Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A again this season with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. In this week’s segment, Banner and Domo discuss the Eagles' ugly loss to Washington, Jason Peters' Week 1 struggles at left tackle, Zach Ertz’s contract frustrations, the Cam Newton-Bill Belichick marriage and more:
Domo: You’ve been involved in games like last week’s collapse to Washington. Games you know you should have won and didn’t. Is it easy put them behind you and move on?
JB: It isn’t easy, actually. When you put together a team, you know what you think you have. When you see them in training camp, you’re either doubting it more or confirming what you think. But you don’t really know what you have until you start to play games.
This wasn’t a game that was a total disaster from beginning to end. They played a very good first half and an absolutely horrible second half. But I think they’re worried by some of the things that happened, and rightfully so. They clearly believe in building the team around the lines. The offensive line, which they expected to be a strength, is a major concern right now. And part of that isn’t going to change anytime soon, even with Lane Johnson coming back this week. And that’s a big deal. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to win games. But when they play the better teams, that’s really going to be a factor. Having a great offensive line or defensive line doesn’t guarantee success. But not having them virtually guarantees some degree of failure.
I think Howie and Doug are far from panicking, and they don’t think that’s how they’re going to play the rest of the season. But they may be questioning if they’re as good as they thought they were.
Domo: The Eagles are in the pickle they’re in with their offensive line because of injuries. Howie Roseman, like you, understands the value of having solid lines. But they lost Brandon Brooks, and then they lost Andre Dillard. Two starters gone for the season. Poof. It’s not the first time they’ve lost offensive line starters to injury. But in the past, they usually had enough depth to stay afloat. They had veterans like Stefen Wisniewski and [Halapoulivaati} Vaitai they could plug in. But the depth isn’t there right now. They went into Week 1 with backups who had played a combined 72 NFL snaps. Did Howie mess up?
JB: Well, they likely have a higher level of confidence in some of their younger players than maybe many of us do. So it would be unfair to conclude after one game that they were wrong. Nate Herbig and Jack Driscoll didn’t play badly last week.
As I’ve said before, the biggest fear when you’re running a team is multiple injuries at the same position. You should build a team, especially if you’re trying to win a championship, with enough depth, knowing you’re going to have some injuries. But it’s difficult to prepare for a situation like last week where not one, not two, but three (offensive line) starters are missing.
I do think they needed to have an experienced veteran, somebody like Wiz, somebody like Vaitai, who would’ve given them a little extra layer of protection before things got this shaky. But I’m also sympathetic to what they’re going through with multiple injuries at the same position. And they weren’t in a position to pay a guy like Vaitai what he got from the Lions ($50 million over five years) to be their sixth offensive lineman.
Domo: As you said, Herbig and Driscoll didn’t play all that badly last week. A bigger concern going forward might be Jason Peters, who looked very much like a guy who is four months shy of his 39th birthday against Washington.
JB: I love Jason. I root hard for him and I’m excited and pleased with the career he’s had both as a player and leader. But if we take a snapshot of where he was last Sunday, it’s really not good enough, particularly at such an important spot as left tackle. Truthfully, I don’t expect him to be what he was. No one does. But I also think there’s room for improvement from last week that would help make a big difference up front. The question, though, is can he stay healthy?
Domo: We’ve talked before about Zach Ertz and whether he’s going to get a contract extension. You’ve said it’s very doable for Howie and the Eagles to give both Ertz and Dallas Goedert contract extensions as long as the overlap of the two deals is short-term. But negotiations with Zach broke down a couple of weeks ago. There were reports that he and Howie had a raised-voice exchange. Before the Washington game, Zach described the situation as “frustrating” and said that while he wants to stay with the Eagles for the rest of his career, he’s not sure the feeling is mutual. He even was moved to bring up the lacerated kidney he played with late last season. Will he be able to put this on the back burner and stay focused this season?
JB: During the course of any contract negotiation, there typically are a lot of ups and downs and moments that look good and moments that feel terrible on both sides. But the fact that you’re hearing reports of public anger is very unusual, and frankly, out of character for both sides. Howie is a strong-minded negotiator but has managed to keep things in a place where they don’t reach this level. And Zach is a level-headed guy who plays hard and has been a great Eagle for a number of years.
Whether he’s sitting at home and taking some deep breaths or talking to his agent or his wife and just kind of getting himself re-centered, that’s what he’s got to do right now. His frustration is understandable. Because he’s been so good and because he feels he’s given so much to the team, and he does want to be there. But people have to rise above that and do what they’re required to in the meantime.
Domo: Let’s talk about the Cam Newton-Bill Belichick marriage. Both on and off the field, this didn’t look like a relationship that would work. But the two appear to be getting along swimmingly. In his debut with the Patriots last week, Cam completed 15 of 19 passes and ran the ball 15 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns. I repeat, he ran the ball 15 times. Your thoughts on Camchick.
JB: It’s not surprising that somebody who many would’ve predicted wouldn’t be Bill’s kind of guy actually goes there and fits in and does fine. Because it has happened so many times over the years that people should just stop assuming. If you are a real hard worker and you’re smart and you care badly about winning, Bill will find a way to get along with you. Cam brings those things.
Now, the fact that Bill has adjusted what he does offensively so dramatically is further confirmation of what an outstanding coach he is. We’ll have to see how this goes during the course of the season, but you can see he has changed his offense to cater to the skills of his quarterback. I’m sure he’s as worried as we all are that if he keeps doing that, Cam’s history of staying healthy is not very good, and he could get hurt again. So we’ll see as the season goes along as far as whether he adjusts how he uses him. But it’s just another piece of evidence, at least from where I sit, that he’s the greatest coach we’ve ever had in the game.
Domo: Baker Mayfield is in his third NFL season. Played pretty well as a rookie, then stunk up the place last year. This is only his third season, but is it a make-or-break year for the kid?
JB: Yeah, I think it is. I’m not saying that like he’s going to get benched or cut if he doesn’t play more like he did Thursday night and less like he did in Week 1 against Baltimore. But quality quarterbacks are signing new deals after three years. I think we would all agree that it’s fair to kind of evaluate once they’ve finished their third year where they’re at, where you think they’re going. And if he doesn’t show some meaningful progress this year after the way he played last year, you go from really believing you got your guy and he just needs some time to having some serious doubts about whether you have your guy.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they brought in a better backup than they’ve ever had (Case Keenum), and one who is familiar with the head coach’s system. Their actions say they still believe in Baker, but they’re not as sure as they were in the past.
Domo: Before we call it a day, I’ve gotta get your thoughts on the NFL’s two newest luxury palaces – $5 billion SoFi Stadium in LA and $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. They appear to have a few more bells and whistles than Lincoln Financial Field, which you and Jeffrey [Lurie] built nearly two decades ago for just over $500 million.
JB: Well, they look beautiful on TV. When we built our stadium in Philadelphia, we were looking for something that was more intimate and fan-friendly and in some ways more down to earth than what I’m seeing there. But that’s just my bias there. Those are showcases there. That wasn’t our priority here in Philly. Those are beautiful stadiums. But it wouldn’t be my choice for how I would do something if I was ever involved in something like that again, which I won’t be.