Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, the two discuss Jalen Hurts’ concerning performance against the Giants, the likelihood of a Russell Wilson trade this offseason, and weighing the short-term benefit of a run-heavy offense versus the long-term drawbacks.
EJ: You said last week that you still had concerns about Jalen Hurts as a passer. How much did Sunday’s game against the Giants reinforce those concerns?
JB: I have not and I did not say that I think Hurts can’t get the job done; I just felt like we needed to see other elements of his game in order to feel confident that he’s the long-term answer. I also praised him because he was playing very well at the time.
I think some of that showed up in the game. The Giants came out a little more aggressively, geared toward stopping the run. They had to resort to other means, primarily passing, and you saw some of the concerns I’ve had about that. He had a bad game; it’s concerning, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for him to show us he can do those things, that he’s growing and he can get better at those things.
I’m worried about it. I’d be a bit nervous right now if all was said and done for the season and I had to make a call on it. I’m probably more nervous than confident, I guess is the simple way to say it.
EJ: It seems like anticipation is something Hurts has really struggled with at times this season. How much growth can you expect to see from a young quarterback in anticipating throwing windows and throwing the ball on time? Is that something that can develop, or is it what you see is what you get?
JB: I’ve definitely seen quarterbacks make progress in this in the NFL and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t. The real question is whether he’ll make enough progress from where he is for us to be able to say that he will be able to consistently throw the ball from the pocket when needed.
If you go back and look at the tape — not just this game, but the game before that everyone was so positive about — you’ll see a number of plays where he clearly is in the pocket, looking around on a play that was designed for him to throw from the pocket, and he left the pocket while the pocket was still there. That was what had me nervous. The fact that him doing that seems a little bit entrenched and will be a fairly significant change for him is what’s worrisome.
I do think we will see some improvement. When we had Donovan McNabb, and looking at other quarterbacks, they’re not done developing in that area. I’ve always worried about the ability to improve a quarterback’s accuracy, which I still think is extremely difficult. That’s different than their acumen of reading things. That does get better, especially when they’re in the league three, four years.
There’s room to be hopeful that he can still get there, but we need to see progress of it soon. We’re at the point where he’s played the equivalent of him playing a full season and he had the benefit of learning on the bench for almost a full year. We should be seeing more than we’re seeing, but we haven’t seen enough of him doing it against different defensive scenarios to really feel confident with what the conclusion is.
EJ: We saw Russell Wilson continue to struggle on Monday Night Football. Do you think his recent play has affected the Eagles’ potential interest in trading for him?
JB: I’m a big fan of his, and I recognize he’s not playing well right now. I think, if he’s available, they’d be very interested and they should be. If they get him, assuming they can fix this line, I think they’d do very, very well with him.
If that opportunity presents itself, I think they’d be aggressive and I think they should be doing that.
EJ: What do you think the likelihood is of him getting dealt this offseason?
JB: My view is that Aaron Rodgers is going to stay in Green Bay, Wilson could go either way, and if Deshaun Watson’s legal situation is even somewhat cleared up, he’d be traded. The only one I’m even confident is going to hit the market is Watson. Everyone else is a long shot, or a longer shot that it doesn’t happen if it does.
EJ: The assumption is that Wilson would want to go to a contender. Do you think he’d view the Eagles as one? Do you think, with Wilson, that they’d be able to compete for a title?
JB: I think over the next few years they can. I think there’s more improvements they need to make on the roster to say they need to compete to win championships. There’s still too many weaknesses. I still feel like I see a lot of things on defense that worry me. I don’t feel like we can say that problem is solved.
I don’t think people should expect it to be Year 1 with Wilson and they’re going all the way, but I think it would be a huge upgrade and give them the chance to be competitive against anybody out there.
EJ: The run game was still productive against the Giants, but we saw New York load up the line of scrimmage, which led to the Eagles throwing the ball a bit more. What do you make of where the offense is right now?
JB: This is something we talked about earlier in the season. They are trying to both stay competitive and rebuild the team at the same time. That’s going to lead to some inconsistency week to week and that’s not especially bad, it’s just the reality of growing and building that way. But when we get to Hurts in particular, it’s two different things here. If the goal is to win as many games as they can the rest of this year, then they should keep running the ball. Not, in my opinion, 40-some times, but they should keep running the ball as the primary thing they’re doing. They should also let Hurts continue to develop in the passing attack in ways he can grow into. A lot of good quarterbacks, they only give him one read, especially running quarterbacks.
On the other hand, if your goal is, “We have to know by the end of the year if Hurts is the guy,” they have to go back to running a normal offense that includes him throwing the ball and see him do it successfully against a variety of different defenses.
I personally would be looking at the team thinking, “We’re not going anywhere near where we want to this year, so we need to use this time to figure out this quarterback situation.” I would be calling running plays some, and I would be calling passing plays a lot more because that’s where he needs to grow. If you have the philosophy of, “We’ll worry about the future when we get there, I just want to win as many games as I can this year,” I would recommend a different answer than what I just gave. They’re trying to walk a fine line and stay competitive.
EJ: I know it probably varies, but what are the conversations like as an organization discusses whether to prioritize short-term success when it interferes with what’s in the team’s best interest long-term?
JB: Let’s use the time that I was with the Eagles because people are familiar with the names. Initially, Andy [Reid] and I would have a conversation, before Howie was promoted, he would be in that conversation. Honestly, going back, Tom Heckert would be in that conversation. And Jeff Lurie would be in that conversation. It would be a series of one-on-one conversations and eventually the group would get together. Sometimes it would lead to discussions and debate, sometimes an intense debate.
In the end, what we always believed in — and I don’t have any reason to think they believe differently now — in the end, you step back and let the coach make those decisions. If he’s not getting it right often enough, then he’s not the right coach. You’ve got to give him the space to put in game plans and hire his own coaches. In my opinion, if you don’t trust him to do that, then that’s a big problem. I think those are the keys, by the way, to really watch over the next few games.
EJ: Jalen Reagor has been a huge topic of discussion after his two dropped passes late in the Giants game. How concerning was this last game for his long-term outlook?
JB: It looks like their evaluation of him, at least before this week, was that he still had a real chance to develop and be a good player for them. I have not believed that for a while. They’re putting him in on a number of plays; they’re putting him in on crucial plays and throwing him the ball on crucial plays. That indicates they still have more hope for him than I do.
Despite saying that, I do think the criticism he’s getting is a little over the top, but not unwarranted. I view both of those balls as catchable but tough catches. We’d be talking about what a great catch he made. The first one is coming right over the top of his head. He could’ve caught it, absolutely, but people are talking about it like it’s just this gimmie. The second catch, he’s at least 3½ feet off the ground when he touches the ball. It was a bad pass.
Again, he could have made that play. If that were DeVonta Smith, I’d be shocked if he didn’t make the play. I’m acknowledging he could have gotten both of them, but the notion that he dropped a pass sitting right there isn’t fair.
More importantly, I wouldn’t have been counting on him this year and I wouldn’t count on him in the future. He’s obviously under contract. He can help them with punt returns and things like that. Maybe he’s a fourth receiver, so if you have an injury he gets on the field a decent amount of time, but he’s not a guy you should count on to win games.
EJ: Reagor will always be compared to Justin Jefferson because of their draft positions [Reagor was the 20th pick in 2020, one pick before Minnesota took Jefferson]. You’ve been around a lot of players. How much can something like that affect a guy?
JB: I think it varies. Some guys can get in that situation and just thrive in it. They’re motivated by being in that position. Some guys get in that position and it can be a little overwhelming. I don’t know Reagor well enough to make a guess as to which one it is.
He cannot be feeling confident right now, which isn’t good, because you’re not going to get a real chance to evaluate him once he’s not fully playing like himself.