Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, the two discuss the Eagles’ win over the Saints, Nick Sirianni’s reshaping of the offense, an emerging concern with Jalen Hurts, and the three contract extensions the team got done last week.
EJ: What were your biggest takeaways from the game?
JB: I think we’re seeing enough to start making some informed evaluations. I’m impressed that Nick Sirianni has refocused the offense to really be responsive to the talent of the players. The good news is that they obviously have a really dynamic running attack that teams are really struggling to control at all.
Jalen Hurts’ play, actually, has made me more nervous, though, about his ability to throw from the pocket. The only reason I bring that up is because, to me, you can be good with a quarterback playing the way he is, but it’s really hard to be great if he can’t improve the throwing part. I’m not saying that’s some big deal; he’s in his 10th game of what is effectively his rookie year. It’s something to keep an eye on; we have seen some players improve in that area. I want to give him credit for what he’s done, which I think is really dynamic and challenging for a defense. But against good teams, his ability to throw from the pocket needs to really show up.
If we’re predicting the future, the things that they’re doing now give them a chance to be good and competitive, but I don’t think it will give them what they need to beat really good teams when you get to the playoffs or if the NFC East ever became a challenging division.
EJ: I want to expand on this a bit. In your experience, how important is multiplicity for an offense? Especially during a playoff push or in the postseason, how key is it to be able to win in different ways?
JB: This is a winnable formula when you have a good enough running quarterback against pretty good teams. It’s not a formula that’s worked against the best teams. That’s when we need to see Hurts throw the ball better and be comfortable throwing the ball and being comfortable in the pocket and reading a defense. What I’m seeing that’s concerning is that they called a number of plays this week where he was asked to throw the ball from the pocket and almost all of them he didn’t end up throwing the ball. It seemed like he took a reasonably quick look, didn’t see something that was comfortable, and moved before he needed to. He had very good protection this game, I thought, considering how good the Saints’ defensive line is.
I’m not giving up on that. I’m not coming to a conclusion he can’t or won’t do that. I think we can say he’s not doing that effectively at this point and that it’s going to be a priority for him to work on. It’s key to the evaluation, in my mind, of whether you use the assets they have to get another quarterback or if you feel comfortable moving forward with him.
EJ: You mentioned the credit you give Sirianni. How encouraging is it to see him make the adjustment from the pass-focused offense he used early and seems to favor to what they’re doing now?
JB: I don’t think he’s proven that he can execute the offense he started with at a really high level. It doesn’t mean he can’t, it’s just I don’t think we saw it yet. What he deserves a lot of credit for is, every coach in the league talks about catering what they do to the talent that they have. Everybody says that, and the truth is very few adapt to the talent they have and do that. Nick did that. I think he deserves a lot of credit for that and I think it will serve him well in the long run.
We didn’t really get a good enough chance to see his preferred offense with players that gave him a chance to execute it very well to know how good it would be. I consider it an unknown — no criticism, no fault, it’s just an unknown. The credit I’m giving him is, unlike all these other coaches who only talk about adjusting to their talent, he’s actually doing that. That’s a really positive quality that most coaches don’t have and that will serve him well as a head coach. It’s good for the Eagles to have a coach that can do that instead of just talk about it.
EJ: How do you view this final third of the season in terms of the team’s chances to make the playoffs?
JB: I think it’s possible. Technically they’re a half-game out of the playoffs but it’s misleading because there are a bunch of teams in front of them and it’s partially because they’ve played more games than most teams. I still consider it somewhat of a long shot, but I think it’s possible.
I expect them to play well and win almost all, if not all of these remaining games. It depends on if the Cowboys need the game. The rest of the games, it would actually be disappointing and concerning if they lost any of these remaining games. There’s really quite a gap between them and how they’re playing and how those teams are playing right now.
EJ: I imagine you’ve had teams that didn’t have Super Bowl aspirations at this point but were still in the playoff hunt, similar to this team. Are there benefits that come from making the playoffs even if you don’t have a chance of making a significant run?
JB: There’s some value in the experience, but, the bigger benefit is in free agency. Presumably either this year or next year, or both, they’re going to try to sign some players in the market. Or, we know it’s not inconceivable that some of these veteran quarterbacks end up available and they may be interested in trying to acquire them depending on their evaluation of Hurts.
Finishing the season strong and even making the playoffs will make recruiting those players much easier. That’s the biggest difference. The biggest benefit is the way the league will view them and players that they’d be interested in bringing in will view them. It will be much easier for them to be perceived as an up-and-coming team rather than a struggling team.
I don’t think it’s a big deal if they don’t make the playoffs but show good progress, but I do think there’s some advantage in making the playoffs in terms of getting the experience and becoming a desirable franchise for potential free agents to come to.
EJ: We haven’t talked since the Eagles agreed to contract extensions with Dallas Goedert, Avonte Maddox, and T.J. Edwards. Let’s start with Goedert, what did you think of the deal?
JB: The deal came in right about where I thought it would be. I think if he hit free agency he might have gotten a bit more, but you never know that for sure. For a player to take a solid deal that is where it’s supposed to be on a team that he likes and a city he likes being in, that’s a win-win.
They had to go through some back-and-forth obviously and I think Goedert was very smart to wait. At this point, he’s probably getting as good an offer from the Eagles as he’s going to get.
EJ: What about the Avonte Maddox extension? I know you’ve said in the past you’d be hesitant to sign him to a long-term deal based on his production.
JB: I think the deal, if you’re asking what the market is for a good nickel corner, is about where it should be. Same thing, I think he could have gotten a little more in free agency, but it’s right in this ballpark. If he’s happy in Philly and sees a good future with the organization, he should take the deal.
As you reflected in the question, I’ve been a little less enthused about the quality of his play. I would have viewed him more as a bridge to finding the right guy if I re-signed him at all. If they like him, though, they got a good deal. It’s right where it should be and a little less than if he hit free agency. For my evaluation of him, I would have been a little more hesitant and tried to get a lower number or a shorter deal so I could retain flexibility if I thought somebody came along that was better.
I think he’s OK; I don’t think he’s a weakness there. I just don’t see him a strength, either. One of the shifts we’re seeing in the league is more effective use of slot receivers and more quality receivers playing in the slot. It’s become a more important place to have a third corner. It’s always mattered, maybe more than we made it sound like, but now it really matters.
The difference for me is they’re probably a little bit more positive in their evaluation of him. If you’re viewing him as a quality nickel, the deal came in about where it should be.
EJ: With T.J. Edwards, do you have examples of signing a guy that would be a restricted free agent to a one-year deal?
JB: We were one of the only teams, and we hadn’t for a while, but we did sign some restricted free agents.
I don’t understand why he signed that deal. He gained virtually nothing. The odds are he wouldn’t have gotten an offer in free agency, but you never know. I feel like he gave up the chance to have a look-see for very little. If I had been advising him, I would say, ‘We can do this deal on April 1, this isn’t going to go away. Why not get to the first couple weeks of free agency and see if anybody calls?’ I didn’t really understand what the point was there. I guess there’s a small incentive upside, but for me, it wouldn’t be worth it. Even if the odds were very small that he would have gotten an offer, there’s no reason to give up the small possibility for very little in return.