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 what would be the best playoff matchup for the Birds if they beat the Giants, the importance of the coming offseason, whether the Eagles should have any interest in potential free-agent wide receiver Amari Cooper, and why former Temple coach Matt Rhule is going to be a hot commodity when the NFL head-coaching firing and hiring season starts.
Domo: If the Eagles win Sunday, they’ll play the loser of the Sunday night Seattle-San Francisco game. How do they match up against those two teams? And if you’re Doug Pederson, which one would you rather play?
Banner: This isn’t even close to me. If I’m the Eagles, I’d much rather play Seattle. San Francisco is very well-coached and very good on both sides of the ball and would really be a tough matchup for the Eagles. The biggest weakness of this Eagles team still is the secondary, despite Dallas’s failure to exploit that. That wouldn’t happen with San Francisco. They’ll be willing and able to take advantage of that weakness.
Seattle, on the other hand, regardless of the state of the Eagles secondary, will run the ball quite a bit. Which is what the Eagles will be hoping for in an opponent. And the Seattle defense has some weaknesses as well, although they’re getting [Jadeveon] Clowney back, which will certainly help.
So I don’t think it’s even close as to who they’d rather play. I think they have a real shot at home against Seattle. I think they’d have a real, real hard time beating San Francisco, even at home. So all Eagles fans should be rooting hard for a 49ers win Sunday night.
Domo: Let’s say the Eagles beat the Giants on Sunday, then lose to either the Niners or Seahawks in the wild-card round. How do you think the organization would view this season given their high hopes going into it?
Banner: Well, they’re certainly not going to say, "Oh, wow. We made the playoffs again for the third straight year and not many teams do that.'' They’re not going to look at it like that. I think they will feel it turned out just OK. On the other hand, factoring in the losses to injury, they might feel like the team fought and played well, and had some guys who showed themselves as people who need to get better, and others who looked like they can be meaningful parts of the team next year when they hope to get back to competing with the best teams in the league.
I think they’re going to be realistic about the challenges they face going forward. Because their goal is to win Super Bowls. Some teams’ goal is to make the playoffs. Some teams’ goal is to just improve from last year. Their goal is to win Super Bowls. So, even with the injuries, I think they’re going to feel like this season kind of showcased some things that they need to do and get better at to really be in that final-four group of teams on a consistent basis.
Domo: How aggressive do you expect them to be in the offseason?
Banner: They’ve got players that they’ve got to decide, first, are these guys really good enough to win championships with, and secondly, can we really count on them, whether that’s a question of health or character or whatever it may be. It would be easy to be complacent and say, well, with everybody healthy, we can be pretty good. But that’s not their personality or history.
So I expect them to attack the weaknesses they have, which in my mind at least, are wide receiver and the secondary, and they still need more help in the defensive line if they’re going to be as dominant up front as they want to be. I expect them to attack those areas pretty aggressively and not rest on the fact that, hey, if we’d been healthy, everything would’ve been really good. I don’t think they’re going to have that attitude. I think their eyes are going to be wide open.
Domo: That’s a good segue into my next question. Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper can become a free agent after the season. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Cowboys, should the Eagles be interested?
Banner: I don’t think they should be interested in Cooper. What they need are quality players that they can count on every week. Amari’s another guy [who is] very talented. But his performance has been inconsistent and he’s had a lot of injuries. Sometimes he’s played with the injuries. But it’s affected his play. Other times, he’s just missed games.
I just think that’s the kind of player that they need to move away from. They need to get a tandem of wide receivers that they can count on being there every week, that are good enough to win matchups on a fairly regular basis. Amari is going to be very expensive and he’s not somebody you can count on, as we saw last week.
Domo: The firing/hiring coaching season is about to start. We’ve talked previously about Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman being a likely hot commodity. Give me some other guys you think are going to draw some interest.
Banner: My own opinion is that it should be some college coaches. The conventional wisdom in the NFL is that college coaches haven’t been successful. I haven’t seen an updated study. But as of a few years ago, that wasn’t true. There have been conspicuous instances of both success and failure by college coaches. But college coaches that have had some NFL experience have generally done reasonably well.
So a guy like a [Baylor’s] Matt Rhule, who I’ve been touting to people in the NFL since he was at Temple, should be somebody that people are very high on. I also think there’s more of a chance that [Stanford’s] David Shaw will come to the NFL than there was in the past. I’m not predicting he will. I’m just saying there’s more of a chance. And there’s obviously been a lot of talk about [Oklahoma’s] Lincoln Riley. Then you have a couple of former head coaches, Ron Rivera and Mike McCarthy, who may get a second chance. I think both of those groups will have some level of representation on hires this year, which is somewhat unusual based on recent history.
Domo: You mentioned Rhule. The job he’s done at Baylor, and before that, at Temple has been nothing short of incredible.
Banner: He’s done it at every level. If you talk to people on the Giants staff when he was helping coach the offensive line there before he took the Temple job, they’ll tell you that they thought he would be a great head coach some day. He took one of the harder jobs at that time at Temple and won there. Then he went down to Baylor under almost impossible circumstances, and in two years he was competing for a national championship.
It’s remarkable. You don’t find track records [like his]. The only guy I can think of is Jim Harbaugh before he took the 49ers job, where he went into really difficult situations and no matter where he was, did things that seemed virtually impossible at the places he did them. So this is rare to see a guy who’s had this degree of success this quickly multiple times at the college level and also has NFL experience. He understands the league. He knows how it works. He understands what it takes to win. I just think somebody should be going after him aggressively, And they’ll be really, really glad if they get him.
Domo: You said last week you didn’t think Jerry Jones would go with a college guy if/when he fires Jason Garrett. Do you have a gut feeling on whom he might be interested in?
Banner: I’m totally guessing, but the guys I mentioned that may get a second chance — McCarthy and Rivera — could be possibilities. Jerry obviously feels he has a chance to win a Super Bowl soon. If he wants a coach that doesn’t need to get up to speed on what the NFL is like and how you succeed as a head coach, McCarthy and Rivera would be definite possibilities.
And I think both of those guys would be comfortable in the type of environment that Jerry creates there. And they may look at that roster and say, ‘Wow, not many teams that have this much talent have coaching openings. This is a good opportunity.’