Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A during the season with The Inquirer’s longtime pro football writer, Paul Domowitch.
This week’s conversation:
Domo: The Eagles acquired a pass-rushing defensive end, Genard Avery, from the Browns for a 2021 conditional draft pick the day before the trade deadline this week. Did they do enough to help fortify their playoff chances? You thought last week that they might/should make multiple moves.
Banner: I like the addition of Avery. As you can probably imagine, I’ve watched the Browns pretty closely. And they really stole a player here. If he stays healthy — he does have a knee that’s a little bit of a question mark — people will see right away that this is a very good pass-rusher.
I mean, 4 ½ sacks in his rookie year as a part-time player is very good production. The fans will love him. He’s a relentless, physical, intense guy. I actually think that despite the fact that he isn’t a well-known name, they made a very good pickup for the defensive line.
It’s also true, as you know from our past conversations, that I thought there was a good chance they’d make at least a second move, potentially a corner. I assume the reason they didn’t is either they have a lot more faith in the guys coming back than I do, or the cost was just so prohibitive that they couldn’t rationalize it.
But enhancing the rush does at least enhance the ability of the secondary to hold up even if it does have some weaknesses. So if they only were going to make one move, making one where they picked up a good player with virtually no cap or draft consequences is actually a very good move.
Domo: In their last five games, the Eagles have averaged more rush attempts than pass attempts. After last Sunday’s win in Buffalo in which the Eagles ran the ball 41 times and Carson Wentz had just 24 pass attempts, Wentz called the run-heavy game plan “our recipe.’’
I know how it makes your blood boil when people say you win in this league by running the football. How do you feel about Carson’s comment? Is a run-heavy offense a recipe for disaster or success?
Banner: There is no one way to win in the NFL. If somebody suggests it’s only by running or it’s only by passing or only defense or only blitzing, they really haven’t studied the information.
What we do know is that over 80% of games are won by the team that is ahead at the half. And that getting the lead at halftime is almost always driven by the team that throws the ball most effectively in the first half.
The exceptions mostly come in situations where there are a lot of turnovers. No one ever has suggested that you can’t win running or shouldn’t ever run. But if you want to give yourself the best chance to win, the math is irrefutable. You throw the ball early. You get the lead. As the game goes on, you mix more and more runs in. And you unleash your defense on the opposing quarterback once you’ve got the lead.
If you’re looking at teams that win big — and I’m not talking game by game; I’m talking over time — that’s what they do. There always are exceptions. The Eagles have won running the ball. The Patriots have won running the ball. But I can tell you that Andy Reid and Bill Belichick and even Kyle Shanahan believe that the key to your offense is being able to pass the ball really effectively.
Domo: Josh Gordon was released by the Patriots this week. You were the Browns’ CEO in 2012 when they selected Gordon in the supplemental draft. Should the Eagles have claimed him, or was he just too big of a gamble?
Banner: I’m very torn on this. In Cleveland, we provided him with the support system there in which he had the only really successful year of his career (87 catches for a league-high 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013).
I know the best and the worst and the strengths and the weaknesses of Josh. There’s a huge upside. The talent is there. But it’s also a huge risk. And whether you want to throw that kind of risk into a team like the Eagles at this moment, my recommendation would’ve been no.
Domo: The Eagles could be looking at a significant rebuilding of their wide-receiving corps after the season. Nelson Agholor will be a free agent and isn’t expected to be re-signed. Alshon Jeffery is averaging a career-low 10.6 yards per catch and has a $15.4 million cap number in 2020. And DeSean Jackson, who will turn 33 in a month, might still be a dynamic player when he’s healthy, but that’s not very often. How big a problem is this going to be?
Banner: My guess is they’ll try to do it over a couple of years as opposed to all at once. They’re probably sitting there right now wondering why they hung on to Agholor for $9.4 million. Jeffery isn’t playing well, although we’ve seen that he can. But he’s a big risk at $15 million next year. And DeSean, it’s hard to count on him now, even though we can see the difference he can make when he’s out there.
So, I think that within two years, we’re going to see a completely different set of wide receivers. And I think they’ll be aggressive about it. Whether it’s high draft picks or spending a bunch of money to bring somebody in, I think we’ll see them make meaningful moves there as they try to replenish the receivers around Wentz. I don’t think they’ll risk being in this position again.
Domo: Your thoughts on the Eagles’ being selected for All Or Nothing?
Banner: When I was with the Eagles, and the brief time I was in Cleveland, we tried to avoid those kinds of [all-access] things. I don’t necessarily think they’re bad. But throwing any risk or anything that could change the normal dynamic is just something you’d rather not do.
So, I don’t think it’s a big deal. But if I were running a team, my preference would be to not be involved in it. But they obviously didn’t have a choice.
Domo: I take it, then, that you were never tempted to do Hard Knocks when you were with the Eagles.
Banner: The process is they come to teams to see who might be willing to do it. And then they obviously have a list of teams they can assign whether you like it or not. Because we were usually in the playoffs, we always fell on the side of having the right to say no. And we did every single year. We just thought the risk of disrupting your schedule or damaging the egos of certain people, creating coverage we didn’t really need or want, was just unwarranted.
Domo: Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams revealed Thursday that his holdout was only partially about money. He said he had a cancerous growth on his scalp that the team’s medical staff ignored for the better part of six years. He said he showed it to the staff six years ago and was told it was minor, even though it continued to grow. He finally had surgery to remove the growth during the offseason. What’s your reaction?
Banner: My understanding is there’s going to be an investigation and there absolutely should be one. Over the years, there’s been some question about the objectivity of some of the team doctors in the league. Personally, I’ve never experienced that. The quality of doctors we had at the Eagles was exceptional.
But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. If a player comes in with a significant problem and it was handled at least the way this one is being portrayed, that’s a really serious issue.
The players are risking both their short- and long-term well-being, and they deserve the best, most objective care the team can possibly provide. I’m trying to withhold judgment. But somebody definitely needs to do an accelerated, in-depth investigation to find out what really took place here.
Domo: How could something like this happen?
Banner: There are teams that, if you heard this story about one of their players, you’d be inclined to dismiss it. They’re just too well run. They actually do care about their players. But there are other teams where your reaction is somebody needs to look into this. The Redskins’ history leaves them a little exposed. I don’t want to unfairly accuse them. But certainly, it has to be looked into.