went 5-11 his first year he was with Philadelphia, but we had no doubt about who he was and where we were headed. I don’t see, after two full seasons, how anybody could possibly say that about Joe Judge. In fact, you could say the opposite. It’s the basic element of operating in the game, preparing for the game, and the strategies that you’ve heard me say many times: The most important thing a coach does when he’s hired is hiring and managing his staff over many years. There’s no evidence that he did that well.
Even if rumors are true that the ownership may have stuck their nose in, believe me, if there’s 27 coaches on the team, they may have weighed in on a couple. He basically got a chance to hire his staff.
The general manager (Dave Gettleman), I’ve been saying for the last two years. On one hand, I gave him credit for approaching team building with the right philosophy and priorities, but when it came to actually making the decisions and allocating the funds and how to use the draft picks and how to maximize your assets, he did a very, very poor job. We’ll see what they do; obviously, they’re going to make a change at GM. If I were them, if I were advising them, I would tell them to start over. Even though I understand how that looks and how it feels after you’ve done that three times after two years already, but it looks like a ship that’s taken on a lot of water very fast.