Paul Domowitch, The Inquirer’s longtime pro football writer, does a weekly Q&A with former Eagles president Joe Banner.
Here is this week’s installment:
Domo: The Eagles thought they were going to have one of the best defensive-tackle rotations in the NFL this year. Then Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan suffered foot injuries. They still have Fletcher Cox, but how much does this hurt?
Banner: It’s consequential. I think we’ve seen in the first two games that the secondary has some weaknesses in it. If the front isn’t getting the pressure and shortening the time they have to cover, it creates some problems.
When you’re running a team, your biggest fear is early injuries at the same position. In this case, maybe the position in which they had the least amount of depth on the whole team.
You’re sitting there thinking, well, we have 14 more regular-season games and hopefully the playoffs. You’re looking at your depth chart and holding your breath. Because that’s a long time to go without any more injuries.
They built this defense and won a Super Bowl by creating a dominant front. At least for the moment, it’s challenged. It’s a big relief that Jernigan’s not out for the year. But it’s going to hurt if he’s out for a while. I think we’ll start seeing them use (defensive ends) Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry inside in nickel situations like they’ve done in the past.
Domo: The Eagles expressed interest in safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Offered a second-round pick for him, but were outbid by the Steelers. Should they have tried harder to get him? And do you think they should make a play for the Jaguars’ unhappy cornerback, Jalen Ramsey?
Banner: I definitely would’ve gone as high as a one to get Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a very good young player. Unquestioned character. Smart. And basically, because we’re only two games into the season, you would’ve had him for four years at a very affordable price.
It’s a position on their team that’s showing age. They were smart to inquire about him. I might’ve been willing to be a little more aggressive than they were. But the reality is, even if they would have offered a one, I don’t think they would’ve gotten him.
Domo: What about Ramsey?
Banner: Ramsey is a very different situation. Character is challenging. Play is exceptional. And probably, the end of this year is the most you’re going to get before you have to give him a new contract. And it will be huge.
They’re at a point where they have to be a little bit conscious of the cap. He’s probably going to get an $18-20 million (a year) contract at the end of this year. Would you rather give away a high pick for him or use that pick to get somebody for 4-5 years at an affordable price?
From a cap perspective, that would be very challenging. I just think a big part of the reason for the success they’ve had over the last few years has been the quality of the people they’ve had on the team and the quality of leadership. I’d be nervous about interjecting somebody like that into the locker room in the middle of the season.
Domo: Safety Malcolm Jenkins isn’t happy with his contract situation. His deal has another year to run. He’s got a $10.9 million cap number in 2020. While his skills have shown no sign of decline, he turns 32 in December. How is this going to play out? How should it play out?
Banner: I think the most likely scenario here because of his continued quality of play and his leadership skills which are so compelling, history says what they’ll do is, at a moment when they don’t look like they’re being forced into it so it doesn’t give the wrong message to other players, my guess is they’ll find a way to do a one-year extension and give him some of the money up front. That will at least get them through the next offseason and have him come into camp next year without any disruption or creating any bad feelings.
Unless they really feel that he only has one year left in him. But they’ve worked really hard to keep good peace and limit frustration, especially among the team leaders. I think the fact that he did what he did last year (skip voluntary OTAs) tells them that if they try to get through another offseason that way, it’s likely to be a lot more problematic.
So the way to deal with that without committing huge long-term dollars to someone you’re not quite sure how long they’re going to play for you is to do a short extension and front a little bit of the money. Now we have no idea whether that’s an acceptable solution to him or whether he’s trying to get one more real deal.
But from the team perspective, I would suspect that at some time, when there’s no threat going on and nothing negative going on, that they’ll approach him and try to get a short-term extension done so that they know through at least 2020 they have him and he’s feeling good about things.
Domo: The Cowboys are 2-0 after beating the Giants and Redskins. What do you make of them right now? And what do you make of Dak Prescott’s impressive start and 142.9 passer rating?
Banner: I thought before the season, and still think, the Eagles are the best team in the NFC, and certainly the NFC East. But the Cowboys are a very good team. I don’t think they have quarterback play the quality of the Eagles. But I think Dak’s a good quarterback. They have very strong lines on both sides of the ball, and they have other talented players to supplement that.
I do think the credit that their 30-year-old offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore, is getting is deserved. They have a much better scheme and are much more difficult to defend than they’ve been the last few years. I still believe the Eagles will win the division. I think if they play each other in the postseason the Eagles are likely to prevail. But I also think the Cowboys are a very good team and need to be taken seriously.
Domo: Let’s end this week with the dumpster fire that is the Miami Dolphins. What the hell are they doing down there?
Banner: They made a decision to be willing to literally lose all of their games to basically guarantee themselves the first pick in the (2020) draft. I think what they’re doing is unnecessary. There’s been a history of teams finding ways to build and rebuild without having to go to this extreme. I mean, in Andy Reid’s first year with us, we were 5-11. The next year, we were 11-5.
When you get to the point where you’re trading young quality players that play positions you need to build around, I just think you’re taking it too far. I’ve done this myself. The idea of making short-term sacrifices for long-term gain is a very good strategy in my mind. But the idea of taking it to this extreme and literally tearing the team down, including really high-quality players at crucial positions, I just think it’s unnecessary.
I think they’re trying to copy a strategy they believe others have used successfully. But, one, I don’t think they’re really copying it correctly. And two, I’m not sure it’s been proven, in football at least, to be necessary or the best strategy. It’s certainly not what I would be doing if I had a voice in the situation.
The acquisition of draft picks and the accumulation of salary-cap room has been done before. The Browns did a version of this. We saw Jacksonville and the 49ers do more of it on the cap side and a little less on the draft-pick side by getting rid of a bunch of veteran players and leaving themselves with $100M in cap room and try to use that to supplement some draft picks and create a quick turnaround.
But the degree they’re going to here, I told someone the other day, there’s a real good risk that what they’re doing is just taking a lot longer to get to good and precluding themselves from having a chance to get to great by just tearing it down to the degree that they are.
Domo: Is their general manager, Chris Grier, a good enough talent evaluator to maximize the draft picks they’re accumulating?
Banner: I don’t really know their people all that well. Grier’s been involved for a very long time in the drafting of a team that hasn’t been that good. Working in the league, there are always hidden gems that look like they’re making good decisions. So maybe that’s Chris. I don’t know.
But what I think they’re missing here is, you trade a guy like Minkah Fitzpatrick and get a first-round pick. Well, even Hall of Fame general managers only hit on about 50 percent of their first-round picks. So that means the fact that you got one first-round pick, even if it’s a top-10 pick, for a guy we already know is a quality player is not likely to result in improvement.