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, they discuss the futures of wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Brooks’ anxiety disorder, the Eagles’ playoff chances, Jim Schwartz’s head-coaching chances, Jason Garrett’s chances of survival in Dallas, and the impressive play of Lamar Jackson and the Ravens:
Domo: DeSean Jackson turns 33 Sunday. He has started and finished one game this season. Alshon Jeffery, who turns 30 in February, has missed three games-and-counting with injuries and is having the worst season of his career. Will either of them be back next year?
Banner: My inclination is to think they’re both gone. I think they’re going to be afraid to trust either one of them and they’re going to be afraid to be back in this same situation with them next year.
Domo: Getting rid of them though is going to involve a pretty substantial salary cap hit. They just restructured Jeffery’s deal in September, which guarantees his entire 2020 salary. Won’t that affect Howie’s willingness to show both of them the door?
Banner: They’re definitely going to have to eat some cap dollars. But we saw the Steelers eat $21 million in cap money this year when they realized they were better off without a player (Antonio Brown).
You have to clear the space. And they will have the cap room. It’s a terrible way to use cap dollars. But fortunately, the way the cap is increasing and the way they’ve managed it, they can do it if they really want to.
I just think they’re committed enough to surrounding Wentz with weapons, and these guys have established clearly they’re too high risk. If I had to guess today, it would be that neither one of them is back, unless they agree to restructure their contracts. Maybe DeSean will be willing to convert part of his salary to bonuses so that if he’s actually healthy and playing he makes what he’s supposed to, but otherwise he doesn’t.
Domo: Brandon Brooks acknowledged that his new contract played a role in triggering the latest relapse of his anxiety disorder. Strictly from a football standpoint, how concerned do you think the Eagles are given the investment they’ve just made in him?
Banner: As someone who has handed out big contracts, I can tell you that the tiniest thing definitely spooks you. And this isn’t tiny. But I’m sure they considered this before they gave him the deal.
The fact that he had been dealing with it for an extended period of time successfully certainly leaves you hopeful. But it would not be the truth to say anything, particularly an issue like this, doesn’t concern you.
They’ve been with him long enough, though, and have done enough research to be fairly confident that something like this could happen, but that it can be managed and he’ll be fine.
It’s a great credit to him for the honesty and the strength he’s exhibited in dealing with it. It’s probably helping a lot of people in addition to himself.
Domo: I ask you this every week. Still confident the Eagles are going to win the NFC East?
Banner: My strong conviction that they’re going to win the division is still there. That’s a combination of my belief in them and my feelings on the Cowboys.
There are definitely things to be concerned about, but they’re fixable. The offense can be fixed with a return from injury of (Lane) Johnson, Brooks and the receivers. Although there certainly are other issues, so it’s not like all of a sudden they’re going to be great because people come back healthy.
The Seattle loss was a breakdown of every aspect of the offense. I didn’t think the coaching did a very good job. I don’t think any of the offensive linemen, wide receivers or quarterback could possibly look at that film and not be possibly disappointed in the performance. That’s got to get better.
And while I certainly agree with the consensus that the defense is playing better, I’m not as relaxed about that as others. We finally saw the kind of pass rush that they really need and that the defense is conceptually built on. But I still have concerns about their cornerbacks. I’m not a big (Jalen) Mills fan. (Ronald) Darby is good, but can be inconsistent. If (D.K.) Metcalf doesn’t have that huge drop and (Russell) Wilson doesn’t overthrow the wide-open tight end in the end zone, the numbers would look very different and we’d be having a different conversation.
We’re definitely seeing improvement in the defense. But looking down the road and trying to win at least four out of five here and then going into the playoffs, the defense still is a meaningful concern to me.
Domo: Speaking of the defense, do you think Jim Schwartz will get any interest from teams looking for a head coach after the season?
Banner: It’s funny. This time last year, I predicted that he would at least get some interviews, although I wasn’t sure he’d get hired. The fact that he didn’t get any interviews last year when the list of candidates was really thin and there were eight teams looking for head coaches probably has me leaning towards thinking he’s a real long shot now.
Their defense isn’t a consistent top-5 defense and the trend right now, and understandably so, is to look for an offensive guy. So, I’ve gone from thinking he had at least a moderate shot to thinking it’s pretty unlikely.
Domo: Were you surprised Jerry Jones came out and publicly criticized Jason Garrett this week after their loss to the Patriots?
Banner: He went a little further than I expected at that moment in time. But this is why most owners don’t speak right after a game. As much as fans care, believe me, if you’re an owner or executive, it just tears your guts apart (when you lose).
If you speak right after a loss like that – and believe me, I don’t think anything Jerry said was wrong – it’s probably not the right forum to put that out publicly, especially when you have another game in three days. Personally, I didn’t think it was in the best interest of the team.
Domo: Is Garrett gone if the Cowboys don’t win the division?
Banner: I think the chances of Jason surviving are very small. I’ve been saying for a while that they should be small, but I didn’t think they actually were. Now, I’m finally at the point, and I think Jerry is as well, that they would really have to make a deep playoff run for him to survive.
I think when Jerry talked the way he did this offseason, when he went as far as he did to get everybody signed and in camp for Day 1, it was clear he felt he had a good enough team to win a championship. He felt he was handing a team to his coach that should be able to compete for a Super Bowl. Instead, they find themselves struggling to win a division that’s not even a very good division.
Domo: Your reaction to Lamar Jackson’s amazing play. The guy many teams wanted to convert into a wide receiver has a 111.4 passer rating and has rushed for 876 yards and is piloting an offense that has scored 172 points in its last four games.
Banner: What I’m surprised by is how effectively he’s throwing the ball. If you watched him in college -- and we had Michael Vick in Philadelphia -- you could see there were some aspects of his ability in which they could do some things with him in the running game because of his quickness and competitiveness.
But I felt NFL teams would be able to adapt if all he could do was (run). They would do what they did to Michael when he was in Atlanta. Michael was very effective there. He went to the NFC Championship and won a lot of games. But the fact that they didn’t have a reasonably effective passing attack limited him and them. Defenses were able to figure out how to at least slow it down.
But watching the Ravens against the Rams Monday night, somebody’s going to have to be awful smart to figure out how to stop him. They’re unstoppable if he continues to throw the ball that well and the coordinator continues to scheme receivers open that much. Combine that with the running game they’ve got and it’s going to be really hard to stop them.
Domo: You mentioned the coordinator. How much credit does Greg Roman deserve for fashioning this offense around Lamar?
Banner: When you put together what he’s doing now with what he did with (Colin) Kaepernick in San Francisco, Greg Roman deserves a tremendous amount of credit. I can’t think of another name, if you were trying to think of who should be assistant coach of the year, that is even close in my mind to competing for that honor with Roman.
Without guys who are traditional top-tier players, he had to find ways that not everybody was using and have the guts to do them and design them and call them properly. It’s really quite an exhibition.