In his latest Q&A with The Inquirer’s Paul Domowitch, former Eagles president Joe Banner discusses the NFL’s new labor agreement, the Eagles’ free agency strategy, the futures of Alshon Jeffery and Malcolm Jenkins, and possible 2020 backup quarterback options behind Carson Wentz:
Domo: The players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement Sunday by a very narrow margin. You’ve said previously that this is a good deal for the players and that they should approve it. Why?
Banner: The close vote doesn’t surprise me. I had talked to a number of agents, and they were split. And their clients were using them as a sounding board.
I don’t think this is like some great deal for the players. But I do think it’s a good deal. It’s a good, solid deal. The owners picked one or two things that were crucial to them and put all of their eggs in that basket. The players could’ve done the same thing, and probably, on certain issues, could’ve hit a home run. But they reasonably chose to try to impact a large number of issues, including retired players, which we’ve been talking about for years and deserved serious conversation and fixing.
Listen, the cap is going to be $300 million in five years (it will be $198.2 million in 2020). So the veterans, even the ones that are complaining, are going to have an average of a 50% pay increase if they’re still playing. As for the young guys, it’s been well-reported about how quickly some of the minimums go up. And some of the older guys are on minimums. And retired players, they’re getting a 50% increase [in their pension payments], and a large number of players that weren’t previously covered [by the pension plan] now are covered. That’s great. I viewed this as good enough to vote yes. This is a much, much better deal for the players than the one they agreed to in 2011.
Domo: Was the addition of a 17th regular-season game the biggest problem players had with this deal?
Banner: There was a batch of resistance, mostly by older players, to playing 17 games. But I found that most of the players were OK playing an additional game if they got enough in return.
There certainly were some that weren’t, and still aren’t, in favor of an extra game and have been quite vocal about it. Most of them, though, while they weren’t necessarily for it, were willing to do it as long as they got back what they thought was reasonable. The vote says most of them think it was, though some thought they should’ve gotten a little bit more.
Domo: The Eagles have nearly $41 million in cap space heading into the free agency signing period. How aggressive will that allow them to be? More importantly, how aggressive do you expect them to be?
Banner: I think they’ll be reasonably aggressive. There were a few teams that benefited more than others based on the cost of their quarterback and their general cap situation by getting a new CBA done. Not only because it allows them to know what the cap is going to be in the future, but also because it allows them to be able to manage that number.
The $41 million [in cap space] includes some borrowed money from the future. So the cap going up as much as I think it will in the future is a real benefit to the Eagles. They’re one of a small group of teams that benefits significantly from the new deal.
The reports you read about [cornerback] Byron Jones, they can certainly afford him and I think they’d be considered the front-runners by most. But he’ll be expensive. But it gives them a chance to address once and for all a situation that’s been somewhere between a partial and a really significant problem for a long time.
I still think the other area of focus for them needs to be the defensive line. This doesn’t mean they’re not concerned about wide receiver. But they have options on the roster. They used a second-round pick last year on a guy they’re still very high on. They’ll be getting DeSean [Jackson] back.
The draft has one of the deepest wide receiving groups in recent history and they’ve got 10 picks. So I think their focus in free agency is much more likely to be corner and defensive line. And I do think they’ll be pretty aggressive.
Domo: What is it going to cost to sign Byron Jones?
Banner: It’s been reported that maybe he’ll get $16 million or $17 million [per year] because the highest paid corner at the moment is $15 million [the Dolphins’ Xavien Howard]. But that deal is a few years old. And the market is going to get reset significantly as the top corners sign.
Now, I don’t think Jones is in that elite group that is going to break the bank. But I do think he’s just below that. I don’t think it’s going to be long before we see the top cornerbacks getting $20 million-$21 million. So, it wouldn’t shock me if he is able to command $18 million or $19 million.
It depends on how much emphasis he wants to put on going to a winning team vs. going to the highest bidder. My sense is that will be a factor for him. Maybe that gets the deal closer to $17 million or $18 million. If he’s playing everybody off against each other to get a maximum deal, it could be $18 million or $19 million [per year].
Domo: Do you think Eagles will seriously consider releasing Alshon Jeffery after June 1 when they would be able to spread out his dead money over two years rather than take a massive $26 million one-year hit?
Banner: It would give them a chance to spread it out a little bit, which definitely helps. Especially in their situation if they do want to be aggressive with a couple of guys in free agency. It’s going to be an expensive miss for them if that’s what happens. But it’s what they need to do.
Domo: The Eagles have until Wednesday to exercise their option on safety Malcolm Jenkins or he’ll become a free agent. Jenkins has said he won’t play this year under the terms of his current deal. How do you see this playing out?
Banner: I know nothing specifically, but I know the cast of characters on the Eagles side pretty well and how they think. I’d be shocked if they’re not working aggressively on an extension for him.
I do think this conversation about them wanting to get younger and make some cap decisions, which is what they fundamentally did with [Jason] Peters, is real. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to pick a few spots where they’ve got a veteran guy like Jenkins who’s been there for a while, who’s a top-caliber person and a leader and still playing well.
Malcolm’s all of those things. Unless the numbers are something they think are really unreasonable, I’d be very surprised if, as we’re speaking, they’re not either committed to or already have started trying to find a way to get an extension done with him.
Domo: The Eagles need a backup quarterback for Carson Wentz. Given his injury history, it almost certainly will be someone with some level of starting experience rather than a project. Your thoughts?
Banner: I think what in my mind would make the most sense is stand pat and see what happens with all of these free agent quarterbacks that are out there. Will there be a guy like [Marcus] Mariota or [Teddy] Bridgewater, who has started and succeeded but can’t find a place where they have a real chance to be the starter? I’d be on the lookout for somebody like that and hope they haven’t priced themselves out of the market.
You can’t go to those guys right now. Because those guys are still looking for a situation where they’d go in as a starter or where they think there’s a reasonable chance to win the starting job fairly quickly. You have to kind of wait it out and see where everybody signs and see who’s left and maybe get one of those younger guys with some upside, maybe a little more expensive than you’d like, but who would be a good backup option.
The other option is getting somebody younger and less experienced. But they’re going to want somebody who can play this year if he needs to because of Wentz’s injury history.
Domo: Where is Tom Brady going to wind up? You said a couple of months ago you thought he’d be back with the Patriots. Do you still think that?
Banner: I still think New England is the likely landing spot. But who knows? We’re all guessing. He’s not talking. He’s got an agent who doesn’t talk. But from talking to teams, there’s less interest than you would think there’d be.
I still think New England is the most likely. San Francisco’s a legitimate contender. And I think there’s a team out there that nobody’s mentioning that has a chance just because there seems to be some real tension between him and New England.