Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A during the season with The Inquirer’s longtime pro football writer, Paul Domowitch.
This week’s conversation:
Domo: The Eagles needed a big performance from Carson Wentz last week and didn’t get it. Had his worst game of the season. Completed just 20 of 40 passes, was sacked five times, and hung on to the ball too long. What’s your take on the way he played against the Patriots and his overall performance this season?
Banner: He didn’t play well. Most disconcerting was how long he was hanging on to the ball. There were extenuating circumstances, obviously. The line played poorly. He didn’t have Alshon Jeffery. So there weren’t a lot of great opportunities for him.
I tend to look at things and then project them longer-term. I’ve been a clear big fan and supporter of his. This issue of quick decision-making is what separates the quarterbacks that can really carry teams from the ones that can’t. My own observation is that lately, he’s showing the first signs of giving you reason to question that at least a little bit.
I’m still a huge believer in Carson Wentz. I have a lot of confidence in him and think over the long haul, people in Philadelphia are going to be thrilled that he’s their quarterback.
I always have this stereotypical thinking in my head. He played effectively as a rookie from Game 1 after missing training camp. You can’t do that unless you’re a quick-thinking quarterback. So I’ve just taken that for granted as a truth.
But after watching some of the recent games, he’s creating a little doubt in my mind about this really important aspect of being a great quarterback. He needs to get better at it. It wasn’t the first instance, and it was clearly a problem in this game.
Domo: Doug Pederson suggested that he’s pressing. Said he’s trying to do too much. Do you agree?
Banner: There’s no way to really know that. Doug doesn’t even know that. That’s his working theory. But it’s a totally reasonable and practical theory. But I’m not sure we can say that’s all it is and if we can just fix this and this, everything will be fine.
When I mention the quick-thinking, a lot of it is a feel. Some of it is just, where’s the pocket without looking at it. Some of it is anticipating where people are going to be. Where’s the rush going to come from. When do I actually have three seconds to let this thing play out, and when do I need to get the ball out of my hand in one second or I’m going to be in trouble. It’s that feel as opposed to knowing it. And he almost seems to have regressed a little bit there.
So, I don’t know if Doug is right or wrong. It’s a totally plausible theory. But it’s an important issue that will affect, when all is said and done, just how good he ends up being.
Domo: Six games to go and the Eagles trail Dallas by a game. Still think they’’re going to win the NFC East?
Banner: I think Dallas has some strengths and some weaknesses. Same is true with the Eagles. When all is said and done, I’m still relying on the fact that, in my opinion, the Eagles have more talent and are better coached. If those two things are true, almost always, when you’re finished playing 16 games, the right team ends up on top.
Am I more nervous than when I said that to you after Game 2? Yeah. Do I still believe that will be the outcome in the end? Also yes.
Domo: What are your biggest reservations about the Cowboys?
Banner: There are a lot of narratives in the NFL that get accepted as truths that aren’t. I don’t think their defense is that good. And I’m not a huge fan of their defensive coordinator [passing-game coordinator Kris Richard]. When I’m comparing the talent part and the coaching part to the Eagles, I just think it leaves the Eagles as the more likely team to prevail in the end.
Kris Richard has gotten a lot of compliments. He’s on a lot of the lists people put out of potential head coaches. I don’t mean to bash him, but I don’t see him that way. I see him as more of a middle-of-the-road-quality coordinator.
Domo: Howie Roseman signed 32-year-old DeSean Jackson in the offseason, and brought back 37-year-old Jason Peters and 36-year-old Darren Sproles. All of them ended up breaking down. Is Howie guilty of thinking with his heart instead of his head? Was he too sentimental in bringing these guys back?
Banner: I’ve been accused of being cold and calculating. Never thought it was fair. But as a decision-maker, you do have to step back.
Now, if we look at each of these situations individually, we can understand the rationale that Howie used. Sproles, they were counting on him in a very limited role. DeSean, they did gamble that he could stay mostly healthy and that didn’t work out. And Jason, they were really in kind of a tough spot. Trying to win a Super Bowl and counting on somebody [rookie first-round pick Andre Dillard] who hadn’t played before would’ve been, in my opinion, an unwise risk.
But taking this outside of the domain of the Eagles and look at sports in general, what happens is teams that win tend to make mistakes with respect to holding on to players [too long].
Occasionally, you’re going to let a guy go and say, gee, I wish I had kept him. But for the most part, you have to be very proactive and really, really objective about not holding on to people just because you like them and what they’ve done in the past. I’m not saying it’s irrelevant. But it can’t drive the decision or you can end up in this kind of situation.
Domo: Let’s talk about the Colin Kaepernick fiasco. What do you think the NFL’s motivation even was in scheduling that infamous workout for him in the first place?
Banner: It was baffling. From where I sit, I can’t really understand it. If they were going to do this, it’s late. And if there was some other motive, shame on them.
Domo: Your reaction to Kaepernick and his people moving the workout at the last minute and everything that went down afterward. Did he effectively shut the door on his slim chances of ever playing in the NFL again? Or was that what he wanted?
Banner: It’s hard to get into his mind and know, obviously. But what I feel I can have an opinion on is what the outcome of what he did was. I have been an overwhelming supporter of his right to do what he did and respected what he did and disagreed vehemently with those who tried to give it some other meaning other than an attempt on his part to address a legitimate important issue.
But since that moment, starting with the comments very soon after about who he didn’t know who he was going to vote for because he thought there was no real difference between Trump and Clinton, to wearing socks with very denigrating images of police officers on them, all the way to [the workout], I just think they’ve been strategically weak moves to what I understand his goals to be.
I think the chances that he was going to play again, to be very honest about it, were tiny anyway. But I think he sealed the envelope and took tiny to zero with what he did last week. There are some people in this league who, for completely illegitimate, ridiculous reasons, never were going to sign him, no matter how much he might’ve been able to help them.
But there were some people who were at least open to the possibility under some circumstances. But one of their concerns was, is this going to create a circus if we bring him in, have a flurry of activity and then have things calm down so he can play football? Or is this going to go on and on and on?
What this weekend proved was anybody who was worried about that was right about it. There was no way that it won’t be just a complete ongoing circus. I think he made a mistake. If he really had any interest in playing again, he should’ve gone over to the Falcons facility. Everything was being taped. There were going to be hundreds of witnesses. There were going to be enough NFL scouts there that weren’t going to sit there and lie about how the workout went. And just put on a show.