Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, they discuss the Eagles trade deadline moves, or lack thereof, Fletcher Cox’s standing with the team, and what he learned coming off the Eagles’ blowout win against the Detroit Lions.
EJ: Were you surprised to see the Eagles have such a quiet trade deadline?
JB: I am, just because some of the speculation out there was that they were at least open to moving some guys that they may not view as part of the long-term plan. We’ve seen teams, when they’re in a position where they consider themselves one player away, I did think there were a few guys that could possibly be traded. The fact that none of them were is slightly surprising.
EJ: Do you think, with guys like Andre Dillard and Fletcher Cox, it was just a matter of teams not meeting the Eagles’ value? It seems like there were prices for those guys.
JB: We’re totally guessing, but I would be surprised if they didn’t try to at least engage in conversations about those guys with the attitude that, if they got something good enough, they’d move them, but not be desperate.
Dillard played decently, obviously they needed to be thinking in terms of finding a right tackle eventually. I’m not referencing Lane (Johnson’s) mental health issues that we’ve talked about and properly credited him for speaking out about, just because he’s in his 30s and starting to get hurt more. For me, it seems like, as long as Dillard is starting to show some potential, maybe you should keep him and see if these two guys can possibly become your two tackles. Either they didn’t believe that and tried to trade him but didn’t get a good enough offer, or they think it is worth trying to see if he can continue to develop and they would only trade him if they got something very good.
EJ: When it comes to Cox, how much do you think his public criticism of Jonathan Gannon’s scheme played into him being floated in trades?
JB: Let’s be clear, he’s not saying that if he’s happy there, and they’re not happy he’s saying it publicly. There’s a big difference. In my experience with the Eagles, there’s a forum to express your concerns if that’s where you’re at. There’s people in the organization willing to listen who actually want to get it right. Once you take something public like that, you really change the dynamic. So, it’s safe to say the team was not happy that we went public with comments like that.
I think the issue is more basic, though. Frankly, he didn’t play great last year until the latter part of the year. He hasn’t played great this year. He seems to be getting nicked a little bit more frequently and he’s a little bit older. Those are all signs that you’re probably looking at a player who deserves tremendous credit, but is probably in the phase of descending in how much he can contribute at the same time that he’s very expensive. That’s not a great dynamic for a player to find himself in.
I think all of that mattered. The odds are that his public comments reflected the feelings he had previously. They’d been building as opposed to some spur-of-the-moment thing that he just threw out there.
EJ: How much worse does Howie Roseman’s decision to restructure Cox’s contract at the start of the season look after today?
JB: I’ve said this before, the Eagles have changed the philosophy somewhat of restructuring deals, maximizing short-term cap room with the idea, correctly, that you can push it forward if you don’t use it and you might as well trade the flexibility just in case you need it. I don’t think that’s a bad idea, although it’s certainly different than the way I did it, but you gotta be doing that with players you’re really confident will be on the roster for a number of years. If not, you run the risk of getting in a position where the cost to get rid of them is too great and you give up flexibility when it turns out you needed it.
That’s the reason I didn’t do it, but the truth is most teams do what they’re doing. You just have to be careful who you do it with. Cox, in my mind, was already descending a little bit last year, he was already a fairly expensive player, I think it’d be fair to question whether that restructuring gained him as much as the loss of flexibility that it created.
EJ: What would you say is the most likely way this situation plays out with Cox? Do you think this will come up again in the offseason?
JB: Oftentimes, in a situation like this, I would be more likely to think, especially as an older player, that he wouldn’t be on the team next year. The reality is, we just saw them go through this with Zach Ertz, so they’re capable of deciding they really prefer to keep somebody and smoothing over maybe some hard feelings that have existed at some point.
I really think that depends on how Fletcher plays the second half of the year, how the Eagles view next year. Is it the beginning of a rebuild or is it just a continuation of an attempt to stay competitive and improve at the same time? If they end up with a rookie quarterback starting next year, that affects everything else, and what happens with the Cox’s of the world will be directly correlated with what happens with the picks they have and the decisions they make.
We’ve seen a situation like this, which usually doesn’t get smoothed over on any team, not just the Eagles. Once you get to a point where a player is making publicly critical comments about the organization or the coach or even the scheme, usually those players are typically in the midst of their last year on that team. But having seen the Eagles go through this with Ertz last year and manage to put things together, I don’t want to say that as definitively in this case.
If they make some great additions, maybe add a veteran quarterback instead of a young quarterback, I think you probably see him back on the team and they’ll make everybody feel OK about it. If they really feel like they gotta take a year and get some of the stuff cleaned up and prioritize young players, I think that will determine what happens with him.
EJ: What do you think plays into the fact that this is the second time the Eagles are going down this road with a veteran player?
JB: These kinds of disagreements or player frustration with the front office or a coach are not as uncommon as the public thinks. What’s different is when they reach the point where the player’s frustration reaches the level that he feels like he has to go public to be heard. So that’s the distinction. It is unusual to have two of those in back-to-back years.
I’ve been on the other side of negotiating contracts. To be fair, the guy who negotiates the contracts for the team is the least popular person in the locker room. So I have some empathy about that, but you still gotta try to manage it in a way that you avoid situations where players feel the way to be heard is to go public. I don’t know enough detail to know what the Eagles could have done differently here, or if they should have done something differently, but they should be introspective about it.
EJ: I want to pivot to the Eagles’ win against the Lions. What did you take away from the game considering the Lions’ record?
JB: I hope one of the things we’ve done in this column is to try to be a more even-keeled voice of reason. I haven’t killed them after they’ve played bad or jumped on the bandwagon after a week in which they’ve played well. The team is still the team, it’s going to have ups and downs.
For me, this week didn’t change much. I was encouraged by a few things we saw from the coaches, based on our prior conversations. Beyond that, I looked at it more as a game that got up early, which is crucial. Detroit was an 0-7 team, so it’s not too hard to demoralize them or make them feel hopeless, so the momentum turned it into a blowout.
That said, they played a good game. The players executed and did what they were asked to do very well. My comments relate to what value the game had in predicting the future. Does the performance affect one’s projection of the future? For me, it really doesn’t. I still have concerns about [Jalen] Hurts as a guy I would bet on for the long term. I could be wrong, by the way, he definitely has some attributes. But if I was sitting in the seat, I would be nervous about making that commitment.
EJ: The Eagles traded for rookie cornerback Kary Vincent Jr., sending the Broncos a 2022 sixth-round pick. Why did this type of move make sense considering how many draft picks they’ve accumulated?
JB: This is why you accumulate assets. You’re trying to find spots where you feel like you’re trying to get the best value for those picks. If they think they found a young guy who has more upside on a team that has more depth at the position, this is just smart. Eight or nine out of 10 of these that you do are going to fail, but if you see an opportunity like this, be open to it.
People can take comfort in a move like this. There are teams in the league that aren’t even looking for these opportunities. When people are critical of the front office, and I am somewhat critical and somewhat defensive, this is kind of the thing that makes me less critical than others. This is an avenue to get players using very little to nothing in terms of assets that can help.
Remember, the years we went to five out of eight championship games, we had safeties and centers that were undrafted free agents or waiver claims. This is a smart thing to do. You don’t need to hit on many, but if you only hit occasionally, that’s how good teams get built.
EJ: You’ve been pretty adamant about the analytical benefits of throwing the ball early and often in games. What do you say to those suggesting the Eagles’ run-heavy game plan against the Lions is something they should employ the rest of the season?
JB: The gentle way to say it is that it’s hard to believe we’re still having this conversation. Somehow in Philadelphia this has become the ultimate test. They ran Andy Reid out of town in part, or many wanted to, because he threw the ball too much. If it isn’t obvious now that he was way ahead of the curve and he was really smart and all the people screaming at him for not running more weren’t right.
The fact that the Eagles were playing a team like they did and it was so easy to get a big lead early is what dictated what happened in the rest of the game. They wouldn’t have run the ball that much if that hadn’t happened.
The stats are there. Look it up yourself. You could be a 6-year-old fan and look up seven-point scoring drives in the NFL that are, say, more than 60 yards. Regular, normal scoring drives. You’re going to see that yardage on those drives is almost more passing and it’s very rare that the ratio of plays isn’t more passing than running. It’s not debatable, it’s much more likely you’re going to score a lot of touchdowns if you throw the ball a lot versus running the ball a lot. This isn’t the debate among the teams that are winning in the NFL anymore. You see it.
Within what I’m saying, there’s certainly grounds for a debate whether you should be 60/40, 70/30, or 57/43. Those are legitimate discussions in the league, but the notion that you’re going to win something major in the NFL by passing the ball 10 or 14 times is so easily refutable by someone with an open mind. In Philadelphia, it’s an absolute obsession.