Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, the two discuss Banner’s early impressions on the Eagles’ new coaching staff, a possible contract extension for Dallas Goedert, and what to make of the team’s early struggles in the preseason.
EJ: What’s your impression of Eagles coach Nick Sirianni and his staff so far?
JB: Let’s be honest, it’s too early to tell. What you like to see is somebody come in and take charge, somebody to come in and hire really good staff. You want to feel like the players are coming in and respecting the head coach and believing in what he’s doing. I think we’re seeing positive indications there. The work ethic, the intensity, the brief comments we hear from some of the players and people in the building that we don’t necessarily see that are working with him.
The feedback is that he’s a very likable, very hardworking guy that people are respecting and frankly they’re rooting for. They really want to see him succeed because he’s that kind of person.
EJ: Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has really emphasized flexibility in scheme to best suit the players around him. What’s are your thoughts on his approach?
JB: First of all, I’m not sure people realize how in demand Gannon was. He is widely respected, and there’s a broad-based belief that he’s an up-and-coming coach, not just as a coordinator but even beyond. He was a highly sought-after coach. Unless there’s a lot of collective misevaluation from people that know him reasonably well and are usually good judges of these things ... I go into this with a lot more optimism for a coordinator who has never been a coordinator before than I usually would.
He’s going to have a base philosophy and he’s going to include in it a variety that’s going to make him unpredictable. I actually think that’s the right way to go.
EJ: What have you heard about Gannon, whether it’s before he joined the Eagles or since he’s been here?
JB: There were half a dozen teams legitimately interested in him as a defensive coordinator, and that’s just unheard of. There’s just enough difference of opinion in the league that, if you’re really popular, maybe three teams will be interested in you.
Virtually every team that was interested or needing to hire a defensive coach had him pretty high up on their radar. These are knowledgeable people that are good at hiring, some of them have worked closely with him and actually have first-hand knowledge of how he does things and how he thinks. Like everybody else, I have never seen him actually be the coordinator, so we’ll have to see. But I go into his time as the Eagles defensive coordinator with very high expectations.
He’s coming out of a good scheme. The fact that this many people knew him and thought that he was ready and could be an effective coordinator at this point, I have very high expectations.
EJ: What about offensively, what are your thoughts on the scheme?
JB: We’re going to have to see, what is [Sirianni’s] focal point? He brought in a coordinator from San Diego that frankly ran the ball a lot more, especially in crucial situations, than the Eagles have historically done. We don’t know if he was doing that because the head coach was telling him to or if that’s really his core belief, but we’ll know as soon as we see them start playing. That obviously would be a pretty significant change of where the league is headed and where the Eagles have been.
My best guess is, when we get to the season, the Eagles are going to play football just like they have for a very long time. They’ll throw the ball early to get the lead and then as the game goes on, run it more and more to keep the lead. They’ll integrate the running backs in the passing game to make it a lot harder on the defense to not be in mismatches. The indication is that, whatever play they may call, that’s going to be the underlying philosophy.
EJ: Both Sirianni and Shane Steichen were a part of offenses that finished top-10 in rushing attempts last year. Do you anticipate Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman’s valuing of analytics possibly causing them to be more pass-reliant? Is that something they’d be open to?
JB: I would be shocked if Jeff and Howie hired a coach that wasn’t at least open to that, even if he wasn’t already a passionate believer. Because [analytics], it always gets caught up and kicked around, but all it is is additional information and additional ways to research the best ways to win football games. That’s been going on since the NFL was founded. What’s going on in analytics is an extension of that. It’s a greater reliance on it, it’s a more complex analysis and it’s multifaceted.
It used to be, ‘Well, if we rush for over 100 yards, we win the game,’ which obviously isn’t a cause and effect, it’s just an outcome. So I can’t imagine they would hire a coach that wasn’t open to information that would drive his philosophy and frankly the information on this is completely irrefutable: Teams that come out early and get leads, which is much easier throwing the ball than running the ball, are much more likely to win.
My favorite stat, which is overlooked and I just don’t know why because it’s such a huge stat, is that 75%, 80% of the games in any given year are won by the team that’s ahead at halftime. You should be building a team that’s built to get the lead. And once you do that, the odds of you holding onto the lead are extremely high.
Whoever’s coaching the Eagles knows that like the back of his hands. It’s very hard to be run-dominant. Could they be more balanced? Absolutely. Could he believe a little bit more in running early to, in his mind, increase the likelihood that play-action works, although all the stats indicate play-action works whether you’re running a lot or not. If you work for the Cincinnati Bengals, you may not even know that. If you work for the Philadelphia Eagles, you absolutely know that, now you have to make the decisions about what to do in that context. That’s why I think it’s highly likely that we see something that’s very similar, not exactly the same, but something very similar to the way the Eagles have approached the game for a very long time once we get into the regular season.
EJ: Obviously it’s only the preseason, but what are your takeaways from the Eagles’ struggles, particularly against the Patriots and in the second half of the Steelers game?
JB: I don’t think preseason is a valid time to judge schemes and new systems and all that. I do think it’s very valid in judging individual players. The fact that they haven’t been more productive on offense, if I’m watching the tape and I feel like the individuals that really matter during the season are playing well, I’m really not worried. I’m trusting when we get to the regular season, when we put in the scheme, everything will be fine.
We don’t know this because they’ve been alternating and resting players, but if you saw your offensive line not playing well, or a key member of your offensive line not playing well, and that was why the offense wasn’t doing well, that would be really concerning. It is true that the Eagles came out playing their backup defensive line, but the Eagles are going to rotate seven or eight defensive linemen, so some of those guys are people that they’re counting on playing.
It’s not like the game is predictive of what’s going to happen in the season, but it is predictive of the fact that they may have some weaknesses in depth. As the season goes on and players get more tired and injuries will happen, we may be seeing some signs that the depth isn’t there to carry them through some of those challenges.
EJ: We talked last week about how the salary cap is likely going to go up for next season. Which players do you think the Eagles would be motivated to extend before the season starts? Which players might have incentive to sign sooner rather than later?
JB: My rule and what we did with the Eagles that I think you can see they’ve continued is, as soon as you know somebody is part of your core, and they’re a high-quality driven athlete, sign them as soon as you can. The price isn’t going to go down, it can only go up, and you’re sending a really good message when you take good players that are high character, and take care of them early.
So translate that into, if I was Goedert, I’d be trying to do a deal right now. I would not be afraid of doing a deal right now as long as the Eagles got me up to the right price, which is close to the recently paid guys. Even though he’s not quite as good yet, but the cap is going up and his arrow is pointing up, so it’s in that range. If the Eagles don’t get to that range, I’d wait.
EJ: Do you think the Patriots’ deals with tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith might be benchmarks for Goedert?
JB: I actually think he’s better than the two guys that the Patriots signed just in terms of upside and health. But Goedert’s not as good as a [49ers tight end George] Kittle, so I think the deal should be kind of in between. I think $12.5 [million] per average for $50 million is the range of those two groups. I think he should come in between those, maybe a little closer to the top just because we are about to see this acceleration in cap increases. He should be in between there and if he got a deal in that range I think it would be good for both sides.
Also, in his case, they may need to make decisions on what to do with Ertz and that may be aided by the fact that Goedert is actually signed so they know they have him and there’s no risk, which is good for Goedert, if the Ertz situation gets resolved one way or the other.
EJ: Who are some guys that might benefit from waiting until after the season?
JB: The flip of that is a guy like [Alex] Singleton to me. He’s an up-and-coming player that doesn’t really have any money in the bank from playing so far, at least compared to what a lot of pro athletes end up with, but is really on the rise. He looked good last year, he’s looked as good or better in the preseason. I think his arrow is just straight up, the value of him in the market at the end of the season is much higher than it is right now.
Pretending I’m the agent, if I get a good, solid offer on Goedert, I’m taking it. I’m great, I’m thrilled, I’m happy I’m in a good city, I’m in an organization that really prioritizes winning and I’m getting fairly compensated. I’m good to go. If I’m Singleton, I’m sitting there going, ‘If I can put another year on my resume on what I’ve done the last few years, my value is going to be much higher than it is right now.’ I’m comfortable taking the chance and waiting.
EJ: What about other extension guys, particularly Derek Barnett?
JB: Unless Barnett has a much better year, I’d be surprised if they try to re-sign him. They’re not going to get him with backup money and I don’t think they think he’s good enough to be a starting front-four guy based on how much emphasis they put on the defensive line. He can start on a team that had a solid defensive line. I don’t think he could be a quality starter for a team that’s determined to have a top-three, top-five defensive line in the league. In some cases, it’s not going to be up to the player. The team will just play him another year and be prepared to replace him, my guess is Barnett falls into that category.