Former Eagles president Joe Banner will do a weekly Q&A during the season with The Inquirer’s longtime Eagles and NFL writer Paul Domowitch. Here is this week’s conversation:
Domo: With the season starting this week, give me your thoughts on the Eagles roster.
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Banner: Without trying to sound dramatic, other than the possibility of 2004, I don’t think the Eagles have had a roster like this for as long as I can remember. It’s just an exceptional roster with great depth.
And its strengths are in the most important places you want strengths to be. Quarterback, both lines. That’s where it starts. That’s the foundation of building a championship team.
People finally seem to be waking up about them. For the longest time, the Eagles weren’t getting a lot of pundit picks for the Super Bowl. But then everybody started looking closer at them and said, ‘Wait a minute, who can beat them?’ That’s where I’m at. I just think it’s an exceptional roster.
Domo: No concerns at all?
Banner: Health, obviously. You worry about whether Carson [Wentz] will be able to avoid another major injury. And maybe the defensive secondary a little bit. But I think the front is so strong that it can cover up a secondary that might be only fair. Now, when I say that, I’m talking about when you get to the final eight or the final four and you have to be really, really good.
Domo: Doug [Pederson] has been very cautious with his team in training camp and the preseason. A good many of his starters didn’t play at all in the preseason. Players coming off offseason surgery were brought along at a snail’s pace. What do you think about that approach?
Banner: This has been an issue for as long as I’ve been around, and as long as you’ve been covering the game. Where is the right line on preparing and preserving?
Obviously, over the last few years, the whole league has moved much more toward preserving than preparing. But finding that balance is difficult. When you’re dealing with a top team like they have, with a lot of veteran players, erring on the side of making sure that everybody gets to Game 1 as healthy as they possibly can be just seems like the obvious way to go.
Domo: The Eagles brought DeSean Jackson back. He’s 32 years old but doesn’t seem to have lost a step. What impact do you think he’s going to have on the Eagles offense this season?
Banner: I think he’s going to make some really big plays. But I think what we’ve seen evolve over the recent past in the NFL is control of the middle of the field by the offense has become what’s led to the increase in scoring, in my opinion. You have linebackers and safeties trying to cover running backs and slot receivers and tight ends. And you see the Eagles have built a team that’s very aware of that.
So the key as far as what DeSean brings to the table is he makes it massively harder for teams to put an extra person in the middle of the field to take away that advantage because he’s so deadly on the outside, especially if he’s left in one-on-one coverage.
So I think he’ll make a lot of plays. But I think his biggest impact is going to be what he does for the slot receivers and the tight ends. I think you’re going to see an increase in two-tight end formations and more use of the running backs in the middle of the field.
Domo: You were with the organization when it drafted DeSean. He was a handful at times. But Howie Roseman had no reluctance about bringing him back. Your thoughts on that?
Banner: I’m not going to tell you that DeSean was the easiest guy on the team to deal with or that we didn’t consider a lot of that before we drafted him. But I’ve always felt he got a little more criticism than he deserved.
DeSean is a very competitive guy. He always was a hard worker. He got along with his teammates and wasn’t a problem in the locker room. He wasn’t a high-maintenance guy like a lot of other wide receivers. I’m not saying he was the easiest guy.
But he started at probably a little better level than the public perception, and has matured since then. I know some of the guys that were in Tampa Bay with him, and they talked very positively about him. I see why the Eagles moved quickly and without a lot of reservation.
Domo: Let’s move on to a guy the Eagles didn’t pursue -- Jadaveon Clowney. The Eagles were on his preferred list of teams. He ended up going to the Seahawks for next to nothing. Houston even agreed to pay half his salary in the deal. Did the Eagles make a mistake in not trying to get him?
Banner: The battle between short-term and long-term focus doesn’t adequately get covered and takes up a tremendous amount of internal debate on NFL teams. And I think that’s what happened with respect to the Eagles and Clowney.
It’s easy to say when a top-tier player is out there and you have a chance to win a Super Bowl, that you should do everything possible to get him. And once we found out that Houston actually paid half of his salary, it’s even easier to say they should’ve tried to acquire him.
But the Eagles are at a point where they have an exceptionally strong team, and the next challenge for them is can they sustain this team at this level over a long period of time.
That’s when you look at a guy like Clowney and say, ‘You know what? This defensive line is really strong. We are going to face some tough choices over the next few years. Do we really need to give up any assets and make that move now?’
Before it became clear that half his salary was being paid by Houston, I was of a mind that, no they should not [trade for Clowney] and they don’t need to do that. After I realized Houston was actually paying half his salary and [trade] compensation wasn’t that significant, if I was in those discussions, it would’ve been a lot harder debate. But I understand why they stood pat.
Domo: What did you think of the Andy Reid-LeSean McCoy reunion? Does Shady have enough left to help the Chiefs?
Banner: I loved it. We were just talking about how the middle of the field is what really good offenses in this league are attacking. Andy is going to use LeSean, I believe, at least as much as a receiver out of the backfield as he is as a rusher.
While I agree that he didn’t play very well last year, I think he can be a really valuable asset to the Chiefs. Andy will create mismatches. He’ll get him on a safety, on a linebacker. Even from what I saw last year, I don’t see anybody being able to cover him out of the backfield.
And if they have any injuries at running back, he can step in and take more carries than I expect him to get right now.
I wouldn’t want to count on him as a carry-the-load guy. But if you’re saying he’s going to get eight-10 carries and three-four catches and create mismatches on key third downs, I think it’s a great pickup and will really help them.
Domo: What’s going to happen with Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott? He still doesn’t have an extension. Is he going to get one any time soon? If he doesn’t, will it be a distraction for both him and the team?
Banner: I originally thought we’d see that deal get done sometime during training camp, just because that’s been the Cowboys’ MO. But the people I’ve talked to say there are no current negotiations going on.
I think that Prescott may have decided to be the next Kirk Cousins. I think he may not be anxious to do a deal anymore. He may feel like, I’m a young guy. I’m in my last year. I could get tagged twice. And then I’m going to be a top-tier quarterback, at least in terms of won-loss record, coming off a really good team. And I could get 31 potential bidders.